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Last Updated: Tuesday, 24 October 2006, 23:07 GMT 00:07 UK
Viewpoint: China becomes Africa's suitor
By Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala
Former Nigerian finance minister

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was Nigerian finance minister until very recently

The West is in a panic. There is a new suitor on the block vying for Africa's attention.

China, with nearly $1 trillion in reserves and a voracious appetite for natural resources, has decided to spend some of its billions of dollars in savings to secure access to the oil, gas, copper, coal and other mineral riches that lie beneath the soil of many African countries.

China's aggressive - sometimes brazen - approach is causing angst among Africa's traditional partners.

I have heard China called the new colonial master.

'New power'

There is general unease about the potential moral hazard of an Africa whose debt has been cancelled by the West taking the opportunity to accumulate new debt from China.

There is no doubt that China is a new power to be reckoned with in Africa.

China knows what it means to be poor and has evolved a successful wealth creation formula that it is willing to share with African countries.

There is also no doubt that this new economic giant is pragmatic - almost to a fault - when it comes to making deals in Africa. The nature of a country or its leadership carries little weight against China's need for natural resources.

Not for China the niceties of human rights, nor long debates on macroeconomic conditionalities, and structural reform.

China is ready to transform savings into investment projects in Africa in exchange for access to mining rights.

'Economic growth'

It is true that African countries need to be wary that old trappings of bondage are not exchanged for shiny new ones - whatever form they may assume.

Nevertheless, there is more to this China-Africa relationship than meets the eye.

Oil rig in Nigeria
China is paying to secure access to African oil

African countries are clear that when it comes to economic growth and transformation, China has much to offer that is relevant to present-day Africa.

China knows what it means to be poor, and has evolved a successful wealth creation formula that it is willing to share with African countries.

Africa's need for infrastructure investments - estimated at $20bn a year for the next decade - is understood and supported by China.

'Fresh approach'

When I asked the Chinese how we could get a growth rate of 10%, like theirs, their answer was simple.

Infrastructure - infrastructure and discipline.

China is thus willing to invest in railways, roads, ports and rural telephony in various African countries as part of its winning formula for economic development.

This is an area considered too risky by many of Africa's traditional partners.

China provides an alternative viewpoint, a fresh approach that diversifies and enriches the spectrum of Africa's interlocutors.

For that reason, China should be left alone to forge its unique partnership with African countries and the West must simply learn to compete.

China and Africa: Who benefits?
22 Jun 06 |  Africa
Nigeria gets $1bn China rail loan
22 May 06 |  Business
China and Nigeria agree oil deal
26 Apr 06 |  Business
China-Africa trade jumps by 39%
06 Jan 06 |  Business

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