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China’s New Interest in Africa: A wake-up call to reexamine African leadership philosophy

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China is gradually becoming the most attractive source of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in Africa. According to a Washington Post publication dated January 7, 2018, China’s FDI to Africa between 2000-2014 was $30 billion with an average of $2 billion flow each year. In a recent gathering of African leaders, China promised to make an additional flow of $60 billion. Only $5 billion of this amount counts as grant while the rest is loan.

A lot of negative comments have been made on the new wave of China’s interest in Africa, some argue that these flows do not create jobs for Africa’s beneficiary countries as China supplies its own labour force to execute the projects, others have called this move by China another subtle ploy of recolonising Africa. Those who make these assertions base their argument on recent happenings in some African countries that defaulted on loan payment and have had their national companies taken over by China. These countries have publicly denied this, but the truth lies somewhere in between these comments.

However, a review of the circumstances when the Western world provided loans to Africa in comparison to the current situation with China, will prove that unlike the West, China is demanding more accountability from African leaders. While the West cancelled the loans when African countries defaulted in payment, China, on the other hand, expects borrowers to invest the loans wisely and pay up when demanded, otherwise, they forfeit the collateral placed on the loan.

An assumption in China’s model is that African nations must have carried out sound business analysis prior to the receipt of a loan. China does not meddle in affairs of countries by determining how the loans are utilised, but they demand countries fulfill all obligations concerning a loan when it is granted. This is a form of accountability that is required in governance. Unlike the West which trivially handles Africa leaders and loans, China is acting like a typical capitalist in business.

Every sovereign government is saddled with the responsibility of working in the best interest of its people and spearheading its own development process. In the same vein, no nation should have to solely depend on another nation for survival; nations can look to others for assistance but the burden lies on the national government to fend for its citizens. Leaders of African nations have normalised overdependence on the benevolence of other nations, requiring them to not only provide loans but also scheme the utilisation of such loans.

It is safe to say that Africa remains underdeveloped, not because of the acquisition of loans, but the unproductive utilisation of such loans, which largely owes to ineffective leadership, bad governance and corruption.

In his book, My Odyssey, first President of Nigeria, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe advised that African leaders should see leadership from the point of view of service instead of looting the resources of the continent. Unfortunately, after more than 40 years of receiving this advice, Africa has degenerated into hopelessness as a result of a high level of corruption.

The Human Development Index, a summary measure of average achievement in key dimensions of human development, shows that Africa’s figures continue to decline even in countries where leaders make themselves life presidents claiming they have exclusive knowledge of governance. In my book, “Globalisation and Leadership in Africa: Developments and Challenges for the Future” published by Palgrave McMillian, I wrote extensively on the mindset in leadership expected in Africa if we must develop and take advantage of the new wave of globalisation. The new wave of globalisation is hinged on powerful national and regional leadership. Only countries with good leaders will be able to compete at the regional level, and the regional coalition of national leaders will compete at world level.

Time is running out on African leaders and they are left with two options. The first is for them to do what is right for their nations and create jobs for the millions of their restless youth. The second is for these youth to become a critical mass of uncontrollable people with a high force, and whose direction and intensity cannot be predicted. It is advisable for African leaders to see China’s actions as the wake-up call to act according to the first option.

How can young Nigerians contribute to improving the quality of leadership in the country?

Join the conversation on Twitter @LBSNigeria and @LBSInsight

Dr Okechukwu Amah facilitates sessions in Management Communication, Human Resources, Leadership and Human Behaviour in Organisations at Lagos Business School


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