Africa’s Middle Passage to Development

YAOUNDÉ – When it comes to relations with China – and development strategies more generally – there are two opposing camps in Africa. But the approach that will bring the most progress is a “middle passage” that smooths contradictions and offers a balanced, accommodative, and pragmatic vision behind which Africans can unite.

On one side of the issue are China optimists. Cooperation with China, they argue, could enable Africa to chart its own development course, independent of Western policy prescriptions. This group is sympathetic to the “Beijing model” of governance, which focuses on national sovereignty and state control.

On the other side are China pessimists. They worry that the dynamic in Sino-African relations would always favor China. They prefer the West’s democracy-oriented approach, which emphasizes individual rights, underpinned by the free market agenda embodied in the so-called Washington Consensus.

The third group comprises the “China accommodators,” who combine the optimists’ goals with the pessimists’ wariness. They emphasize the need for a common African strategy toward China that minimizes the relationship’s asymmetries. Represented by the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), the accommodators champion democracy, the rule of law, and human rights; but, like China, they oppose Western interference.