Bush: Africa's new China

United States President George W Bush left Africa on Wednesday at the end of a five-nation tour of the continent that took in Benin, Tanzania, Rwanda, Ghana and Liberia. The focus of Bush’s visit, as he approaches the end of his second and final term in the White House, was humanitarian success stories.

But while Bush talks humanitarian aid, China is building infrastructure across the continent, swapping roads, railways and dams for mining concessions and rights to African resources, something both powers are keen to secure.

Earlier this month China signed a $9-billion deal to upgrade mining and other infrastructure in the Democratic Republic of Congo in exchange for a majority stake in the state copper mining company, Gecamines.

Speaking in Ghana on Wednesday, Bush was careful not to be critical of China’s growing role in Africa.

‘I don’t view Africa as a zero sum for China and the United States. I think we can pursue agendas without creating a great sense of competition. Do I view China as a fierce competitor for the continent of Africa? No, I don’t.”

But as China’s economy booms and its appetite for resources drives global commodity prices ever upwards, there is no question that the US is competing for Africa’s sought-after resources; already about 20% of oil consumed in the US comes from Africa, in China that figure is 30%.

Last year Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jibao predicted that bilateral trade between China and Africa would reach $100-billion by 2010, a long way from the $12-million deal to import Egyptian cotton that represented China’s first deal with an African country in 1956.

The approaches of the two powers are very different. At each stop on his Africa tour Bush emphasised his administration’s humanitarian credentials, highlighting an existing $1,2-billion malaria programme and the President’s Emergency Plan For Aids Relief, which has spent $15-billion in the past five years and for which Bush has asked Congress to approve a further $30-billion over the coming five years.

In Ghana Bush revealed plans for a $350-million five-year fund to help fight neglected tropical diseases such as hookworm and river blindness. This followed the signing of a $700-million aid package for Tanzania and a $100-million pledge to help train African peacekeepers in Rwanda.

In contrast China prefers to get on and build. For example, in Accra a new ministry of defence building is being constructed by Chinese contractors using Chinese money, while last month’s Africa Cup of Nations football tournament was enabled by Chinese funding and its building of two new stadiums.

In the north of the country, China is building a $600-million hydroelectric dam that will provide much-needed electricity. China also paid for improvements to the main road connecting the capital with the second city, Kumasi.

Ghanaian President John Kufuor believes that those who accuse China of neo-colonialism in its relations with Africa are wrong.

‘China is coming not as a colonial power but as a guest and on our terms,” he said.

Kufuor argued that African countries can now choose their partners in trade and, as Bush looked on, he said: ‘China is proving quite competitive. How do we stop China? We can’t stop China.” Nor, his smile seemed to say, would he want to.

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