I am not an expert on China’s role in Africa but having spent a good amount of time in Liberia over the past three years it is impossible to overlook China’s growing presence. China’s increased presence in Liberia can be seen in improved roads and medical centers and in major economic and technical assistance projects involving mining, agriculture, higher education and hospitals. China’s emphasis on mutual benefit has been criticized as primarily serving the needs of its own growing economy and ignoring human rights and governance. But for many African officials, including those in Liberia, China’s experiences as a developing country and their role as a major source of finance is a welcome alternative to Western models of assistance.
The Carter Center‘s China-Africa Initiative is opening up new spaces for experience sharing and multilateral dialogues about China’s role in Africa. The aim of the project is to share information and foster mutual understanding among key stakeholders, particularly Chinese and African policymakers. Over the next three years the China-Africa initiative will involve a number of activities. They have already created a bilingual website to bring African, Chinese and Western perspectives on the role China plays in Africa’s quest for peace, health and economic development (www.zhong-fei.org and www.sinoafrica.org). IDN will be a collaborating partner in the China-Africa Advisory Group, a group comprise of African, Chinese and Western scholars and practitioners that will serve as a kind of informal think tank. The initiative will culminate in an international conference that will lay the groundwork for a collaborative project in Africa.
In December I attended a roundtable discussion about China’s role in Africa held in Beijing. Participants talked about a range of issues including China’s experience as a developing country, the guiding principles of China’s engagement in Africa and the contributions that have resulted. President Carter talked about the need for mutual understanding and the importance of identifying areas for collaboration. China is a key stakeholder in Africa, one that is changing the development landscape. But ultimately it is African governments that will determine what will benefit their people. Dialogues that foster information sharing and collaboration can help move toward this end.
Director, Institute for Developing Nations,