The Politics of Diversification and Brand China: Alex Vines on the Challenges of African Econimcs

Since graduating from Peace Studies at the University of Bradford in 1995, George has  worked with with Oxfam, The Prince’s Trust and chaired Berneslai Homes, Barnsley’s Social Housing Group. His NGO and UK based charity experience have been used to teach/lecture in FE and HE programmes in London and  in Wakefield and Leeds Met University, in areas such as – Politics, International issues, war and conflict, Public Services, Business behaviour, Sport and global politics, and UK social issues. He  also works  with community groups in Barnsley as part of Barnsley Voluntary Acton supporting the growth of community charities, and social enterprises in South Yorkshire.

Alex_Vines_and_HE_Ellen_Johnson_Sirleaf_(6010787265)
Dr Alex Vines, at Chatham House

Understanding the Politics of Diversification was the central theme of Dr. Alex Vine’s seminar. It includes a shift from centralised state power as displayed by China (but not exclusive to China) in its relationship with Africa over the last two decades to a recognition that any of the emerging powers would benefit from accepting a new relationship model. This “detént” considers that African nations are more sovereign, African economic blocs are welcome, the role of Multinational Corporations (MNC’s) is  to be more equal as they front the extraction of resources in African states, (New African MNC’s emerging?  – Outside of South Africa!). Many of these have only single commodity revenue steam resources including,  Angolan Oil, Zimbabwean Diamonds, Zambian Copper and Mozambique’s ports.

Additionally “diversification” reflects the need for a level of state pluralism. The development of real and influential civil society groups, trade unions, women’s groups and students as well as the encouragement of genuine political liberalisation, a sort of “African Spring” if you may (without  the chaos- but never guaranteed),  reducing the power of African elites doing business with a self-serving state. Underpinning this new paradigm, also includes  the sustained role of the UN, BRICS, the AU and EU as power centres that seek influence, again reducing previously unequal and security threatening single state power relationships, as they advocate an “Africa First” approach to development. New sources of influence create genuine opportunities for debate and transparency in the development dilemma facing Africa today.

These efforts at “equalising” the future unilateral and multilateral relationships with African nations will be key to supporting future wealth distribution, creating a genuine middle class and ensuring taxation, value added economic growth, with new sources of taxation being raised and directed at development internally within African nations.

“The Politics of Diversification”, as Vines suggests is the new “real politic” in Global Politics, played out increasingly by an assertive and powerful China, as the lead “emerging nation” seeking to influence African development. China with its size and leverage leads the pack of emerging nations but as Vines cautions even it is now seeking to modify its position in the world. Downplaying its past as a nasty exploitative neo-colonial player on the African continent, extracting resources at any price to feed an insatiable Chinese economy.

But, as a now, “equal” partner aligning both unilaterally and multilaterally with African nations and global partners offering “real” development partnerships. Therefore improving and supporting the UN’s MDG’s and new Sustainable Development Goals for example, and offering a new focus on pluralism and diversification which actively seeks new partnerships in future African development. Precedents for these collaborations are now being set: Ebola brought many nations together to fight this disease and eradicate its threat to the East Africa region.

These other “partnerships” will seek to include a State that offers more than the same old, same old, of perpetuating elite power. In effect seeking out some level of political liberalisation or semi-democratic characteristics (but without descending into anarchy as we have seen in South Sudan and CAR lately). Including the managing of future MNC’s influence with a focus on taxation and development by these powerful actors.  Civil society influence, including trade unions and women’s groups all seeking to improve development and by proxy security with African states and in key regions also.

This diversification of “input” into future development then allows a more transparent and open process of engagement, with a less unequal focus and opportunities for wealth redistribution. Many African states possess huge amounts of raw material resources but lack the value added strategies on their own to improve wealth redistribution supporting an emerging middle class and in turn managing security within state’s and in regions. Stable countries attract investment, not unstable nations.

Dr. Vines considers that improved governance and transparency within China, or at least a well-publicised crackdown on corruption, and the re-embedding of values advocated by President Xi’s own vision as a “man of the people” has brought him absolute state and party power; this model may benefit African nations.

As China seeks better global relationships (downplaying its human rights record and considering that economic growth seems to be the only real game in town!) and also a recognition that global interdependency  is unavoidable. The latter is therefore much more beneficial than previous exploitative “African” relationships that will only encourage poor media coverage.  Even China cannot prohibit the influence of a social media revolution, where eventual lack of  cooperation with individual states who seek a more equal development  relationship is demanded

This position offers the concept of “brand China” and a new  “Panda” diplomacy in future summits within Africa. China has clearly recognised the West still wants a level playing field in Africa and China’s acquiescence to global standards is “expected” if it wants to play a real “tangible and responsible” part in future development.  This also could reduce the global security issues raised by mass migration, as fairer development  may reduce conflict and in turn help manage migration to Europe and even the emerging nations that have real and growing wealth may now become attractive destinations as the ending of migration is not a real possibility but a redistribution of numbers sought is.

The Politics of Diversification offer a new model where the traditional dominant central power relationship is now diffused and reflects the pluralism of a newly emerging civil society, private sector influence,  an entrepreneur class,  public sector infrastructure, and a confident civil society that offers a balance of power and a new appreciation of the weakness of concentrated power.

Africa’s new  security and development deal can only happen if  cooperation is genuine between actors and a manageable level of political liberalization supports this paradigm shift. Africa can be at the top table but needs to ensure its own house can manage security weaknesses and react quicker to such challenges, including peace building and enforcement, challenging those long term dictators and seek the rule of law as a mechanism and instrument of state building. Transparency and governance will take time, but emerging nations can support this positive narrative and fully benefit from relationships that previously have little colonial baggage and suspicion attached.

Further Reading:

Dr Alex Vines OBE biography, Chatham House

Vines, Africa Looks West Once Again, The World Today

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