Ghana held its general
elections on December 7 and 8, 2012, re-electing
incumbent President John Dramani Mahama. However,
Nana Akufo-Addo, flag-bearer of the opposition New
Patriotic Party, is challenging Mahama's narrow
win and intends to contest the result in court, a
legal process that is sure to be prolonged. The
verdict could potentially challenge Ghana's
generally stable and peaceful political
environment. What will not change are the
country's close economic ties to China.
my trip to Ghana in 2011, I observed Chinese
foremen at the construction sites of the now
completed George W Bush Highway. The massive
Ministry of Defense building in Ghana's capital,
Accra, was constructed with a US$50 million
Chinese grant. The Bui Hydroelectric Dam is a
collaborative project of the government of Ghana
and SinoHydro, a Chinese construction
company. In 2012, China
invested in a new Ghanaian airline that serves
domestic routes, and it is likely that the China
Airports Construction Corporation (CACC) will be
involved in building Accra's new international
Ghana is not the only African
country in which China operates. Indeed, China is
the largest financier on the entire continent.
Chinese corporations, financial institutions, and
the government have invested billions of dollars
in large new dams, for example.
charge is that Chinese companies prefer to bring
in Chinese employees (and even prisoners) to work
on African projects, rather than relying on a
local labor force. But Zambian economist Dambisa
Moyo maintains that in Zambia, at least, the ratio
of African to Chinese workers exceeds 13:1, and
that there is no evidence of Chinese prisoners
As African countries like
Ghana search for infrastructure improvements to
accelerate their economic growth, China has
sidelined the role of the West on the continent.
A fundamental question is how China's
model of economic activity in Africa differs from
the approach of Western countries, and whether
Africa is better off for it. World Bank analyst
David Dollar points out that the West has by and
large gotten out of hard infrastructure projects,
which is where China concentrates its activity,
particularly in power and rail.
World Bank report estimated that Chinese financial
commitments to African infrastructure projects
rose from less than $1 billion per year in
2001-2003 to around $1.5 billion per year in
2004-2005, reaching at least $7 billion in 2006.
In July 2012, Chinese President Hu Jintao offered
$20 billion in loans to African countries over the
next three years. The estimate for total Chinese
investment from 2010 to 2012 is $101 billion.
How good is all this for Africa? US
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has not been
sanguine about her opinion of China's role in
Africa, implying during her Africa trip in August
2012 that China is unconcerned about democracy and
human rights on the continent - compared to the
United States, which she says is committed to "a
model of sustainable partnership that adds value,
rather than extract[ing] it". In Zambia, she
warned of a "new colonialism" threatening the
African continent, adding, "We saw that during
colonial times it is easy to come in, take out
natural resources, pay off leaders, and leave."
In July 2010, the Chinese ambassador to
South Africa, Xian Xuejun, criticized Western
politicians and media who "make irresponsible
remarks on China-Africa relations." After all,
when it comes to colonialism and neocolonialism
alike, the West's record has hardly been spotless.
We need only be reminded of the cozy relationship
between the United States and the ruinous
Congolese dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, one of many
authoritarian rulers on the continent to have been
propped up by Washington.
African governments prefer China as an economic
partner over Western countries for a number of
reasons. First, China's own development experience
has instructive value. Second, China fulfills
Africa's need for critical infrastructure more
cheaply, less bureaucratically, and more quickly.
And finally, China portrays Africa more positively
as a partner in "mutually beneficial cooperation"
and "common prosperity", rather than a "doomed
continent" requiring aid.
in Africa will remain mixed and subject to debate,
but what happens on the ground in the everyday
dealings between Africans and the Chinese will
shape the consensus. Stories of dangerous
skirmishes can tarnish either side, but the
reputation of the Chinese will ultimately rest
upon whether China delivers what is best for the
Columnist Kwei Quartey
was born in Ghana and raised by an African
American mother and a Ghanaian father, both of
whom were university lecturers. He lives in
Pasadena, California where he runs a wound care
clinic and is the lead physician at an urgent care
center. He is the author of two novels, Wife
of the Gods and Children of the Street,
with Murder at Cape Three Points due out
soon. His website is www.kweiquartey.com.