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ISS Workshop Report: National Consultation on Mapping Chinese Development Assistance in Africa: An Analysis of the Experiences of Ethiopia
Date: 30 July 2012




Dashen Salon, Sheraton Hotel
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Welcoming Address
Dr Mehari Maru Tadele, Project Manager, ISS

Dr Mehari Maru said the conference was organised as a follow-up session to the previous one-day symposium on the China-Africa partnership in peace and security in Africa. The follow-up meeting, he stated, would focus on mapping Chinese development assistance in Africa and giving an analysis on the experience of Ethiopia. In his address, Dr Mehari Maru expressed his appreciation to the African Forum and Network on Debt and Development (AFRODAD) as a partner in collaborating to organise the session. Furthermore, he credited the presence of pertinent individuals, participants from civil society organisations, academia, government and development aid partners, embassies, donors and private sector officials that were present on the meeting.

Mr Collins Magalasi, Executive Director, AFRODAD

On behalf of the board of directors of AFRODAD, Mr Magalasi thanked the ISS for partnering and co organising the meeting. In his welcoming speech, he said that AFRODAD is a pan-African civil society organisation focusing on developing finance and research institutions based in Harare, Zimbabwe. According to the executive director, AFRODAD was formed in 1994 and the previous works of the organisation evolved on debt cancellation. The organisation expanded its horizons on preventing debts through creating scenarios of conflicting sovereign countries. Mr Magalasi stated that the organisation has a direct partnership with EURODAD and LATINDAD on aid and development. 

Broadly speaking, he said that the 2012 strategy of ARODAD runs until 2015. He mentioned that the new strategy partners were both traditional and emerging lenders. The organisation is currently giving a spotlight to new lenders such as China, South Africa, Russia, South Korea and South Arabia, among several others. Africa`s main interest is to secure the present and benefit from sustained aid architecture. Mr Magalasi focussed attention on the importance of partnering with the ISS, citing several points. He argued that the global financial crisis and the shift in relations between the north and south necessitate strengthening the partnership between the ISS and AFRODAD. He further noted that the issue of debt cannot be overlooked.

Debt is currently a matter of security. To this end, the two bodies need to work together closely and view peace and security comprehensively. He further mentioned that the new strategy of the organisation included domestic debt. A number of African countries cannot borrow easily internationally due to the conditionality set at global forums. In this regard, AFRODAD and the ISS need to strengthen their cooperation. Discussing cooperation between the two organisations, the director said that it was vital to work towards economic governance. He noted that AFRODAD worked on how best Africa could use the extractive business sector and provide the necessary resources to the public. It also gives emphasis to ownership and consistency on taxation and sustainable development. Mr Magalasi recognised that Chinese development assistance in Africa is an important area that is difficult to categorise as it is found in various contexts. China is involved in countries that are resource rich, in large markets and in states that have political significance.

In stating the objectives of the meeting, Mr Magalasi mentioned that the conference provided an opportunity for stakeholders and AFRODAD to contribute to the draft research report Mapping Chinese Development Assistance in Africa – An analysis of the Experiences of Ethiopia.  He noted that the platform could be useful for discussion and validation of the research findings. It also promoted dialogue on the China-Africa cooperation and contributed to the debate on the rising role of China in Africa. He further pointed out that the meeting served as a stage to disseminate information on China`s assistance to Ethiopia and establish networks for future collaboration. The limited amount of information available could become an obstacle in conducting research in Ethiopia. It is evident that Chinese support to Ethiopia is moving at a fast pace. To this end, Magalasi pointed out that the initial figures in the study were an underestimation.

The executive director said that the study on China in Africa was very complex and dynamic. There had been a shift from emergency relief and manpower training to the corporatist orientation of Chinese investment in the new millennium. Chinese assistance takes various forms, such as granst; aid in kind, zero-interest loans, subsidised loans, special trade concessions, commercial loans and foreign direct Investment, among others. The study broadly attempted to look at political- economic assistance to Ethiopia. It also endeavoured to find the historical relationship, the convergence or divergence between Chinese development assistance (DA) and Ethiopian development plans, the nature and scope of Chinese development assistance to Ethiopia, Chinese DA and Ethiopia`s indebtedness, and Chinese foreign aid and processes in Ethiopia. The study also attempts to assess the processes and actors of the relationship.

