Chinese and Sudanese officals are continuing searching the bush for three Chinese oil workers missing in a hostage ordeal that has already seen three of their co-workers killed. Sudan is one of the African countries playing an important role for China's development aid. Not long ago China was a recipeint of aid but has now become a significant donor with its own rule games.
A Sudanese woman walks past a Chinese flag
China is making its mark in Africa. Having itself received well over 1000 billion euros in development aid, it has now become an important donor. There are no precise figures for how much aid has flown from China to the African continent -- especially as trade and aid are so inextricably intertwined. However, with a trade volume of almost 40 billion euros in 2006, which is expected to have doubled by 2010, what is clear is that China is Africa’s third most important trading partner.
China also gives direct aid -- albeit not in the form of cash but rather in goods, infrastructural help or credits. There is no doubt that Beijing’s interest in the African continent is largely fuelled by self-interest says Vitalice Meja, the programme director for AFRODAD -- the African Forum & Network on Debt & Development:
"They are very clear. We are giving you money for purposes of achieving specific expectations - as opposed to other official donors. Who masquerade in form of giving you aid and then they come and pull in some strings here and there, but don’t tell you it from the beginning. At least the Chinese you know from the beginning: These are the expectations you either like them, you don’t like them but this is it."
Recently, China has attracted the ire of Western traditional donors, who tend to impose certain political and economic conditions and would like China to do the same. China has been criticised for supporting unsavoury regimes in Zimbabwe and Sudan. Or for the fact that Chinese projects are not always sustainable and do not always meet international social, economic and environmental standards. Moreover, the fact that Chinese companies bring in Chinese equipment and personnel to the detriment of local resources is also frowned on.
Vitalice Meja from AFRODAD thinks African governments should be stricter to prevent abuse:
"Indeed it should not be about somebody from the outside behaving properly. It should be our system, the system making them behave appropriately. Not them choosing how they want to behave. And that’s where we have failed. Because most of us we have taken the campaign that China is misbehaving. And therefore we need to correct it and its need to change its behaviour. No, Africans systems and mechanism and frameworks are weak, so therefore let’s reform, be organized, strengthened and make China behave according to the laws of the land."
But some experts feel China is the victim of unfair criticism at times. They think that China is actually achieving certain things that traditional donors have not -- such as building roads, bridges and railways in war-torn Congo for instance. They say that even if China benefits financially from such projects, so do the Africans in the end.
Some experts laud the change of course in international development aid -- saying that traditional donors have failed to convince recipients of aid because they impose too many conditions. Moreblessings Chidaushe is from the Norwegian NGO Church Aid:
"The point at which Chinese aid is coming into Africa is especially it is coming at a point when there is a lot of frustration with the traditional aid. That we look back and we don’t see any benefit. And therefore, naturally, if I am starving in the first place and they come to me with something that can help me, then I am bound to run to them."
Traditional donors such as the European Union are increasingly worried that the game rules will change so much in future that their own role will change. Perhaps this is why China has not been invited to take part in debates on how international development aid should unfold in the future.