W. Gyude Moore. China has built more infrastructure in Africa in two decades than the West has in centuries,

Where is the European or American equivalent/alternative to China’s BRI? Where is it? If Chinese loans are deceptive and are a trap and are wrong – where are the Western alternatives? How come our “shared” values do not exclude building our infrastructure?

As deputy chief of staff to Liberian President Sirleaf, I once took my team to one of the urban slums to talk about the government’s programs. I highlighted our human rights, anti-corruption and road-building record.

When I was done, one of the listeners raised his hand to ask a question. He wanted to know if he could “cook these things and feed them to his children.” He was unimpressed with my response. Bread and butter issues, meeting people’s direct needs can never be substituted.

Which brings me to the coming confrontation – economic first, but increasingly dangerous, between China and the West. Africa will be drawn into this as China will definitely continue to look to Africa’s 54-bloc for support and legitimacy for its actions.

The West too will lean on African governments, leveraging development aid and access to their markets to ensure compliance. In the middle of this will be the talk of “shared values” with Africa. And it is talk of shared values that reminded me of the question in the slum.

Do we have “shared values”? For centuries the West ran amok across Africa – slavery, colonialism, neo-colonialism, transfer pricing and the continued extraction of the continent’s natural endowments at a steep discount. What does Africa have to show for this engagement?

I mean, we wear suits, have Western sounding names, use French, English and Portuguese as national languages. But really, what else? The continent has always been good as a source of raw material – free labour, minerals or agricultural products.

There has never been a continental-scale infrastructure building program for Africa’s railways, roads, ports, water filtration plants & power stations. Not until the arrival of the Chinese. How is it that the oldest railway connecting two countries in Africa is Chinese-built?

Yet African labour (free) and minerals played a foundational role in Western capital formation. The West encouraged, supported and enhanced the venality of African leadership and provided safe parking space for looted African wealth. There are no tax havens in China.

Of course, Africans care about freedom of expression and minority rights. We care about the rule of law and protecting the environment and human rights. But ultimately, I keep coming back to the question from the slum dweller, “can we cook rights and feed them to our children?”

Where is the European or American equivalent/alternative to China’s BRI? Where is it? If Chinese loans are deceptive and are a trap and are wrong – where are the Western alternatives? How come our “shared” values do not exclude building our infrastructure?

Over the last seven months, Western Governments have spent trillions – that’s with a “T” propping up their economies, paying people to stay at home, enforcing rent moratoriums and loan standstills. The US has spent over $6 trillion in wars over the last two decades.

So we know that the West can match and exceed China’s BRI if it wanted to. By 2027, BRI is supposed to amount to about $1 trillion. But does the West want to? I am not convinced. I think the West is satisfied with virtue signalling when it comes to Africa’s prosperity.

So it should not come as a surprise when African governments studiously avoid being drawn into any rivalry and maintain a broad coalition of partners. If China has built more infrastructure in Africa in two decades than the West has in centuries, China is also our friend.

W.Gyude Moore is a former minister for public works in Liberia. This article was published in a Twitter thread on August 5.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was Africa’s first female elected president, serving from 2006 to 2018.

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W.Gyude Moore is a former minister for public works in Liberia.

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