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Zimbabwe deputy PM tells Africa to be tough on China

Published on 22/04/2013

Africa must learn to dictate its own terms when dealing with China and stop blaming Beijing, apartheid or colonialism for its economic woes, Zimbabwe's deputy prime minister said Wednesday.

Arthur Mutambara said it was time for Africa to stop taking a “romantic view” of China because it has grown from a “comrade in poverty” to a global economic giant and superpower.

“Why are we not making sure the engagement with China is on our terms, as Africans? Labour, skills, technology, value addition,” he said at a China-Africa conference.

“The Chinese must come to Africa on African terms. The terms that will allow the Chinese to make money but the terms that will also allow Africa to develop, win-win. China wins, Africa wins.”

He said Africa has been free for a long time — two generations in countries such as Ghana — and it should not be wasting time making excuses for its tardy development.

“Africans must not blame China, or any other power for that matter. We must take charge of our lives, we must take responsibility for our problems and solve them.”

He added: “Yes, there are things we can trace back to apartheid, to colonialism, but we must take charge of our lives and not justify incompetence by talking about apartheid, colonialism.”

South Africa has lately been embroiled in a fierce debate over whether — 19 years on — apartheid can still blamed for current government policy shortcomings.

Mutambara said that for Africa to maximise benefits from its ties with China, it must speak with one voice as a continent or regional economic blocs such as the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

“Let us discourage bilateral deals — you get shortchanged. We won’t make it as individual countries. We need a mind shift. We are obsessed with our own countries,” he said.

Mutambara, who is part of an uncomfortable power-sharing government with longtime leader Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe, said the continent needs the type of leadership that will press for a pan-African agenda.

China has driven much of African growth in recent years. Bilateral trade has expanded rapidly to hover around $200 billion (150 billion euros) last year, a leap of almost 19 percent from 2011, according to Jianye Wang, chief economist with the Export-Import Bank of China.

But trade remains heavily skewed in favour of China.

By the end of last year China’s direct investment in Africa had reached $20 billion.

At the same time African investors are making little inroads, with a few notables such as South Africa’s SAB Miller, which has become the single largest brewer in China.

“Our footprint is small,” Martyn Davies, CEO of Frontier Advisory, the conference organisers, told AFP, adding: “We are far behind our Australian peers.”

Yansong Rong, the commercial counsellor at the Chinese embassy in South Africa, hit out at growing anti-Chinese sentiments in Africa, especially concerning labour practices.

He dismissed as “ridiculous” criticism that Chinese investors bring their own workers, defeating the whole idea of creating desperately needed jobs.

Local workers account for more than 80 percent of the employees at the dozens of Chinese firms operating in the Democratic Republic of Congo, he said.