African Security Sector Leaders Discuss Growing Roles of China, India

Scholars meeting with young African security leaders discussed some of the advantages and disadvantages of China and India’s strong and growing influence in Africa during a recent security sector conference sponsored by the Africa Center for Strategic Studies (ACSS).

Both nations seek access to energy and markets for their fast-growing economies, as well as political support and, in the case of India, an increasing role in African peacekeeping missions, according to two scholars who briefed participants in the Next Generation of African Security Sector Leaders Program on March 28, 2012. The three-week seminar was attended by 42 African security sector leaders in Fairfax, Virginia, in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. The annual event is sponsored by ACSS.

At the event, U.S. Ambassador David Shinn, a Georgetown University Professor of International Affairs, spoke first about China’s involvement in Africa. He said the Asian country and Africa have been linked for centuries through exploration, trade, and the settlement of Chinese people on the continent. Trade and diplomatic relations have intensified following China’s economic surge and its accompanying need to secure more natural resources.

Shinn said the quest for key resources in Africa targets areas such as Sudan, Angola, Nigeria, and South Africa that are rich in fossil fuels, minerals, timber, and cotton. One third of China’s oil imports come from Africa. He said China views many African countries as fast-growing markets and profitable outlets in which it can export cheap manufactured goods. As a result, China’s exports to Africa have grown eightfold since 2000.

“China is looking for political support in Africa,” Shinn said. “The Chinese government wants to both loosen African support to Taiwan and secure its oil supply to sustain the growth of its economy. That’s why since 1991 every newly appointed foreign minister of China has made his first trip to Africa.”

China continues to expand its influence in the region on diplomatic, cultural, and commercial fronts, he said, while it also works to secure and stabilize the region for its own long-term goals. He said the amount of Chinese aid to Africa is kept secret but could be 40 percent of its total international aid funds.

“China’s aid is not tied to any imposed political condition, and that is what pleases most African governments. But civil society’s discontent is continuously growing and that could be a problem in the long run,” he said.

Following Shinn on the dais, J. Peter Pham, Director of the Michael S. Ansari Africa Center at the Atlantic Council, said the international community has given little attention so far to the fact that India is fast becoming one of Africa’s most important partners. The country’s influence is growing not just in the economic realm but also in the political and security sectors.

India seeks to have a military presence proportional to its economic weight in Africa, he said. It also wants to gather support for its bid for a UN Security Council seat—a primary motivator for why the country has deployed 80 percent of its peacekeepers to Africa.

Pham believes India’s reasons for deeper engagement with Africa are the same as China’s—energy resources, business opportunities, and diplomatic influence.

“India imports 75 percent of its oil, a dependency that will reach 90 percent by 2020, when Indian national energy consumption is supposed to double,” said Pham. “Securing its oil supply is vital for India.”

Pham said there are major differences in the way India and China conduct business in Africa.

“India is willing to do more manufacturing jobs on the continent,” he said. “[The country] has also started to link top Indian universities with their counterparts in Africa. The sharing of knowledge is certainly beneficial to both parts.”

Both scholars agreed during discussions that African countries are not taking full advantage of the new political paradigm created by foreign competition for their resources. Instead, many countries compete against each other for favors from the rapidly advancing Asian countries.

“African countries need to consent on basic standards for foreign direct investment so India and China will not play one country against another,” said Shin. ”Africa must use the new political deal to its advantage,”

Pham added that African countries could also learn from India’s experience of building a nation out of a territory the size of a continent that encompasses 22 official languages and almost 1,700 local languages.

The discussions were part of the Africa Center for Strategic Studies’ (ACSS) Next Generation of African Security Sector Leaders Program. Course participants discussed Africa’s security environment and ways to improve stability, security, and democracy. They analyzed civil-military relations to determine the role and place of security sector professionals in advancing national security in democratizing states. The majority of ACSS academic programs are conducted on a non-attribution  basis to encourage candid discussions.

The Africa Center is the pre-eminent Department of Defense institution for strategic security studies, research, and outreach in Africa. ACSS offers a range of academic symposiums, workshops, and programs throughout Africa, the United States, and Europe. Since 1999, more than 4,500 African and international leaders have participated in ACSS programs.


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