Africa Must Leverage China Cooperation and Elevate or Stay the Arena for Great Power Rivalries

Africa Must Leverage China Cooperation and Elevate or Stay the Arena for Great Power Rivalries

By George Musiime

Today, we live in a very challenging world, a world desperately in need of sound global moral-leadership.  While this might not happen today, Africa is not lacking in potential. The African continent could actually provide this global-leadership, if only it could capitalize on its wealth of God given resources, brilliant citizenry, and development partnerships in its pursuits. However, we cannot provide global leadership, lest we fix our own leadership crises first. The concern of this essay however isn’t about global moral-leadership but rather to adumbrate on the possibility that Africa could actually overcome the challenges and stereotypes it faces today to achieve what all the other civilization throughout history have been able to accomplish. To put this into perspective, let us take a bird’s eye view of human civilization through time.

There was a time Egyptians were at the helm of global civilization, creating engineering marvels such as the pyramids, with worlds flocking to the region to experience and learn from the groundbreaking innovations that were prevalent in the region at the time. Then, there came the Arabs in Baghdad with their scientific discoveries and achievements in Mathematics, philosophy, physics, and astronomy, all of which laid the groundwork for many of the scientific breakthroughs that would follow.  However, human civilization did not rest in Baghdad or we would still be thousands of years away from where we are today. After the golden age of the Arabs, there came the Europeans and building on the previous knowledge and achievements, they gave us the industrial revolution.  This gave the Europeans so much power that they literally reached a point of sitting around a table in Europe with a map and began to share the rest of the world amongst them, and what an egotistical thing that was! It is no wonder that this would later contribute to the slump in their pace up the hill of civilization but does the story end here? Of course not, because at the beginning of the 20th century, the United States was mostly an Agricultural country just like Africa is today. It was nothing like France or Britain, yet through deliberately walking the Science and Technology path, it was able to elevate to a point where it has been able to run the world for the past century.

Moreover, following the Second World War and decolonisation in the global south, we have witnessed countries like China take enormous strides that Africa cannot any more, doubt the possibility of economic progress and transformation.

In his book “The Evolution of Civilisations” the American Historian Carrol Quigley posits that civilisation is a cyclical phenomenon which might give a reasonable explanation to the earlier passing on of the torch of civilisation from one civilisation to another throughout history. Nonetheless, regardless of some scholars faulting Quigley’s analysis as being too simplistic in as far as explaining the rise and fall of civilisations, he puts forth two points that will be the focus of this essay among the forces behind the rise and fall of civilisations. This essay will discuss these two points in relation to China-Africa relations i.e. the role of what Quigley terms as “the Instrumental Elite,” on one hand and Science and Technology on the other, in the rise of civilisations.

The instrumental Elite are a small group of people wielding enormous influence and having the power to steer the course of a society. Despite usually being a small group, they hold enough power to steer societies to progress, stagnation or destruction depending on their motives, intentions and consciousness.  Once again, one can argue that an instrumental elite with a clear vision is what has enabled China to make so much progress, becoming the world’s biggest economy over the past six decades.

Whereas most of Africa chose western democracy, China chose a different path and built a meritocratic society. Democracy by its nature rewards the popular regardless of their motives, intentions or consciousness unlike meritocracy, which rewards performance. Those that ride on popularity, tend to bring on board their kin and kind and in some unfortunate instances, form administration’s that are so incompetent that they can only get young nations on a crash-course with whatever tragedy is waiting at the end of incompetence avenue! On the contrary, China has adopted a system that rewards doers based on performance. This kind of “the instrumental elite” has enabled China to make huge leaps on the path of economic progress and transformation over such a short period. Moreover, right in there, lies the lesson and probably a model that Africa could borrow and adapt to its own journey to economic transformation.

However, Quigley does not only mention the role of the instrumental elite, he also talks about Science and technology as another factor that fuels the rise of civilisations and only God knows how strongly a deficiency in Science and Technology has held back the continent’s progress. In fact, even with the vast wealth of natural resources, Africa has not been able to make much progress due to a Science and Technology gap created by an education system designed during the colonial era with the goal of providing clerks and at the very best administrators that would implement the colonial model of governance. Therefore, we have ended up with an independent Africa, run according to the colonial rulebook and unable to make much Technological headway for the continent’s transformation. Luckily, through the continent’s friendship with China, a country that aside from its different approach was where Africa is today just a few decades ago gives Africa the hope that the goal is attainable. Additionally, China is not simply sharing skills, knowledge, expertise and technology with the continent but it is also increasing Africa’s productive capacity through investing in infrastructure.

China’s investment in infrastructure on the continent is not just to connect the periphery to the center, which was a model designed with facilitating colonial administration in mind during the colonial period. Chinese backed infrastructure projects aim to connect nations and nation-capitals facilitating cross border and intra-Africa trade and development. Therefore, all that remains now is for Africa’s instrumental elite to take decisive and deliberate actions to steer their different countries in the right direction; and that is the direction of economic transformation.

China brings to its relations with Africa the understanding that economic transformation cannot happen unless there are certain preconditions for economic progress. Conversely, the absence of these preconditions is what has become well known as  “development bottlenecks.” These same bottlenecks have grossly accounted for the continents transformation or the lack thereof. China does not necessarily have to promise Africa development and economic transformation, but through the win-win approach to its dealings with Africa, and investing in crucial infrastructure projects, China is practically setting the stage for Africa’s economic take-off. Therefore, the onus now remains on Africans to choose conscientious and enlightened leaders with the right motivation. More to that, Africa’s leadership requires a paradigm shift from the old-colonial administrator mentality that did not care much about accountability to the citizens and towards leadership that will work towards improving the livelihoods of their citizens, economies of their nations, and the economy of the continent as a whole. This way the continent will be able to advance on the ladder of civilisation, and even assume its position on the big table of the multipolar world.

George Musiime is a Research Fellow at the Sino-Uganda Research Centre.


Development Watch Centre

Kampala - Uganda


Plot 212, RTG Plaza,3rd Floor, Office Number C7 - Hoima Road, Rubaga


+256 703 380252

© DWC - All rights reserved - Cookies Policy - Privacy Policy