In conclusion, he called on the participants to find answers to some of the gaps in the findings of the research and thanked the panel for attending the meeting.

Session I

Chair: Dr Debay Tadesse, ISS Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Mapping Chinese development assistance in Africa: an analysis of the experience of Ethiopia

The Chair stated the importance of the meeting as China is increasingly growing as an economy. Africa has also profited from Chinese economic growth. Chinese involvement in Africa is regarded as an opportunity for development. Dr Tadesse pointed out some of the effects of partnership between the two sides, including the issue of infrastructure building, deployment of concessional capital and foreign direct investment (FDI). The rapid growth of the Chinese economy and its development in the African continent raises critical concerns, such as the deepened social and class division, widened corruption, and increased elitism. Dr Tadesse noted that Africa must take advantage of the cooperation and ensure that it was effectively used to promote economic integration and development on the continent. He also pointed out the importance of the need for African governments to craft and implement strong regulatory frameworks in dealing with overseas development assistance and investment in Africa.   

Ms Eleanor Maeresera, Policy Officer, AFRODAD

The presentation focused on a study conducted three years ago on mapping Chinese development in Africa, an analysis of the experience in Ethiopia. Ms Maeresera gave a brief overview of the study. She highlighted the background of the Africa-China relationship, stating that it dates back to anti-colonial and anti- imperialist liberation movements, where the focus was ideological, and progressed to development assistance in the 1970s. Maeresera further noted that during the 1990s China- Ethiopia relations grew beyond conventional grants, aid in kind, and interest-free loans to include joint venture funds, commercial loans, investments and special trade preferences. The first China–Africa Forum (FOCAC) held in Beijing (2000) marked the renewed interests in Africa. She also recalled the adoption of the new long-term and strategic partnership in 2003 at the 2nd FOCAC Addis Ababa, which strengthened the relation. The 2006 China-Africa Policy Paper introduced a new form of interest in and approach to Africa. The policy paper reflects five principles of co-existence, namely a win-win approach, non-interference in domestic affairs, respect for diversity, economic development and sovereignty.

The speaker duly highlighted some of the findings of the work. She stated that since 1990, Chinese assistance has been increasing, particularly government to government and government with enterprises (government guaranteed loans). Moreover, Chinese aid to Ethiopia was relatively small compared to that from the Western world, particularly the US, which is the single largest supplier of foreign aid followed by multilateral agencies and the Paris Club. However, it was noted that the current reality could be different as the scenario has changed.

Ms Maeresera mentioned some of the motives that enhanced Chinese aid to Ethiopia. She confirmed that Chinese foreign aid was part of Chinese foreign policy. Due to its economic development, China has a growing urge to secure sources of raw materials for its industries. Moreover, it was stated that establishing markets for Chinese goods and services, and building political and diplomatic alliances at a regional and international level helped foster aid to Ethiopia. Ethiopia is endowed with natural resources yet to be explored and holds a strategic political position as the seat of the AU, Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) and various UN agencies. On the side of Ethiopia, the assistance helps to fulfil its quest for development. The speaker argued that China could serve as an alternative partner to the West as it had a foreign policy of non-interference.

She said there was no separation of aid from the trade and investment package as China`s definition of ODA differed from that of the OECD/DAC. Chinese assistance takes various forms. Primarily, it gives grants translated as building schools and hospitals, and ensuring water supply. Secondly, interest-free loans are another means of extending assistance through the construction of public entities. Concessional loans are also one of the grand projects focusing on infrastructure, telecommunication, construction of roads, etc. The Chinese aid, trade and investment commitment in Ethiopia reaches US$2.5 million. The project includes industrial parks, dam constriction and road building in Ethiopia. It has also played a critical role in technical assistance and debt relief.

Ms Maeresera stated that Chinese aid was a tied aid similar to Western assistance. This hinders the promotion of local industry and fosters monopoly through its labour and goods. However, she argued that China`s role went beyond bilateral aid. It has been active in giving technical assistance and debt relief. A commendable factor about Chinese aid is its compatibility with the national development plan and its predictability. However, the rational lenders are known for prescribing an economic policy.

