Are China and the US sidelining “UK’s space in Africa”?
The African youth who “studied, researched, and taught in the UK” has responded to my critique of her query: Is the UK’s diminishing its place in the global sphere? She has thus come up with a challenge that I tried to avoid earlier: “I also think that Chambi should have done a comparative analysis with other great powers such as China in Tanzania, before concluding, “my question is misguided.” Let me, humbly, give it a try.
In the earlier piece, Aikande Kwayu asserts: “If you ask most young Africans about an external great power that is influencing their country and daily lives- the quick answer would most likely be China or the USA.” By way of comparison, she further states: “If you get specific and ask them, what about Britain-they would probably say: it’s too difficult to get a visa; or university fees are expensive; or they don’t want immigrants; etc.” She then claims it “is unfortunate that Britain is no more the first place young Africans are thinking of pursuing their university studies despite its world-class universities.” For her, this “is obviously a change of attitude towards Britain as compared to the previous generation of Africa, of which Britain was their “mother” country.” This purported “change of attitude”, she concludes, “is to be blamed [on] the UK’s foreign policy decision makers and politicians.”
Probably she is right at least in the case of our home country. After all, the latest Afrobarometer survey suggests that “China has a greater influence on Tanzania than any other country and is a preferred model for Tanzania’s future development.” It shows that 40% of the 2,386 adult Tanzanians that its team, led by Policy Research for Development (REPOA), interviewed said so. The US comes second at 31%. The UK is in the distance fourth at 5%, trailing South Africa at 6% and being ahead of India at 4%.
All this seems to vindicate this lamentation of hers in her first piece: “Britain, a historical “parent” to most African countries is loosing its space in the confident rising Africa. It is going to a time when the UK will have no voice in the continent that has so much in common with. Other powers are increasingly sidelining UK’s space in Africa.” The survey helps us to understand why, in regard to the UK, someone who proclaims to have “an unwavering admiration [on] its values and ideas, as well as much interest [in] its history” finds its state in Africa so “disturbing” to the extent that she gives this clarion call: “The UK needs to wake up ASAP before it’s too late and restore its vibrancy and lead in the global politics. Why is UK becoming like a follower of the USA’s foreign policy instead of having its own ground and lead in international issues?”
My contention, however, is that as far as Tanzania is concerned, the UK has not been a ‘sleeping giant.’ Hence my call for Kwayu to closely look at specific cases in Africa within what she refers to as the “global sphere” and the “external world” that the UK is purported “withdrawing”/“retreating” from. Would the numbers add up if she does so?
Escaping from this task, Kwayu thus opts to thus tutor/teach me the ABCs of International Relations (IR) in her latter piece: “Without beating around the bush much, I first want to remind Chambi that foreign policy is not only about selective “activities” a state carries out with another state. It is bigger than that. It is a totality of all interactions (diplomatic and non-diplomatic), perception building, image creation, influence exercising, etc a state does to/with the outer world. An effective foreign policy is measured by the success and ability of a state to improve its status in the global sphere on all matters mentioned above and beyond. Having a number of deals with another state is only a small portion of foreign policy. That is why the concept of “soft power” is very appealing. It is because states know that the high status and influence in the global sphere goes beyond deals or contract agreements. History testifies that the UK knew this fact, but current trends of its conduct in [the] international community do not give us the same picture.”
But aren’t these very “activities” the hallmark of the Corporate-State-Civil Society (CSC) Tripartite Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) Setup that I have loosely defined as the interplay of international power relations in a given land between entities emanating from a foreign country with the overall aim of benefitting it. Aren’t they the very activities that the UK has been competing with China to do in Tanzania since the eve of Tanganyika's independence and the Zanzibar revolution? Isn’t what the US has been doing in collaboration and/or competition with the UK?
