China Serious Messages behind Horn of Africa Peace Conference

Radio Erena: 10 June 2022

Chinese diplomacy is exceptionally busy preparing for a Horn of Africa peace conference in Addis Ababa on June 20. Messages sent from Beijing in line with the organization of this conference are no-nonsense signals.

The preparations for the two-day conference began at the top with the visit of the Chinese foreign minister Wany Yi to Eritrea, Kenya, and Comoros in January. Visiting Africa at the beginning of each year has become a fixed diplomatic tradition for Chinese foreign ministers. During his stop in Asmara, the minister was received by president Isaias Afwerki. In a solidarity jest, he vehemently condemned US sanctions on some Eritrean top-brass generals in the aftermath of Eritrea’s intervention in the war in Tigray. To highlight his country’s commitment to peace and development, the minister laid the plan of the conference and declared that his country will further appoint a special political envoy for Africa.

Quoting Sudan News Agency (SUNA), Sudan Tribune reported that the Chinese ambassador to Sudan Ma Xinmin handed a state invitation to ambassador Nadir Yousif Al-Tayeb, the Acting Undersecretary of the Sudanese foreign ministry. Xinmin said that Sudan’s participation in the forthcoming conference is vital and will be constructive. “In principle, we look forward to participating in the conference, this participation will no doubt enhance our bilateral relations,” said ambassador Al-Tayeb. The aim of the conference, confirms the Chinese ambassador, is to foster peace, development, and good governance.

China’s economic, political, and recent military presence in the Horn of Africa, cast certain shadows on the conference which would be particular to the Chinese diplomatic mindset and grand strategy than to the current African needs and contexts.

Colossal Investments, Bittersweet Money, and False Promises

In two decades of a richly yielding business presence, China became the leading investor in the Horn of Africa. At the present, China invests US$ 4.5 billion in the railway line linking Djibouti to Addis Ababa. China is also the leading investor in the Tigray region, due to the special relations between Tigray leaders and China in the past twenty years. Investments in the region covered industry, infrastructure, and services. As money open the doors for guns, China approved its first external military presence by having a military base in Djibouti. In Eritrea, China also keeps a lively political and economic presence in that isolated country. Suffering from severe UN sanctions in 2009 and in 2011, Eritrea looked with high hopes to China to play a decisive role in the Security Council (Eritrea hoped that China would veto the American-led sanctions); to the dismay of the Eritrean leader, the Chinese, as usual, paid only lip service in support of Eritrea during that choking crisis.

However, in the summer of 2016, China diplomatically supported Eritrea in the Human Rights Council when the Commission of Investigations on Human Rights Violations presented its report to the council. This disagreeable support infuriated Eritreans as it defied their genuine efforts to hold the Eritrean dictator accountable for grave human rights abuses.

Generally, Africans describe Chinese money ending up in the African presidents’ pockets as “sweet for the leaders, bitter for us.” What makes the money sweet for African politicians is the fact that China doesn’t insist on accountability or transparency in its financial dealings. Such laxity perfectly satisfies the wishes and whims of the corrupt leaders and businesspeople. Moreover, China doesn’t put political or economic conditions on aid packages; African leaders are not asked to structurally adjust or to respect human rights. All they have to do is to ask for more, and the coffers will be wide open.

The Red Patrons with Dark Strategies

China’s investment projects and political support for African dictators come within a world-scale confrontation with the West. Making the best out of this confrontation is the principal objective of Chinese diplomacy in African capitals. Hence the main message of the conference: China will use all its political, and if the need arises, also the military might to protect the money ‘put’ in the hands of the African ‘friends’.

“The shaky transition in Sudan, the civil war in Ethiopia, and the conflict in Somalia have created chances for China in the Horn of Africa,” said Aaron Tesfay, professor of political science at William Paterson University, Wayne, New Jersey, to South China Monitor Post.

In his audacious and insightful book, The New Age of Empire: How Racism and Colonialism Rule the World,  in a chapter entitled: The Chinese Scramble for Africa, Kehinde Andrews, the first UK professor of Black Studies, uncovers the underlying patterns of Chinese development and aid policies in Africa, which he depict as imperial and racial as Western policies.

Though China’s Export-Import Bank provided US$ 67.2 billion in loans to some African countries, US$ 12.5 billion more than the World Bank, China’s, “posing- as- a friend’ status has shifted from being a developing country’s ardent supporter during the Mao era into another imperialist competitor in the early nineties. Argues Kehinde, who boldly asserts that the Chinese development policy in Africa works more for the benefit of the Chinese than for the Africans. China provides loans for infrastructure projects which are carried out by Chinese companies using Chinese machinery. Additionally, the project manpower is brought from China while African workers stand on the roadside to watch. Simply, in this new scramble, China (which is hungry for raw material and energy sources) takes more than it gives, says Kehinde.

The Replicas Ready for Export

At the center of the forthcoming Chinese peace and development conference stands the issue of good governance. One wonders what example China would give to African nations in good governance. So far, the overarching Chinese model of development is built on hulk urban projects, with a ready-to-copy- ready to- export replicas, with no human heart at the center. Taking the Chinese model as an example of good governance, the Horn of Africa people, not the leaders, should examine the Chinese initiative with due skepticism. No better example they have, in this respect, than the two-decade-old recurrent Chinese Scramble for Africa.

By Fathi Osman