In presenting the types of Chinese investment in Ethiopia, Ms Maeresera argued that all Chinese development assistance that was outside multilateral frameworks was project based rather than programme based. It is largely operationalised through mechanisms such as the Joint Ethiopian- China commission (JECC), Sino-Ethiopian Agreement for Mutual Promotion and Protocol of Investment-1988, Sino-Ethiopia Agreement for trade, economic and technical cooperation-1996 and Forum for China Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) Sino-Africa at a regional level. These are avenues to discuss new commitments and follow-up projects. There was no forum for the participation of civil society. There are minimal concerns over issues such as environment, health, safety and standards on projects. She also criticised of dominant use of Chinese companies and contract workers and a lack of transfer of technology, which is not sustainable by nature.

Ms Maeresera pointed some impacts of Chinese engagement in Ethiopia and other African countries. According to the findings of the research, there was no evidence that China`s foreign aid to Ethiopia was affecting its debt. However, this might not apply at present. Ethiopia is out of HIPC but there is concern that it could fall back to the same situation. China remains a small player in foreign aid and some of it is channelled through multilateral frameworks. Debt sustainability was built into programmes and as a result did not affect the debt situation in Ethiopia.

She said there was a flexible policy space for Ethiopia with less policy conditionality. The Chinese approach easily aligns with national development priorities and the process is less bureaucratic. The assistance is infrastructure focused and predictable, with an attractive package. The provision for Ethiopia to leverage its power in respect to other donors was advantageous. It is evident that China is emerging as the major source of investment. In 2008, more than 250 Chinese companies registered, with an investment of over 3.1 billion RMB in manufacturing and construction.

Ms Maeresera presented some of the challenges faced in the partnership with China. Tied aid is listed as the main obstacle. This is materialised through the use of Chinese companies and labour, which is largely inefficient, monopolistic and alienates local people. Moreover, bilateral relations remain imbalanced. Ethiopia`s exports to China were IS$ 132 million in 2006 as compared to Chinese exports of US$ 432 million to Ethiopia (G Gamora, 2009). She also emphasised that Chinese involvement was project rather than programme based, which was not consistent with long-term national development planning. It is an ad hoc or enclave development promoting regional inequalities. Loses can also be incurred as a result of uncompetitive bidding practices by Chinese companies or labour resulting in low-quality construction projects. Furthermore, there is also a lack of transparency and accountability and unavailability of information in terms of size, purpose, mechanism and administration. According to the study, the level of commitment is not known.

Ms Maeresera also pointed out further challenges. She stated that there was a lack of environmental health and safety regulation assessment standards on most projects. The administration of aid was a government-centred process with minimal civil society participation. She cited the examples of the FOCAC-Kenya in 2011 and Beijing in 2012. Some of these challenges are shared by Western countries, such as the issue of tied aid and upholding of standards. She stated her belief that there was scope for China, African countries and civil society to resolve these problems and strengthen mutual benefits.

In concluding her presentation, Maeresera noted that research on and evaluation of the role of China and the implications of its policies on resources, economies and societies were critical.


  • For Africa (Ethiopia) to succeed as exporters of manufactured goods, it needed to expand in scope, leveraging China`s investment in special economic zones and special development initiatives for greater local development, such as joint ventures with local firms.

  • Develop a continental African policy or strategy on China. This concerns the AU, ECOWAS, SADC, IGAD etc.

  • Untie aid (use of Chinese companies, equipment and labour) to enhance efficiency, competitiveness of development.

  • Decouple Chinese aid, trade, investment agreements and give room to Ethiopia to negotiate clear, independent agreements with China.

  • Source inputs locally, subcontracting with locals to enhance technology transfer and spill-over in the local economy.

  • Ensure transparency and accountability in the negotiations administration and monitoring of Chinese aid. Information needs to be shared on all aspects of aid including size, purpose, repayment etc.

  • Respect international recognised environmental, health and safety impact assessments.

  • Align Chinese aid, trade and investment with Ethiopian national strategies and priorities.


During the discussion, elaboration was asked on the basic difference between a project-based and programme-based contribution. The reply was that programme-based financing is more comprehensive and is harmonised with economic policies and productivity, whereas project-based financing is short term and lacks integration with the economy at large. Money and resources that are generated from project-based financing are difficult to track, easily corruptible and prone to theft.

