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China/Africa: Civil Society Meeting

AfricaFocus Bulletin
Aug 10, 2007 (070810)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

"In China, attitudes toward Darfur are evolving rapidly - so that instead of being part of the problem, it could play a significant role in the solution. ... China does not want to be perceived globally as a defender of authoritarian regimes that perpetrate or are oblivious to human suffering." - Gareth Evans and Donald Steinberg

Evans and Steinberg are more optimistic than most observers about China's changing position on Darfur (see, for example, the critique by Eric Reeves in the links below). But it is abundantly clear, however one views the prospect, that China is now a factor of rising importance for Africa on both diplomatic and economic issues. So far, however, people-to-people ties have lagged far behind governmental and economic links.

This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains a report from Pambazuka News on the first meeting of African and Chinese civil society organizations, taking place in May in Shanghai on the edge of the annual African Development Bank meeting, held in China this year.

Selected links to other recent comments and analyses include the following. For many additional sources, use the AfricaFocus Plus search engine of selected quality sites at

China and Darfur: Signs of Transition, by Gareth Evans and Donald Steinberg

Unresolved: China's feigned support for Darfur, by Eric Reeves

Special issue of Pambazuka News on African Perspectives on China in Africa

Mbendi background pages on China in Africa

China in Africa: It's (still) the governance, stupid, by Akwe Amosu

China Provokes Debate in Africa, by Walden Bello

Place Your Pre-Production Order for "No Easy Victories" Now!

"We were part of a worldwide movement that continues today to redress the economic and social injustices that kill body, mind, and spirit. 'No Easy Victories' makes clear that our lives and fortunes around the globe are indeed linked." - Nelson Mandela

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++++++++

African and Chinese CSOs Discuss China in Africa

Hakima Abbas

[Hakima Abbas is AU Policy Analyst with Fahamu ]

Pambazuka News 306 May 31, 2007

Heads of State, foreign ministers and central bank governors from seventy seven African nations met in Shanghai, China, [in May] for the African Development Bank's (AfDB) annual meetings. The location of the meetings was pertinently and historically chosen in light of growing Sino-African relations, which, at the governmental level, have reached soaring heights and dimensions. Yet to be foreseen, however, are the implications for the people of Africa and China. It is to this uncertainty that a discussion was held on the peripheries of the AfDB fanfare between African and Chinese non-governmental actors in a meeting convened by China Development Brief, Fahamu, Focus on the Global South and the Transnational Institute.

The historic meeting of Chinese, African and other Southern nongovernmental actors allowed for contemplative discussion and debate among academics, researchers and civil society organisations through open and critical dialogue. Participants included representatives from China, Kenya, Egypt, Sudan, Zimbabwe, Benin, South Africa, Mozambique, Burma, the Philippines, the Netherlands, UK, USA, Brazil, India and Australia. A new and nuanced perspective was illuminated that was neither merely rejectionist nor unquestionably accepting. The meetings began with reflections on the nature of Sino-African relations exploring the charges of neo-colonialism versus the expressions of South-South cooperation and mutual aid.

At the outset of the debates, Prof. Yan Hirong of the Department of Sociology at the University of Hong Kong challenged the vilification of Chinese relations in Africa in western media. She noted the importance of putting these trade and investment relations in the perspective of global trends where China is still a small player in Africa. However, Daniel Ribeiro from Justi‡a Ambiental in Mozambique observed that the impact of deforestation or the removal of livelihood on a community is itself colossal regardless of the size of Chinese investments in the particular nation. It is this impact that creates popular perceptions of Sino-African relations. Indeed, journalist Wang Yongcheng suggested that Chinese people view China to be helping Africa and are disconcerted by the apparent criticism and lack of appreciation. She said that little is heard in China about any negative effects of China's involvement in the Continent.

Ali Askouri, Piankhi Institute, provided an example of where Chinese corporations have been involved in projects that have a negative impact on communities in Africa. The Merowe Dam Project in Sudan is the largest hydropower project currently under construction in Africa. It is being implemented by two Chinese contractors and funded largely by China Export Import Bank. The construction of the dam will however cause the displacement, and affect the very survival, of some seventy thousand people living along the riverbanks. In Mr. Askouri's view, it is unconstructive to debate whether Chinese actions are worse or better than those of western States as all actors should be held to the highest standards of accountability. Rather, he turned to his Chinese counterparts to find out how affected communities can effect change in the practice of Chinese corporations in Africa.

China's government espouses the tenets of non-interference and nonconditionality in Africa as demonstrating recognition of selfdetermination
in contrast to the neo-colonialist conditionality of western donors. Professor Xu Weizhong from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences considered hypocritical the cant advanced by western nations that perpetuates the perception of Africa as an economic burden rather than the prop from which industrialisation of the north was achieved and continues to be upheld. And in the same vein noted that "in the end Africans must be the deciders of their own destiny and must have the right to say whether their relationship with China is good for them or not."

