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China competes with US in Africa

In advance of Obama's Africa visit, growing Chinese influence for Africa's resources

Bush, during eight years in office, made two African trips — three fewer than his wife, Laura Bush. Still, he’s remembered as a friend to Africa. Under Bush, the U.S. launched a $15 billion, five-year AIDS relief program and spent $1.2 billion fighting malaria in Africa.

While America requires those countries receiving poverty-reduction aid to implement democratic reforms, and its AIDS money required abstinence education, China gets criticized for coddling dictators like Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe and Omar al-Bashir in Sudan, which supplies 7 percent of China’s oil imports.

“We have encouraged Beijing to be more transparent regarding their foreign assistance practices and to more fully engage with other major bilateral and multilateral actors to ensure that aid supports the efforts of responsible African governments to be responsive to their people’s needs,” said U.S. State Department spokesperson Amanda Harper.

He Wenping, director of African Studies at the state-affiliated think tank Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing, said China’s hands-off policy respects the sovereignty of states.

“(It’s) to show the full mutual respect and strong belief that Africans themselves could find their own way for their developing path,” she said. “It should be grown up from the soil in the country, not by imposing from the outsiders.”

The U.S.-China relationship in Africa can be cooperative. China was credited for pressuring Sudan to accept a peacekeeping force in its war-torn Darfur region. Americans and Chinese are both helping Liberia rebuild from its devastating civil war.

“As China’s presence on the continent expands, it will increasingly be expected to bolster indigenous capacity and contribute to long-term development and stability,” Harper said.

Among average Africans, America often is seen as the more helpful partner, according to survey results from Afrobarometer, a nonprofit polling project. In Ghana, nearly half of respondents said the U.S. helps Ghana “a lot,” while just one in four chose the same answer for China. The gap was the same in Kenya and wider for the U.S. in Tanzania and Uganda. In French-speaking Senegal, 33 percent said China helps “a lot” compared to 24 percent for America.

Pianim, the Ghanaian economist, doesn’t object to outsiders building palaces, arguing that when foreign dignitaries visit, “you don’t want to take them to a hut.”

Instead, he said, the focus should be on African leadership.

“Those who say China is gaining too much influence are paternalistic. It’s up to us to decide what type of collaborations we need,” he said. “In the final analysis, the leaders who make mistakes and throw away our resources cheaply because of a stadium or something, are going to pay for it.”

While Hu prefers lengthy trips, Obama’s first visit here will be just one overnight.

“It’s not important the amount of time that you spend here — it’s the quality of time,” Pianim said. "This is somebody whom the whole world is looking up to. Help us to strengthen the democratization process. That’s all we need from America.”

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