A point of concern was raised that Chinese development assistance largely overlooks the human rights aspect, provided that it can work with regimes or the incumbent. The discussant pointed out that the large Chinese investment in Ethiopia displaces local residents with little or no compensation. Well-established and productive families in parts of the country are displaced.

During the discussion, an argument was raised stating that the Chinese government sought to align its policy with the arrangement of any recipient country. This challenged the hypothesis made during a presentation that Ethiopian policy is aligned to China`s national policy. It was observed that China followed a strategic of good delivery creating legitimacy and trust among the African government. In this regard, the weak state of Africa is easily exploited. It was also noted that African governments were not organised and lacked a clear, common strategy and cooperation among each other. Discussants recommended that the AU, regional economic communities (RECs) and member states draw up a common strategy to deal with this weakness.

It was also recommended that Africa integrate as a continent to increase its bargaining power and protect its weak economies under the AU umbrella. Moreover, there needs to be research conducted on China`s role in Africa. A comment was forwarded that ownership and leadership had to be taken by Africans in solving problems and objectively identifying internal weaknesses. Africa had to be proactive in drawing lessons from the existing weak partnership on aid. The discussion further elaborated on the issue of tied aid. It was pointed out that Chinese aid was tied, like other development assistance. However, the relativity and extent of ‘tiedness` was given emphasis. It was advocated that there needed to be an open negotiation with the Chinese government to draw up a common agreed regulatory and enforcement framework on tied aid.

The discussant also stressed the need to conduct further research on Chinese involvement in Africa and its implications for the economy and society. Further comparative studies between Western and Chinese assistance were needed to draw basic lessons. It was noted that African countries could play best to attain advantages from both the East and West and benefit the public at large. It was observed that there was a gap between the African Union Commission work and the African Union. Bridging the gap between technocratic and political work is necessary.

During the presentation, it was stated that China followed a non-interference policy towards Africa. However, discussants noted that investigation was necessary on the degree of Chinese contribution to the effective working of African domestic governance without active involvement. It was mentioned that Chinese interest in Africa`s natural resources indicated that the latter had the leverage to bargain. In summarising the discussion, the chair stressed the importance to open a discussion between the Chinese and the private sectors to ensure smooth investment.

Session II

Chair: Professor Tesfatsion Mengistu

The Chair pointed out that Africa didn`t have the competence and capacity to negotiate with its partners. The continent did not have an equal bargaining position. In order to solve this problem he pointed out that African unity was absolutely crucial. Africa is a resource-exporting continent. However, many governments are unable to utilise their mineral and agricultural resources. Their contribution to international trade is minimal and countries produce similar products. The complexity of the issue of transfer of technology, which is the ability to transform goods into products, was raised and he recommended the clarification of our understanding of transfer of technology.

Prof. Tesfatsion stated that Western aid hasn`t brought about substantive or even substantial development in Africa, whereas Chinese assistance was much more visible. Hence the West had to redefine and restructure its developmental aid programme. Moreover, the issues of transparency and accountability were the mandates of parliamentarians and the government. 

Chinese development assistance to Africa: the case of Ethiopia

Professor K. Matthews, Addis Ababa University

The presenter said that China-Africa relations was becoming a popular subject. It`s an important issue that has an implication for the future of Africa. China has been involved in different parts of the world and lately in Africa as well. Even though China`s involvement in Africa is recent, China is not new to Africa. The relations between the two partners were interrupted for historical reasons. Chinese participation in African development restarted in the 1950s and continued in the post-colonial period all the way to the 1970s, and ever since China has made considerable contributions.

Prof. Matthews argued that cooperation has been questioned on whether it provides an alternative to the Western partnership or if it is exploitation with economic ends. He illustrated further gaps, for instance the extent to which China-Africa relations were south-south cooperation. The ability of China to free Africa from debt and China`s assistance to Africa in attaining the MDGs has been another area of concern. He also raised the following questions: How can Africa position itself in a win-win situation? Is China another coloniser? Is China`s presence in Africa part of its grand project to control the world? Is involvement a natural progression? Is China trying to get access to resources and making corruption worse? Chinese goods in Africa, which are bringing about deindustrialisation, China`s involvement in arms trade, and the trade imbalance were among the issues raised.

