China taking over from Europe in Africa, say church leaders

By Ecumenical News International
April 13, 2009

Africa could find a dependable partner in China, if Europe does not change the way it relates to the continent, a Kenyan Anglican and World Council of Churches leader has said.

"I think Africa will slip away," Agnes Abuom, a member of the WCC main governing body, its central committee, told Ecumenical News International last week in Nairobi - writes Fredrick Nzwili.

Abuom spoke during an April 6-7 conference in the Kenyan capital which discussed the Joint Africa-European Union strategy, adopted in Lisbon, Portugal in 2007. The strategy is designed to change the relationship between the two continents given geopolitical changes and globalization.

"Europe feels Africa is shifting its focus to China and her relationship is weakening. There is also mistrust," said Abuom. "With the mistrust and emergence of China, it has to find new ways of engaging Africa."

Abuom explained that Europe could continue its historical relations with Africa, if it allowed aid for trade to take shape and it encouraged African commerce to grow.

"With that it may have a chance," said Abuom, who specializes in economic justice, peace and reconciliation issues. She referred to trade deals with the European Union called European Partnership Agreements, saying they need to become more people centered.

Some leaders and activists have criticized the agreements, which they say pressure poor nations into competition that leaves them unfairly disadvantaged with powerful trading partners that were once colonial powers.

"Civil society is worried there may be a negative impact, especially on the poor, the rural population and women," said Christa Randzio-Plath, the vice chairperson of the Association of German Development NGOs, an umbrella for independent and church-related agencies.

Randzio-Plath said it was right to change the paternalistic approach that marked EU–Africa relations into a partnership. "This is not easy, but we realize it is step by step," she said.

Malcom Damon, director of the Economic Justice Network of the Fellowship of Christian Councils in Southern Africa, said, "Economic liberation [for Africa] will not come from outside, it can't be bought with donations and handouts."

A worry, according to Abuom, is that China does not care about democracy, human rights or the environment.

"But whether we like it or not, China has come and been seen to do the roads," she said. "When people go to a country, they see the roads, they see the airport," said Abuom, referring to visible projects that China is said to be seen delivering on in Africa.

[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches.]

Keywords:Kenya | Europe | china | Africa
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