China and India in Africa – Neither better nor worse than the West

The Rise of China & India in Africa, edited by Professor Fantu Cheru and Dr. Cyril Obi, is the first title in a major new book series published by the Nordic Africa Institute and London-based Zed Books. The series, with the brand name Africa Now, is the joint effort of two partners with a long-standing reputation of publishing on development issues. Zed Books has the operative goal of giving a voice to “people, places, issues and ideas at the margins” with an international perspective.

The Chinese scramble for Africa in recent years has attracted much attention by scholars, diplomats and the media. Efforts by India, Brazil and Russia to upgrade their relationship with Africa is also in the spotlight and these four countries, together known as BRIC, are now playing a greater role than ever before in Africa, politically, economically and diplomatically. China and India are now frequently described as Africa’s most important economic partners, very often with a touch of schadenfreude over the fact that the West no longer enjoys a monopoly of influence over African development.

In the media there has been a flurry of reporting on the new partnerships, including some deplorable examples of “China bashing”, which sometimes seem to forget the 150 years of European colonial involvement in Africa. The Rise of China & India in Africa is hence not the first book on the subject, but a book which looks at its subject matter from a wholly different perspective.

“The discourse on China and India in Africa has until now generally been dominated by voices from the West”, explains Professor Fantu Cheru, Research Director of the Nordic Africa Institute and one of the book’s editors. “But in this book voices are heard from different perspectives, including those from China and India themselves.”

The project originated in an international research conference in 2008, organized by the Nordic Africa Institute, but for the book the scope has been considerably expanded, in particular to include a significant input from the Indian perspective. Almost one third of the book’s 17 chapters are written by Indian scholars, covering both an historical and modern perspective, case studies in trade as well as the permanently controversial issue of oil and energy.

“We are not taking a position in our book”, says Professor Cheru, but bring in different positions. We are more humble in our perspective and cover Chinese and Indian involvement in Africa on many issues; development, trade, culture, conflict.”

“The book also discusses what Africans ought to do, with the view that the onus is now on the Africans themselves to engage in setting rules and limits for China and India. We are not shy about the tensions and conflicts evolving from the Chinese involvement.”

And what is the conclusion?

“We’re not quite there yet”, says Professor Cheru. “We’re not ready to make definite conclusions.”

“One conclusion however is that China is not very different from the West in how they operate in Africa. They are neither better nor worse than the West.”

Christian Palme

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