He recommended that in spite of the existence of such challenges, China-Africa relations needed to be looked at objectively. Sensationalism and paranoia should be avoided and relations needed to be conceptualised in a broader sense. It was discussed how China was playing a major role in the African Renaissance and south-south cooperation. Africa has also developed substantially in terms of economic development and it`s no longer a hopeless continent. Emerging powers have created a conducive environment for competition for Africa`s resources. Africa is learning a lot from past partnerships and currently it needs to learn how China has developed. Chinese economic development was criticised because it was not accompanied by democracy and freedom. However, the country has its values and believes in its historical greater unity. China`s greatest fear is the issue of Taiwan and its major conditionality has been the recognition of China as a whole by its partners. China has a clear plan about its needs and interests. It was put forward that now was time for Africa to put in place a common united African position and make use of Chinese assistance, instead of accusing China of exploiting Africa.

Mr Gedion Gamora, Consultant, UNECA

Mr Gedion discussed the conceptual issues on Chinese development assistance/aid, particularly the Chinese conceptualisation of development assistance/aid. According to the 2011 Chinese paper it consists of grant aid, which targets sectors such as health, education and humanitarian aid. The second component is interest-free zero loans to construct public facilities, which have been neglected by earlier partners. These two components aim at strengthening diplomatic relations. The third and main type of aid is concessional loans, given with fixed rates or a low annual interest rate and long-term repayment period. This has developmental, diplomatic and business objectives. Many different projects in Africa have been funded by this type of loan.  

It was noted that China provided foreign aid in eight forms. The first three types of aid can be categorised under official development assistance (ODA). In addition, certain elements are classified as foreign aid. Unlike the West, the Chinese also have other official flows (OFF). The Asian mode is attaching no political strings but tying aid to labour and material from donors and relying on projects rather than on programme aid. China`s involvement is more of a development investment.

It was observed that in terms of institution China doesn`t have a central aid agency and a number of government bodies are responsible for this assistance. The state council plays a central role in deciding whether aid should be given or not. The ministry of commerce, under the ministry of finance, is the administrative wing. The ministry of foreign affairs has the mandate over aid given outside China.   

The presenter noted that Africa was the biggest recipient of Chinese foreign aid. The trend increased dramatically up until 2011 in Ethiopia. Compared to major donors, the UK stands first in terms of disbursement, while China stands first in terms of commitment and second in terms of disbursement. Sector wise, 52 per cent of Chinese aid goes to energy generation and supply, 31 per cent goes to transportation and storage, 12 per cent goes to industry, and the remaining goes to different sectors such as agriculture, health etc. In terms of disbursement, 65 per cent of Chinese aid targeted energy generation and supply, 27 per cent went to transport and storage, and 3 per cent to industry. He concluded that 94 per cent of Chinese assistance targeted energy generation and transport. Under energy, the activities that have been undertaken are basically the construction of dams. Under transport, the construction of roads within and outside Addis has been completed. In terms of commitment to industry, cement industry expansion has been targeted. China is also involved in debt reduction in Ethiopia.

In the White Paper the cancellation of debt every three years was stated. It was observed that the opportunities for Africa in general and Ethiopia in particular were economic assistance in terms of infrastructure development. Chinese investment is increasing at an alarming rate. China is assisting Ethiopia through tariff-free exports to the Chinese market, development loans and grants from China, leading to employment opportunities. China is becoming an alternative to Western aid and Chinese industries are contributing to African countries.

Mr Gedion observed that the benefit for China was access to resources to sustain its economic growth. China is also benefiting through trade, investment and aid. Ethiopia as the seat of the AU and different UN agencies is strategically important for China. The country is also benefiting economically in terms of market potential and opportunities for Chinese industries operating in Ethiopia. Africa is opening employment opportunities for Chinese citizens. Africa can also be a commercial launcher for Chinese companies by becoming the place to demonstrate their potential. China also needed the diplomatic support of Africa for its own policy on Taiwan.

The issue of tied aid was pointed out as being a challenge. Loans are tied and workers need to come from China. The lack of a broader development strategy on projects is another challenge. By underbidding and outbidding local companies, China dominates construction in Ethiopia. China is pursuing its own economic interests. Other challenges that were identified were a lack of transparency in its aid and finance agreements, weak monitoring mechanisms and the support of authoritarian regimes. 

