Buyers Compete for Access to African Natural Resources
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Here are portions of an interesting report from the Inter Press Service News Agency.
by Moyiga NduruEmerging global powers China and India, both thirsty for new markets and energy resources, are increasing efforts to secure a dominant position in Africa.
"Competition has been tense between China and India in the past three years," said Peter Draper, senior research fellow at the South African Institute of International Affairs, a think-tank based at the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa's commercial hub -- Johannesburg.
"This kind of competition gives Africa bargaining power," he told IPS.
The rivalry is reflected in a series of high-profile visits by Chinese and Indian leaders over recent weeks and months.
The first official visit to South Africa by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh ended this week (Oct. 3), after he spent four days in the country.
Official figures show that in 2005, trade between India and South Africa stood at 1.9 billion dollars. Indian exports to South Africa include vehicles, rice, medicines, cotton, leather goods, machinery and handmade carpets -- while South Africa exports a range of goods and commodities such as chemicals, gold, iron, steel, fertilizer and precious stones to India.
Singh's trip came just three months after Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao visited South Africa, Egypt, Ghana, Congo-Brazzaville, Angola, Tanzania and Uganda. And in April, the president of China -- Hu Jintao -- headed a high-level delegation including business people which toured Morocco, Kenya and Nigeria to boost economic links and secure supplies of raw materials.
"Africa has become a centre of attraction for the emerging economies of China and India which are driven by a domestic boom," said Sanusha Naidu, a researcher at the Centre for Chinese Studies at the University of Stellenbosch, near the coastal city of Cape Town.
"You no longer have Africa's traditional trading partners dominating the market. China and India are competing with them,'' she noted in an interview with IPS. Previously, Africa mainly traded with nations in Europe and North America.
A World Bank study titled 'Africa's Silk Road: China and India's New Economic Frontier' that was published last month says 27 percent of Africa's exports now go to Asia. This figure, triple what it was in 1990, is on a par with the continent's exports to the European Union and United States.
Bilateral trade between India and Africa rose from 967 million dollars in 1990-91 to 9.14 billion dollars in 2004-2005. Trade between China and Africa has quadrupled in the last five years to reach 40 billion dollars in 2005.
But, the growing ties between Africa and Asia are not uniformly positive.
Certain civil society groups complain that Beijing turns a blind eye to human rights abuses in places like Zimbabwe and the troubled region of Darfur in western Sudan, to shield its interests. China has a 40 percent stake in the Sudanese oil industry, according to official statistics. India has a 25 percent share in this sector.
"India has a strong human rights tradition. It's one of the oldest democracies in the world; human rights debate is robust there," said Draper. "But China is a bit problematic."
Naidu is aware of similar concerns: "Questions have also been raised about Chinese firms importing cheap labour from China (that) they can control. But at the end of the day, Africa is gaining in terms of construction and infrastructure development."
The Chinese are building roads, bridges and railways in countries as varied as Angola and Uganda, and working on electrification in Kenya.
"China and India are seizing the opportunity to exploit Africa's resources. Unfortunately, Africa has not taken advantage of the Chinese agricultural market. It can export agricultural and dairy products to China," said Barbara Kalima-Phiri of the Southern Africa Trust. This Johannesburg-based non-governmental organisation, which supports civil society in the region, organised a seminar on trade between China and Africa in the South African capital, Pretoria, earlier this year.
"India can offer information technology. It's also very good in commerce. India is more advanced than Africa in those areas," she added. "In return, Africa can offer India oil. It's already getting oil from Sudan anyway."
Kalima-Phiri doesn't believe that Chinese and Indian dealings amount to a scramble for Africa as was the case amongst colonial powers.
"It's not a scramble. A scramble involves fighting over resources, like during colonial days; there is no fighting now. China and India, along with their host -- Africa -- are discussing issues on the table as willing partners."
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