NAI as a platform for dialogue between Africa and the Asian giants

Comment by Fantu Cheru, September 2008

On September 22 and 23, the Nordic Africa Institute will organize an international conference on ‘China and India in Africa: New Strategic Encounters’. This is part of a new effort to expand NAI’s research portfolio through greater research cooperation with various research centers and universities across the globe. Situating research on Africa in a wider global context is the new modus operandi of NAI research strategy given the significant changes taking place in the balance of power in the world economy.

It is not surprising that China and India’s recent venture into Africa is attracting wide international attention and debate. Chinese and Indian multinationals have become providers of capital and technology, and have boosted infrastructure investment and economic growth in many African countries. Most of the Chinese and Indian investment has been in the extractive sector—petroleum being the most sought resource. The trick is how can this new partnership contribute positively to the long-term diversification of production or sustainable development of African countries. This concern is particularly directed at China, which takes the position that ‘politics and economics’ do not mix; that China respects the sovereignty of individual states and it is not its business to meddle in the internal affairs of African countries. Critics of China’s greater involvement in countries such as Sudan and Zimbabwe, on the other hand, argue that, as within China itself, the concerns of economic growth, social equity and environmental protection, democratic governance, and labor rights all need to be integrated within any framework that define China-Africa cooperation.

In organizing this conference, NAI provides an open space for scholars and practitioners to engage in constructive dialogue on the future economic and political relationship between the African continent and two emerging Asian giants. More importantly, Africa could benefit from the operations of Chinese companies provided that there are robust national and sub-regional institutional regulatory frameworks and the capacity to monitor and direct investment in terms of local skills development and technology transfer.
Fantu Cheru
Research Director of the Nordic Africa Institute

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