Are We Talking in Code?

26 January 2006

A fascinating workshop on the relationship between China and Africa…talk of partnerships, collaboration, mutual interests. A powerpoint chart shows too curves showing the parallel growth of imports and exports between China and Africa…looks terribly equitable, but a rather familiar pensions expert seated in front of me mutters, “I wonder how much of the African exports are raw materials and the imports arms”. The veritably smooth, seamless nature of the panel contributions drives one participant to ask “are we speaking here in some code I do not understand…China has a poor name in Africa, will they sign up to the Extractive Industries Extractive Industries, the Equator Principles and other collaborative codes of practice”. The response is short and sweet, from Chinese panellists, “there is no code, just a growing partnership of mutual interest”, and from another panellist, this time from Africa, “our relationship with Africa is our concern, and our opportunity, we do not want to hear the views of non-Africans and NGOs”. Whilst muting the all too non-African voice, the workshop energy shimmers with such blunt headed resistance to (somewhat more) open dialogue. Another participant pitches a more eloquent, nuanced version of the same…nope, the China/Africa partnership remains firm, firm in not answering the challenge and retorting in terms that challenges its very legitimacy…some global partnerships it seems, are less public than others, even ones involving sovereign states rather than private business.

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