Back to ABCs: Emerging Partnerships among Africa, Brazil, and China

Harvard International Review, Summer 2012 | Go to article overview

Back to ABCs: Emerging Partnerships among Africa, Brazil, and China


In a speech given on March 31, 2010, Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete expressed gratitude for foreign support in building a new cardiac surgery treatment center at Muhimbili National Hospital in Dar es Salaam. The object of President Kikwete's gratitude was neither the United States nor a multilateral institution like the United Nations. Instead, it was China, a country that President Kikwete referred to as "dear rafiku," which in Swahili means "friend."

Traditional policy discussions regarding foreign development assistance have focused on the role of Western, industria1ixed countries and multilateral institutions like the UN as donors. For decades, this so-called "North-South" model of foreign aid has been criticized for its ineffectiveness. Common complaints regarding foreign aid include inefficiency in its disbursement and corruption in its use, in addition to the culture of aid dependency that it fosters. The past decade, however, has witnessed the emergence of a new paradigm for international development assistance as countries in Africa have diversified their sources of support by building new partnerships with other developing countries. As industrialized countries like the United States struggle with deficit reduction and the debt situation of Eurozone countries continues to deteriorate, many countries in Africa have found innovative solutions to their development challenges.

These emerging "South-South" partnerships are manifestations of a trend that has been developing for decades. As early as 1978, developing countries established a framework for collaboration through the Buenos Aires Plan of" Action, which was a clarion call for developing countries to work in concert to promote economic growth in order to address the asymmetric balance of power between industrialized and developing countries. But it was not until the turn of the twenty-first century that these partnerships began to grow in significance. Trade between Africa and the BR1C countries of Brazil, Russia, India, and China skyrocketed to US$157 billion in 2009 from a mere US$16 billion in 2000. Currently, the BRIC countries account for 20 percent of Africa's total trade volume, a percentage that is projected to increase to 50 percent by 2030.

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Specifically, the involvement of China and Br mil in Africa yield important insights about the potential of these new partnerships to transform the region's economies. In contrast to traditional bilateral aid transfers, the assistance provided by China and Brazil to African countries is not predicated on policy conditionally because they adhere to the principle of non-interference in the affairs of recipient countries. The symmetric balance of power in these new partnerships has allowed recipient countries to build capacity by taking ownership of projects and setting domestic development agendas. Despite the challenges associated with dire domestic circumstances in recipient countries, the partnerships that China and Brazil have established with African countries collectively have the potential to be of geopolitical significance by introducing new alliances and coalitions to the modern dynamics of global affairs.

Tigers on the Savanna: China and Africa

After decades of stalled relations, President Jiang Zemin of China visited Africa in 1996 to announce the creation of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), which became operational in 2000. Thus far, there have been four FOCAC meetings, which alternate in location between China and Africa. Leaders from 42 African countries went to Beijing in 2006 to attend the third meeting of FOCAC with a policy agenda coordinated by the African Union Commission. At this summit, China pledged to double its assistance to Africa by 2009, increase its provision of loans and debt-relief, and establish a China-Africa Development Fund. After this summit, China followed through on its promises by supplying Africa with US$3 billion of preferential loans and another US$2 billion of preferential export buyers' credit.

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