China's Influence in Africa Seen as Threatening US Interests

By Stephen Mbogo | July 7, 2008 | 8:16 PM EDT

Nairobi, Kenya ( - China is taking a stronger foothold in Africa and in some instances overtaking gains made here by the United States, in the view of a number of legal and foreign policy analysts.

Their assessment appears to be in line with recent findings by a task force sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations, which revealed a growing influence by China in Africa.

China-Africa engagement is being propelled by strong economic relations, the transfer of affordable technology into Africa and Beijing's willingness to overlook issues of good governance, the analysts said.

"Something is being done to end the American monopoly," said Joe Kadhi, a lecturer at the United States International University in Nairobi.

The CFR task force said China's role is eroding democratic gains in Africa through such actions as "protecting rogue states like Sudan and Zimbabwe in the face of egregious human rights violations."

It said the communist country had wielded its veto to frustrate U.N. Security Council sanctions against Sudan over the strife and abuses in Darfur, and China was the "principal supporter" of Zimbabwe's autocratic leader, President Robert Mugabe.

The report also said Beijing was undermining U.S. and Western efforts to use aid and investments to prod African governments towards good governance and away from corruption.

Chinese business practices created unfair competition for U.S. firms in bidding for contracts, and Beijing was contributing to serious environmental damage by importing timber through unlicensed loggers, depriving governments of much-needed revenue, it said.

Samuel Mbithi, executive director of the Kenyan Chapter of the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), said China's influence in Africa was increasing largely because China was willing to share cheaper technology with African nations.

"If you are looking for technology and don't have resources to buy it, then you are likely to go to China and not America," he said.

"China is coming up as an economic superpower. ... Americans are getting very concerned because of China's growing economic influence in Africa."

Mbithi also said more research was needed before it was proven that China's involvement in Africa was damaging moves towards greater democracy. He claimed that the West was trying to discredit China by emphasizing its "lack of democracy and lack of openness."

Cultural researcher Bernice Wangui said one of the reasons for strengthening links between China and Africa was a similarity in the way the majority of their respective populations live -- the "village lifestyle."

State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said U.S. relations with Africa were not about competition but "strategic engagement in order to address the needs of that continent and the countries of that continent -- economic, political and humanitarian.

"The United States views its role and its work with other nations in Africa as a process of cooperation and coordination in pursuit of what the countries of the region are looking for," he said.

The U.S. assistant secretary of state for African affairs, Jendayi Frazer, disagreed that Washington and Beijing were locked in "direct competition" on the continent.

"I think that's a very small view of what is needed in Africa. I think that China has just as great a right to engage in Africa as any other country."

Kenya's government, like many others in Africa, has shown a leaning towards China and Asia in general.

Chinese and Asian companies have been awarded contracts in telecommunications, security and road construction, some of which were previously awarded to firms in Britain. Kenya is a former British colony.

A confidant of President Mwai Kibaki said recently that the country was focusing on increasing relations with the "East rather than the West."

The CFR task force report recommended that the U.S. should work towards helping Africa integrate more fully into the global economy to ensure the advantages of globalization do not bypass the continent.

Washington should also establish a U.S.-Africa energy forum to promote regional cooperation and develop public-private partnerships that enable the U.S. and American companies to participate and compete more effectively for infrastructural and other projects needed in Africa.

Other recommendations included mobilizing more resources to support HIV/AIDS programs, fulfilling pledges to double aid to Africa by 2010 and pressing for urgent international action in Darfur.

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