Does the West still matter for Africa?
First on Zimbabwe, now on Darfur, Western countries have lost out at the U.N. Security Council to African states backed by China and Russia.
A Western attempt to get sanctions imposed on Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe’s government flopped on July 11. Three weeks later, when it came to renewing the mandate of peacekeepers in Darfur, Western countries bowed to demands to include wording that made clear the council would be ready to freeze any International Criminal Court indictment of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir for genocide. The United States abstained, but that made no difference to the vote.
The question had long come up in Western countries as to how much Africa mattered to them given what often seemed intractable wars, famine, disease and poverty. From an African perspective, Western countries – often former colonial powers – have sometimes been accused of arrogance, meddling and ignorance of the continent’s realities.
But while Africa’s economies were once dependent on aid and finance from the West, it is China and other Asian countries that are now rushing to invest, helping to drive unprecedented growth. How Africa will deal with the new investment was a key topic at this week’s meeting in Mauritania with the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. G8 countries, meanwhile, appear to be falling short on their promises of aid.
Investment from China comes without the conditions that Western countries or institutions might insist on. Meanwhile, China has been very ready to back African friends in diplomatic forums such as the United Nations. Russia is less important as an investor, but has taken a similar diplomatic line.
So how relevant does the West remain in Africa? And if its influence is waning then will that give African countries a chance to do a better job of solving problems their own way? Will it give a freer hand to leaders with little concern for democracy, human rights and government accountability?
What do you think?