“China, the new ‘Santa’ or a continuation of the Enlightenment project:
Performing Anamnesis with the Chinese ‘saviour’ on the block.
Meiz M. Majdoub Snr.
(Senior Financial consultant)
Andy Kusi-Appiah Snr.
(Queen Elizabeth Advanced Scholar,
Societal Transformations, 2019)
This article is the first of a series of three (3) articles on the subject of Africa and China. As you may be fully aware, China has intensified its relationship with Africa, mostly providing huge amounts of money for infrastructural development as well other assistance. Obviously a lot of questions have been raised concerning the viability of this partnership for Africa.
This first instalment will deal with the role that Africa has played in the world in general, while the second instalment will take a look at Africa’s relationship with China and some of the arguments put forward by critics of this relationship.
The final instalment will put forth reasons why Africa should not worry about who they partner with but emphasize more on building an “African brand” based on African interest (s).
I Performing anamnesis to understand the present
When a 6 year old serendipitously figures out that Santa actually lives in her/his household, all innocence is lost, and the moment of truth s/he had been waiting for becomes a reality – the kid now understands that observing one’s environment is all one needs to understand what is going on – s/he understands the situatedness of knowledge. Indeed, the kid becomes aware that knowledge is (re) created and refined when one repeatedly observes and participates in one’s own environment / community. Many postcolonial scholars and observers of all extractions have noted, after observing their surroundings / environments / communities, that aid or development, as defined by the intelligent ‘knower’, steeply influenced by the ideals of the ‘Age of Reason’, does not work for the ‘other’ (read formerly enslaved, colonized, neo,-colonized), and will never work until the ‘other’ (i.e., the formerly enslaved, colonized, neo-colonized, etc) carves out a niche for themselves, and pursue their own development based on their own spatiocultural specifications and experiences. For example, in her book “Dead Aid: Why Aid Is Not Working and How There Is a Better Way for Africa”, Dambisa Moyo (2010) argues not only that aid doesn’t work, but that it has also compounded Africa’s problems. Meanwhile, so-called scientific discourse of development pervasive in the media, popular culture and scholarships have roots in dominant explanations of how economic development ‘should’ proceed, and how it is currently lacking in the global south, where people are supposedly threatening the environment, food supply systems etc., because apparently, they are unable to understand the ‘mechanistic’ and ‘scientific’ tools created by the all-knowing thinker of the paternalistic West (Audrey Kobayashi, 2010: 110). There is a better way, and that way must be articulated and implemented by the people who development is supposed to ‘help’. For the first time since the fourteenth century, the discourse must be about how Africans want to ‘develop’, and which African tools can sustainably get the job done.
For a very long time, Europeans and their agents around the world have been actively involved in the development of Europe and its allied environments, which invariably required the acquisition of knowledge about the world. The object of study was the ‘natural’ world as it was used, named, tamed, exploited and made habitable for the benefit of ‘empire.’ As Inge Birkeland (1999) puts it, the intellectual and philosophical movement in Europe was particularly interested in the relationship between human societies and their use of ‘nature’ and space. This way of thinking, also referred to as the ‘Age of Reason’, abandoned the organic view of society in favour of ‘nature’ that is dead and passive, giving way to a mechanistic imagery of ‘nature’. This development made it possible for earth’s resources and raw materials to become both politically and economically important in imperial and economic enterprises, setting the tone for the entrenchment of the idea of ‘mechanism’ as a ‘subtle sanction for the exploitation and manipulation of nature and its resources’ with impunity (Caroline Merchant, 1980).
The idea of wilderness and the need to control any wilderness grew out of this mechanistic view of the world. By extension, all areas outside of Western Europe were prime candidates to be controlled and wrestled to the ground. Africa then became a prime candidate for this project, as is exemplified by its conquest, demarcation and occupation, with the Berlin Conference of 1884-1885 being the official platform on which this rude exercise took off. During the period of the ‘new’ imperialism which occurred between 1881 and 1914, a whole industry developed around how to deal with ‘a dead and passive environment inhabited by a passive ‘other’, whose role shall remain ‘drawers of water and hewers of wood’ (Chartabarty, 2007). In April of 1899, The Sewanee Review published an academic article by B.J. Ramage titled; “The Partition of Africa”. In this article, Ramage proudly and triumphantly declared that:
“…economic forces compel us to recognize that the tropics must be governed by the white man, and the cultivation of their products guided by the same hand, which is to hold those regions in trust for civilization. Wherever England, for example, has assumed control over an equatorial region its trade has picked up immensely, and the whole world has gained thereby. Hence it is urged that, in view of the foregoing facts, together with the keen rivalry fostered by modern social and industrial conditions, it will be impossible for civilized peoples impassively to stand aloof from the tropics.”
(Ramage, 1899: 223)
Clearly, the motives of the fathers of the partition were not to develop Africa for Africans, but rather, to supervise the ‘savage’ Africans to use the mechanistic tools developed and manufactured by the West to produce economic commodities for the West’s consumption.
The second installment of this article will be published in the March 2019 edition