The non-interference and no-conditionality policy has many critics charging China with failing to encourage good governance. But yet African participants like Ali Askouri were not asking China to not invest in Africa, in fact he noted that the affected communities along the Nile River basin of Sudan are not, per se, against the dam project, but sought avenues to constructively bring the voices of Africa's people to the table and wondered what role Chinese civil society could play in holding their government accountable.

While Chinese civil society is growing, it is still testing its position relative to the government and the people of China. Organizations are primarily focused nationally and have little experience or knowledge of China's actions internationally despite parallel issues of concern. Their relations with the government tend to be cooperative rather than antagonist given that influence is most effectively leveraged in China through negotiation rather than the "naming and shaming" style of western NGOs. African civil society tends to be experienced and mature in their advocacy nationally and regionally but have little understanding and exposure to Chinese political waters and processes for change. The meeting began a much- needed open dialogue that needs to be continued and increased to enhance the opportunities of Sino-Chinese relations for communities in Africa and China.

The special issue of Pambazuka News, African Perspective on China in Africa (, was translated (courtesy of China Development Brief) into Chinese and distributed to participants at the meeting.

At the meeting, Hakima Abbas discussed the outcome of the meeting with two of the African participants whose attendance at the meeting was facilitated by Fahamu.

Interview with Sara Musa El Saeed, a consultant with Christian Aid, Sudan. Being a consultant most of the answers are the personal perspective of the interviewee.

Pambazuka News: Why do you feel a meeting of African and Chinese non- governmental actors is important at this time?

Sara Musa El Saeed: Until now most of Africa-China relationships (or at least in the case of Sudan) are at the
political/governmental level with minimum, if any, other levels of involvement. It is felt that non-governmental sector involvement might help in maintaining fair and just relationship with communities' rights and concerns being observed. There is complete ignorance from both Chinese as well as African civil society organisations such as existing organisations, their focus, scope, expertise etc., which are the basic information required if any future cooperation is to take place thus this meeting is hoped to provide this forum for getting to know each other.

Pambazuka News: What are your key reflections on Sino-Africans relations coming out of the China in Africa meeting?

Sara Musa El Saeed: Still, I feel the two sides don't know each other well enough to be able to plan future plans and/or joint activities or cooperation, so I think this meeting needs to be followed up with continued dialogue and discussions as well as other more specific meetings to create windows for discussion on specific issues such as the environment, HIV/AIDS etc., just to mention a few of the issues raised during the meeting.

Also, the general public on the two sides are not aware of what is going on, how this might affect them, how to address the relations, both to maintain best benefits out of this involvement as well as stop any harmful effects that might result for the two sides. I believe that this could be the role of the CSOs on the two sides of the equation. There are many similarities in the areas of concerns such as the environment, funding, political environment that could be prohibiting at some points, HIV/ADS, funding constraints which the two sides could cooperate in solving and share their available expertise and know-how. However this needs to build trust, contacts/ connections and exchange of information, which cannot happen without closer contacts and knowing each other.

Pambazuka News: How do you think African civil society can enhance the opportunities and mitigate the threat of Chinese relations with Africa?

Sara Musa El Saeed: CSOs are in direct contact with communities that might be affected by these relationships. In many cases they are in a better position to get information and knowledge of the type and effects of the relationship in the respective area/region and assess the damage that might result from it. Also and hopefully they can be the organisers of their communities to plan and act together to mitigate and address such negative impacts. In fact what I am also dreaming of is that these meetings form a discussion area for African CSOs among themselves to organise networks and regional groups in case of larger effects that might affect the region (such as in the case of forests that are shared among more than one country, dams such as along the Nile basin etc.). Also (I might be dreaming) but if the same happened among Chinese CSOs and these groups from the two sides joined hands and formed pressure groups and information exchange centres I think CSOs would be a real force to stop negative impacts of any governmental or economical agreements.

Pambazuka News: How do you envisage Chinese and African civil society organizations, academics and researchers developing alliance to enhance the opportunities for communities in Africa and China?

Sara Musa El Saeed: As I said in the beginning, there is a knowledge and information gap among CSOs on the two sides and I think it is the role of the academics from the two sides to provide this missing information through research, studies, policy analysis and reforms etc.

Pambazuka News: What concrete outcomes do you hope to implement, or be a part of, coming out of the meeting in Shanghai?

Sara Musa El Saeed: We need to start thinking of how to keep the momentum and consolidate the Shanghai meeting by setting goals and future plans, this could be done by having continued dialogue and discussions among the current group, and I would be happy to take part in these discussions and dialogue be it through emails, meetings etc. In terms of follow up action, this is something I was hoping to come up very clearly from the meeting, however I think there has been some points raised which need to be followed up and formulated in the form of future plans or follow up action and again I would be happy to help in formulating these plans. I will be sharing the report of the meeting, which I hope to get from the organisers, as well as my own report and would be discussing with Christian Aid what role they can play in future actions.

Interview with Charles Mutasa, Executive Director of AFRODAD, Zimbabwe

Pambazuka News: Why do you feel a meeting of African and Chinese non- governmental actors is important at this time?