Mr Gedion had the following policy recommendations:

  • African countries need to develop a good understating of Chinese approach to aid, which is a kind of aid that has commercial ambitions.

  • Enhancing African governments` capacity to negotiate and reach a win-win situation. Commodity prices are rising so Africa needs to negotiate.

  • China must create job opportunities and facilitate the transfer of skills, knowledge and technology.

  • Projects must be executed as part of a broader development strategy. African governments should know the next step after a specific project and how to create backward and forward linkage to the economy.

  • African governments should also have a strategy to maintain large-scale projects.

  • There must be an increase in the financial transparency of the transaction between China and Africa.

  • There should be a regional coordination approach at continental and sub-regional level through a comprehensive African policy on China and other emerging powers.

  • Africa needs to be prepared in terms of strategy, as it`s becoming more and more important. Hence it needs to diversify its development relationships with different partners and should be able to benefit from the partnership.

Dr Xiao Yuhua, Senior Fellow, Institute of African Studies, Zhejiang Normal University

The presenter pointed out that Chinese development aid to Africa has been considered inhumane. However in the post-World War Two arena there was ideological Chinese aid to African countries.  In 1976/77 China`s foreign aid amounted to 7 per cent of China`s national expenditure, which dropped during the reforms in 1978. The focus on ideological solidarity was no longer sustainable, hence by the late 70s and early 80s the focus was on the economic sector. China is increasingly involved in many countries given its economic power and the process of globalisation. Its economic power has created expectations from African countries and the Western world as China was expected to give assistance to poor countries. It has also benefited from the globalisation process.

However, Dr Yahua noted that many criticised China`s assistance or the development of African countries as imbalanced given that certain countries were left behind whereas others were developing. The assistance should be designed in such a way that it is inclusive and equally beneficial. China will be an alternative partner for Africa by giving assistance to projects that are undertaken by African or Western countries. People remain sceptical about China`s involvement in Africa. One major problem is the ideological heritage from the Cold War era. When we talk about colonialism or neo-colonialism we are still living in the mentality of this heritage. Currently African countries are independent.

The presenter concluded that the problem lied with the supervision of the aid given to African countries and this had implications for the sustainability of the financing of the Chinese banks and companies. There was also a problem of aid ineffectiveness that persisted for years. At the same time there is growing opportunities from emerging economies. Hence it is advantageous for Africa to have more partners. Both Africa and China should look after their own interests. China itself faces internal challenges because of the capital invested outside the country and not within. Social services need to be provided so that aid given to other countries is accepted domestically.


It was pointed out that Chinese were criticised for indirectly supporting authoritarian regimes. The problem of Chinese companies underbidding local Ethiopian construction companies was also raised. Proper planning for sustainable development, particularly the handling of properties when projects are completed, was suggested. In response to this it was noted that it seemed from the 2012 Beijing declaration and Hu Jintao`s speech that the position was changing regarding support to authoritarian regimes. The issue of local industries being pushed out of the market is still a pressing issue and a genuine concern. The strategy to solve this problem should be part of the policy package with China that Africa should put forward. China in 2006 came up with a comprehensive Africa policy document and in 2011 a foreign aid policy. Now it is time for Africa to be proactive and define its terms.

A comment was made with regard to the discussion on the comparison between Chinese and Western foreign aid. It was argued that the focus had been mainly on their differences rather than similarities. It was suggested that the similarities should not be overlooked. Both donors` priority was their national interest. It was also pointed out that referring to the West as a single entity was incorrect given that it was very diversified. It`s also advisable to discuss about the prospects of China`s aid to Africa not only the failures. In response to this it was observed that there were similarities between the aid from the two donors. The West was not only supporting democracies but authoritarian regimes as well. China on the other hand has not put conditionalities to the aid given, which is an advantage for Africa. Both China and the West pursued their national interests. There was opposition to China`s assistance to Africa as many people are still poor in China. Consequently there was secrecy to the amount of aid given. The prospect of addressing the challenges raised, as was the need to recognise the cultural gap between China and Africa.

