Guess who is Coming to Dinner
China is in Nigeria's business. Literally. The Chinese are on the streets of Nigeria offering to fry akara and build roads for the masses. Why not? Boundaries are blurring, the globe is in the grip of a Chinese invasion and Nigeria seems to be happy to luxuriate in the new warmth from the East. Nigeria seems enthralled by the opportunities the partnership with China presents.
The growth of trade between China and Nigeria has been phenomenal ÔÇô over $7 million in 2008 alone. China is investing in Nigeria's infrastructure and her abundant, if abused natural resources like crude oil and gas. Who knows, China may finally deprive comedians from mining jokes out of Nigeria's beleaguered state-owned electricity company. In addition, China is granting Nigeria access to hundreds of millions of dollars in soft loans to jump-start its railway system and assist with development.
Western nations have been viewing this relationship with concern and skepticism. They have reason to be concerned, but they have no moral authority to complain about the lack of altruism in China's entreaties to Africa. The hypocrisy is galling. Western nations have been overwhelmingly predatory in Africa, reducing her people and economy to ruins with practices that would be criminal in their own lands. With the aid of thieving political and intellectual elite, policies and structures were put in place to ensure that Africans remained bonded to the West. Entire populations and civilizations have been decimated to serve the West's need for human and natural resources. Ask the people of the Niger Delta.
While we remain cautiously optimistic that Nigeria's partnership with China presents an opportunity for Nigeria and Africa to invest in a true partnership, there is concern that this is an enthusiastic, perhaps uncritical relationship that tips the power balance to China's advantage. The first concern stems from a lack of faith in our government. Greed and ineptitude have robbed our leaders of the foresight and will to craft robust agreements with any nation. The second concern is that the Chinese may overwhelm us with the ubiquity of products and services that may have quality control issues. Third, there are complaints that the Chinese are developing a reputation for not delivering on their promises. Finally, Chinese infrastructure agreements stipulate that 70 per cent of the labor must be Chinese and thousands of Chinese retail shops have sprung up across Africa with this condition in place. This is unacceptable. A lopsided business partnership forged between inept rulers and a self-serving China will prove to be very costly indeed for Nigeria, and exacerbate pre-existing conditions like acute and chronic poverty, anemic production capacity, unfair balance of trade and crippled sovereignty.
These concerns have to be addressed. The Nigeria-China relationship has the capacity to be mutually beneficial only if Nigerian rulers live up to their responsibilities and demand the following:
- Good fiscal, technological, and resource concessions from China
- Observance of at least minimum environmental standards acceptable to international environmental consensus.
- Labor concessions in which the bulk of the workforce of these massive infrastructure projects is Nigerian and there is a conscious, monitored and evaluated effort on the part of the Chinese to train African technical staff to maintain these projects.
- Honest, purposeful, measurable technology transfer.
On balance, excessive and unreasonable terms imposed by Western donors make Chinese aid especially attractive. We welcome the increased competition and say to our leaders, go into these ventures with all eyes open. In the interest of our long-suffering nation.
The StandPoint is the consensual position of the NVS editorial board.