Charles Mutasa: There is more Chinese involvement in the African continent than ever before. A lot of business deals are being sealed between African leaders and Chinese leaders. Citizen concerns over the new investors in the continent have been voiced within many civil society platforms. The Sino-Africa summits at the African Union level have signalled to the world the need to interrogate this new phenomenon. Many countries are resorting to China as a counter weight for their tired relations with the west - the "look east" policy. China has been mentioned as supporting dictatorships in Africa especially the Sudanese government over Darfur human rights abuses and, as such, there is need to interrogate the new Chinese interest versus human rights.

Pambazuka News: What are your key reflections on Sino-Africans relations coming out of the China in Africa meeting?

Charles Mutasa: There is no citizens' involvement in the whole Sino- African relations. This needs to be factored in by building CSO networks and linkages. There is a need to identify the best practices of the Sino-Africans relations and strengthen them and at the same time do away with weaknesses or disadvantages to Africa from the linkage. There is also a need to avoid the problems Africa had with the bank and IMF and ensure that they are not repeated in Sino- Africans relations. Both the Chinese and African governments must be engaged on issues of human rights and environmental protection, among others, as they do their business. People to people relations can also better transform the Sino-Africans relations if there relations remain solely at the political leadership level the continent will benefit very little. Thus linking CSOs, academics, experts and others will help nurture the relations for the benefit of all.

Pambazuka News: How do you think African civil society can enhance the opportunities and mitigate the threat of Chinese relations with Africa ?

Charles Mutasa: At a regional level CSOs need to use various platforms (ECOSOCC, NEPAD, UNECA, trade unions, women movements and Pan African Parliament) to engage African leadership and advise it on the best way forward. The AU must have one continental approach guiding country engagements with China - it must be strategic and based on comparative advantage. The use of research, advocacy and the media will help in this case. Exposing, naming and shaming certain deals can help ease the situation. At a national level, open and transparent country stakeholders debates and assessment of projects and deals will help.

Pambazuka News: How do you envisage Chinese and African civil society organizations, academics and researchers developing alliance to enhance the opportunities for communities in Africa and China?

Charles Mutasa: There is a need to have exchange programs between Chinese and African NGOs; the promotion of sports, competition and cultural activities; university to university linkages; joint field missions to projects; annual meetings and Sino-Africans side events.

Pambazuka News: What concrete outcomes do you hope to implement, or be a part of, coming out of the meeting in Shanghai ?

Charles Mutasa: Exchange programs between China and African NGOs, joint field missions to projects and joint research and advocacy activities.

Interview with Antony Otieno Ong'ayo, Transnational Institute, The Netherlands. Country of Origin: Kenya

Pambazuka News: Why do you feel a meeting of African and Chinese non- governmental actors is important at this time?

Antony Otieno Ong'ayo: The meeting improved the NGO's knowledge on policy issues, relevant national legislation and policies in their respective areas of engagement as well as relevant knowledge sharing resources (this implies sharing examples, experiences and lessons with peers).

Pambazuka News: What are your key reflections on Sino-Africans relations coming out of the China in Africa meeting?

Antony Otieno Ong'ayo: The need for partnerships and programmes focusing on learning more about how CSOs use evidence to influence policy processes, improving information and communication activities. The need for Chinese and African NGOs to take advantage of new circumstances, and focus on how to make use of interactive technology since technology is not only a tool but part of a co-evolutionary process that shapes organizational forms and practices. The need to access correct information from government as a way of finding issues to raise with them.

Pambazuka News: How do you think African civil society can enhance the opportunities and mitigate the threat of Chinese relations with Africa?

Antony Otieno Ong'ayo: Engagement in the transformation of national, international and trans-national political space. The need for consultations in different geographical regions of the developing world to learn more about the role that CSOs currently play in using evidence to promote development policy and practice, and explore what they need to do better.

Pambazuka News: How do you envisage Chinese and African civil society organizations, academics and researchers developing alliance to enhance the opportunities for communities in Africa and China?

Antony Otieno Ong'ayo: Working together to generate useful insights for improved practices. Identify opportunities for small-scale collaborative work and exchange programmes (at institutional, organisational and individual consultation capacity).

Pambazuka News: What concrete outcomes do you hope to implement, or be a part of, coming out of the meeting in Shanghai?

Antony Otieno Ong'ayo: Undertaking research in any area of ChinaAfrica relations, the impact of Chinese investment from various perspectives especially on labour and human rights issues, the impact on policy issues among African governments, writing for publications in China and Africa (for China Development Brief and Pambazuka if frameworks for such contributions are created).

There is a need for another forum where concrete issues can be discussed as a follow up to the Shanghai meeting. In this meeting, concrete measures and action frameworks can be developed whereby some clear objectives could be set and an action plan developed to help realise such objectives. They can include joint activities (research, surveys, but also experience and information sharing which can be documented and shared between NGOs in China and Africa). Some policy recommendations can be developed for use in the dialogue process with Chinese and African governments of specific issues that are the main concern of civil society in both continents. A dialogue framework can also be developed through which those participating in the China Africa relations can engage with the African and Chinese governments, investors and financial institutions concerned as an alternative voice to influence policy on behalf of the communities affected by either political or economic policies that are implemented under Sino- Africa relations.

AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

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