What do African leaders truly admire about Xi and China’s political values?

On September 2 and 3, leaders from 52 African nations attended the two-day Beijing summit of the Forum on China-Africa Co-operation (Focac).

guest column: news24

At the conference, Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged to provide $60 billion in finance for projects in Africa that will be disbursed through assistance programmes, investments and loans.

Amid this massive undertaking to help develop Africa, Xi introduced China’s “five-no” approach to economic and diplomatic engagement. Under this policy, China promises no interference in African countries’ pursuit of development paths that fit their national conditions; no interference in their internal affairs; no imposition of China’s will on them; no attachment of political strings to assistance and no seeking of selfish political gains in investment and financing co-operation.

This political declaration proved to be immensely popular with practically all the African leaders present at Focac, as many lavished infinite praise on China for its commitment to the “five-no” approach to diplomatic and economic engagement.

What’s there to like about Chinese values?

But, what do African leaders truly admire about Xi and China’s political values in this progressive day and age? Is it China’s ability to continually gag freedom of speech and police usage of the internet amongst its 1,4 billion population through the Great Chinese Firewall?

Is it China’s ability to imprison human rights activists and discourage freedom of thought with oppressive determination and alarming impunity, which African leaders find impressive?

Is it China’s desire to lay siege on the humanitarian liberties of 13 million Turkic Muslims from Xinjiang region in northwestern China? Or is it just plain admiration for the life presidency Xi engineered this year?

On March 11, China’s National People’s Congress (NPC) voted to remove presidential term limits, clearing the way for Xi to rule the Asian economic giant indefinitely.

Surely, this illiberal amendment, together with countless civil rights infringements in Tibet and Hong Kong and an unprecedented clampdown on civil activists, bloggers and academics in China, can’t form the unyielding crux upon which a new global order will be built on?

Continuity will hurt Africa

African leaders can’t continue to hide conveniently behind Western interference — both real and imagined — simply to absolve themselves of the many home-grown economic and political crises on the continent.

Corruption at the highest levels of governance is rife across the continent and a plethora of African countries score embarrassingly low on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index. And according to the ECA High Level Panel on Illicit Financial Flows from Africa, a body chaired by former South African President Thabo Mbeki, around $100 billion flows out of Africa illegally on an annual basis — right on the watch of our supposedly shrewd, righteous and hardworking African Union (AU) leaders.
All the while, like Xi’s dictatorial regime, many African governments consistently exhibit abhorrent views on democracy, media freedoms and human rights.

Yet, the geopolitical ramifications of a unified global economy, international migration and universal conflict resolution mechanisms, and the very workings of United Nations (UN) bodies like the World Health Organisation, United Nations Children’s Fund, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation and, indeed, the UN Security Council, as symbolised by the all-powerful vetoes held by the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China, strongly dismiss the possibility of so-called non-interference ever becoming a multilateral reality in this millennium — or the next.

AU leaders should stop complaining incessantly about political interference and work towards rooting out corruption, curbing disproportionate spending on military hardware, realigning budgetary priorities and strengthening democratic systems across the continent. Significantly, while AU countries should welcome all the commercial investments they can get from China on fair and reasonable terms and avoid falling into seemingly insurmountable debt traps, they should not relinquish the democratic legitimacy and moral authority to call out blatant and inhumane human rights abuses at home and abroad.

Yet, in ridiculously obvious attempts to muster electoral cover for a lack of popularity, corruption, absolute incompetence, financial failures or ghastly human rights abuses, African leaders often cite alleged political interference as an excuse to clampdown on opposition movements and obfuscate corrupt practices and skewed policies which enrich political associates and family members.

Disadvantaged and repressed Africans

Which is why pretending non-governmental organisations, civil rights groups and aid agencies such as Oxfam, the Danish Refugee Council, Doctors Without Borders, Human Rights Watch and the much-maligned USAid don’t do well to contribute immensely to alleviating the plights of disadvantaged and repressed Africans is not only disingenuous, but also grossly unfair and downright selfish of Africa’s ruling elites. So is instituting laws that restrict non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and civil organisations, only for tyrannical motivations.

In May 2017, Egypt approved a controversial law that severely curtails the work of NGOs, while the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has prepared a draft bill that restricts human rights advocacy work. And Kenya, Ethiopia, Burundi and Zimbabwe have, in the past, also laboured to control and ban NGOs and to ostensibly limit critical democratic freedoms.

Africa should, in fact, create its own NGOs that help proffer substantial and sustainable solutions to international crises while promoting African perspectives and African values. Nobody expects African countries to evolve into quintessential models of democratic perfection overnight — or ever. Democracy will never flourish in all societies equally, in the same guise — no.

But steady and quantifiable progression towards accommodating and respecting fundamental human rights and furthering humanitarian values is key to developing rich, inclusive and successful societies.

As the AU’s founding mission is to build “an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens and representing a dynamic force in the global arena”, adopting China’s “five-no” policy as the foundation for a new international order, or future African diplomatic engagement, will only be a retrogressive and wholly impractical, diplomatic engagement.

This article first appeared on news24.com

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