Clarification was sought on the amount of foreign aid coming to Ethiopia from the EU. In response it was noted that the data gathered regarding EU was on a bilateral basis. It was also stressed that Ethiopia needed to have a strategy to exploit both partners: the Chinese and the West. The EU contribution would be taken into account.

Clarification was sought on growing concern that Africa-China relations continued being unbalanced, which is not sustainable. Raw materials are transported from Africa to meet the growing needs of Chinese companies. Is Africa going to benefit from this kind of trade relations?  Explanation was also required on whether the current Chinese communist party was the representative of the Chinese people, and in response it was pointed out that was the ruling party but not the only party in China. There were government-to-government relations as well as inter-party relations. What the communist party recommended became policy. However, as the middle class was growing more channels were being created for policy recommendation. China`s aim was not to indoctrinate Africans with its values but rather to create an exchange between them. It was further noted that even though there were rumours that Chinese employers hired Chinese workers, it was different on the ground, where there are many African workers. The important issue should not be the coming of Chinese workers in Africa but rather the mistreatment of local workers by some Chinese supervisors and their low salaries. Regarding compensation and relocation, it was pointed out that this was the mandate of the Ethiopian government.

Mr Collins Malagasi, Executive Director, AFRODAD

Way forward

  • In many cases in Africa there has been potential for conflict as a result of lack of transparency and participation by civil societies.

  • Fund transfers between countries may face challenges when government changes take place. It would be wise to reflect on the future of existing agreements and understandings between China and Africa if there is going to be a change in leadership.

  • Debt and aid should be viewed in a broader sense, in terms of politics and security. AFRODAD is looking beyond money and is giving focus to transparency and accountability.

Dr. Mehari Maru Taddele, Programme Manager, CPRA, ISS Addis Ababa

Appreciation was extended to the participants.

Dr Mehari pointed out that this platform served to reinforce existing ideas and to further clarify certain gaps. Investigation and research on China-Africa relations enabled people to become more rational and evidence based. Regional organisations and the AU should play major roles in this regard. The AU, however, doesn`t have the mandate to come up with policies for other sovereign states and negotiation among member states was a difficult task. The weakness of AU is a reflection of the weakness of member states.

It was observed that on the issue of projects and programmes, the view of long-term and short-term plans was another issue of debate. Africa has different partners. When a certain agreement is comprehensive it lacks focus and when it is long term a single partner monopolises certain sectors in countries. This leads to unbalanced ownership.

It was noted that criticism of Africa-China relations centred on the retarding role of China on aspects of governance and human rights. This problem needed to be tackled to make the partnership sustainable. The unbalanced trade also needed to be dealt with. It remained questionable whether we were going to be equal partners in future. We should also be able to identify our expectations from the partnership and what kind of sustainability we are looking for.

The other problem that needed attention was the relatively poor quality of Chinese products and services in Africa. Poor labour practices and a lack of adherence to environmental standards were also of concern. It was stressed that other aspects should not be overlooked. For instance, the quick delivery of services and goods is appealing, even if quality may be compromised. Politicians in particular take advantage of this opportunity to legitimise their power. We should not undermine the inspirational untraditional Chinese development model. By compromising democracy and increasing delivery, they were able to bring development. It would be wise to examine if it is possible to replicate this in Africa.

It was observed that criticisms were increasing and that Africa`s weakness had contributed to this, particularly in terms of its weak regulatory mechanism and leadership. There are no instances in which an African government brought forward an issue to negotiate and was turned down by China. However, Africa didn`t try to put forward its conditions. The other shortcoming was the Chinese tendency to do business irrespective of the concerns that were voiced. Some business dealings tended to be incompatible with the national interest of African countries. The other problem that was raised was the deflationary role of China in the democratisation process in Africa. This problem needed to be tackled and delivery needed to be coupled with governance. Hence Africa needed to demand action on governance and democracy, given that was not imposed.

Dr Mehari concluded that China had been in Africa for a long time. Both partners should benefit mutually from the partnership. China is fully prepared for the partnership, but Africa is partially or completely unprepared. The partnership with China needed to learn from prior failures and successes. China was one among many actors in Africa, and the continent needed to benefit from all its partners.


Mrs. Beakal Bisrat
Programme Administrator Conflict Prevention and Risk Analysis Division (CPRA)
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