For the love of history, let us recall this ‘diplomacy’ in 1966 as documented in Alicia Altorfer-Ong’s recent PhD dissertation: “The earliest Chinese reports of the Tanzanian delegation’s visit described the delegates’ keen interest in the events connected with the Cultural Revolution. The visitors were reportedly enthralled by the rousing propaganda performance The Congo is Rising, even suggesting that it be made into a film for release in Tanzania to counter negative US influence. The group also requested that visual images of China’s development – such as factories and cooperatives – be documented in order to increase the Tanzanian people’s awareness of developments in China.”
China’s “soft power” was at play then even if the Cold War, with its prevailing “hard power” dynamics, was getting hotter and hotter. Altorfer-Ong also shares this interesting case: “Coming at a time of Tanzania’s budget crisis due to diplomatic fall outs with its major donors – West Germany, the UK and the US – between 1964 to 1966, Nyerere observed the positive impact of the Chinese medical team in Zanzibar…. On 1 June 1966 the Tanzanian Minister of Economic Affairs and Development Planning, Paul Bomani, requested assistance from China to replace the medical support that the UK had withdrawn….Ambassador He Ying supported the minister’s request and explained to the Foreign Ministry that Tanzania was having a difficult time economically and was under great pressure from the West because of its nationalisation policies and growing ties with China. He Ying recommended that the Chinese government approve the request, as it would achieve a number of important aims: To support Tanzania’s anti-imperialist stand, help it withstand Soviet overtures, keep it on its socialist path and further develop bilateral ties… The request was approved ….”
Now both the US and the UK are aggressively funding – and not withdrawing from supporting – health in Tanzania. As the CSC Setup indicates, this support, like many others, is not simply altruistic. I have discussed the case of the US in my query: Obama What is so Special about Ubungo in the Battle for Power?
Operational Plan 2011-2016 DFID Tanzania is thus so clear about the case of the UK when it comes to what Kwayu refers to as ‘calculated rational national interests’: “In addition to poverty reduction, the UK’s interests in Tanzania are consolidating a democratic partnership, enabling a strong private sector, and making sure that Tanzania remains an anchor for regional stability in East Africa. The UK government also has an interest in helping Tanzania access technical know-how and attract inward investment, including from UK businesses, to take advantage of its strategic location and abundant natural resources - including potential offshore oil and gas reserves. DFID will work with the British High Commission and the private sector to improve the business climate and strengthen Tanzania’s ability to prosper in the regional and global economy, under the High Level Partnership for Prosperity. Through its contribution to the TradeMark East Africa Tanzania Programme, DFID will help to deliver on the UK’s Africa Free Trade Initiative.”
So is the Statement following [the] meeting between Prime Minister David Cameron and President Kikwete of Tanzania published on 31 March 2014. And so is Q&A Dianna Melrose - British High Commissioner to Tanzania published on 25 November 2014. As far as foreign policy is concerned, these faces of their diplomacy have clarity of purpose as they both know what the UK is strategically doing to/with/in/for Tanzania. The key question is: Do we really know what Tanzania is doing to/with/in/for the UK?
Yet our very own – the very person who invokes, albeit in disclaiming quotes, the “parent” and “child” analogy to refer to the UK and Africa/Tanzania, respectively – has the audacity to thus conclude her rejoinder: “I will end here, but I think we should focus on the big picture and look at the foreign policy in totality. The kind of thinking Chambi is pushing forward here is, I am afraid, very simplistic highlighting the embedded (and almost old-fashioned now) “core-periphery” mindset. The UK needs to understand that Africa is now different with lots of choices and its youths are not blindly bound with historical hangovers. No more “master-servant” relations of “Yes Sir”...there’s competition and the UK needs to rebrand and maintain that brand if it wants to continue having influence among vibrant youths of Africa. This is what other great powers are doing. Striking 10 or so business deals and contracts is no more an adequate sign of a successful foreign policy or external influence. Even business entities can do that with governments leave alone states.”
David Cameron and Dianna Melrose must be ‘laughing out loud’. I hope they won’t be having the ‘last laugh’ on Tanzania. May our African youth save us all from being the ‘laughingstock’ of the world.