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Which way Africa with China?

Sydney !Ganeb is the Chief Executive Officer of Bridgehead Group Holdings and serves on the Board of the National Youth Council. He is a member of the Central Committee of the Swapo Party Youth League, and writes in his personal capacity.

Sydney !Ganeb is the Chief Executive Officer of Bridgehead Group Holdings and serves on the Board of the National Youth Council. He is a member of the Central Committee of the Swapo Party Youth League, and writes in his personal capacity.

During my recent visit to China as part of the Prime Minister Hage Geingob’s business delegation, I had the opportunity to reflect on what my Comrades Bernadus Swartbooi and Henny Seibeb Co-founders of the Ideas Centre and Directors of Africa Asia Studies Institute, wrote a few years ago in their opinion piece: “China Africa – An economic partnership.”
The authors asked a very critical question at a time when China’s presence in Africa has become a hot topic all over the world.
They wrote “What will happen between Africa China relations once the generation of solidarity leaders are gone’ and in the same breath they called for a meaningful and sustainable dialogue between the youth of this nations which culminated in the hosting of the China Africa Young leader’s forum held by Swapo Party Youth League in 2011 under the Theme “friendship, development and cooperation”.
This was a watershed forum for discussion on Sino – Africa relations and critically analyzed cooperation, development and investment and also outlined the expected role of the African media in shaping China Africa relations.

The forum was attended by 60 African youth delegates from 18 African countries and 60 Chinese youth delegates.
I have observed during this mission that there are a few outstanding matters. While China is Africa’s top trading partner the continent does not feature amongst China’s top 10 trading partners.
Whereas China have develop and outline its engagement with Africa in its foreign policy, Africa sadly have not done so and choose to engage China as individual countries.
Business delegations visiting China as part of the Bilateral official visits have not outlined an engagement strategy that is defined and structured, everybody looks for what they can bring home as individual entities.
Our Prime Minister, Dr. Hage Geingob said during this visit that China is an all-weather friend of Namibia, China have never colonized Africa and its engagement with the continent is mutually beneficial.
 While I don’t dispute that statement, my concern have always been, how do we engage China as a country collectively. As a nation we must develop a master plan for engaging the east.
A quick look at a number of companies who were on this trip reveals that the majority of them are in real estate and property development, construction sector with a few companies in mining, manufacturing and technology as well as import and expors.
While this is not unexpected considering the mass housing programme and a growing properties market in Namibia, it underscores one point. Africa’s commitment to China has always been in the form of supply of land, raw materials, minerals and oil. Africa in turn got the finance and infrastructure from China.
Secondly, many Namibian businesses have no idea of how to deal with Chinese businesses and from my observation it could be vice versa.
As Namibian businesses we look at the political and social aspects of doing business, for example, the issue of creating mass and decent employment and integration of communities in major public works projects such as in the construction of railway lines, airports, dams and harbour expansion and development projects.
China in turn offers turnkey solutions and look at it from a business and cost perspective.
Such trade relations are not sustainable and we ought to invest time in understanding each other. When a renowned Namibian young entrepreneur stood up during the forum and announced that his company is looking for investors who are willing to invest in Namibia in any sector provided that it must create a 1000 or more jobs and he will provide 50% of such investment funding, it got me thinking.
The Namibian entrepreneur was obviously and rightly so looking at those important social and political aspects of creating employment and providing much needed incomes but the challenge is that in the Chinese political system there are a lot of highly educated and experienced economic experts, therefore the rhetoric has to be economical and not political. In the final analysis, Namibia must define its trade relations with china. China has done so, going forward we ought to grow our skills and invest in understanding China and trade with China as an African block and not as separate entities.

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