Category Archives: Country Post

Engaging with the world to support Botswana’s success

On many measures, Botswana has a strong foundation for success in the future: it has a stable democracy, good governance and government institutions, and solid national security. However, its single-commodity economy, the HIV/AIDS crisis, and regional and continental instability remain pitfalls to its success moving forward. Deepening its engagements with the world—by broadening its economic relationships, harnessing foreign aid for health advancements, and becoming a stronger regional leader—will all help Botswana continue to succeed.

Botswana should broaden its engagement with the developed world to diversify its economy. Though Botswana has largely avoided the “resource curse” and has effectively channeled revenues from its diamond industry to providing good government services to its citizens, a continued reliance on mostly one commodity is risky as a long-term national economic strategy. If the global diamond market was to decline and the country has not diversified, it may be unable to continue providing the same level of services to its people. Engaging with multinational corporations, attracting foreign investment, and expanding private industry to enter other global markets could all help Botswana strengthen its involvement in the global economy and diversify its economy beyond diamonds.

Additionally, continuing to engage in the world through international health aid can help Botswana fully control its HIV/AIDS epidemic. Beyond the direct toll of the disease on people’s lives, HIV/AIDS has the potential to seriously hinder Botswana through economic consequences of a reduced workforce and high health costs. Foreign health aid, such as the United States’ PEPFAR program, has greatly improved the country’s response to the crisis. It is important for the country to not become too reliant on this foreign funding; however, by further engaging with international health programs it can harness this external funding as a way to continue improving the capacity of its own domestic healthcare system to combat HIV/AIDS.

Lastly, Botswana should deepen its engagement with the region and the African continent by working to be a more active leader. In recent years, the president of Botswana has shifted the country towards an “ethical” foreign policy, becoming more outspoken in criticizing human rights abuses and political injustice in other African states. Herbst and Mills note that agency and leadership among African states on a regional and continental level are crucial for helping Africa “take charge.” As an economically and politically successful state, Botswana has the potential to help push for positive change in neighboring states and guide Africa toward greater regional and continental agency. For example, Herbst and Mills state that peacekeeping should increasingly stem from within Africa instead of relying on foreign actors. Because of Botswana’s internal stability, it has the potential to serve as a leader in intra-African peacekeeping. Increased stability and growth in the region and continent can in turn benefit Botswana domestically, as conflict in one state can severely harm the entire region (Herbst and Mills). Thus Botswana should further focus on its “ethical” foreign policy, deepening its role as a political and economic leader by advocating for regional and continental improvement.

Sources

Herbst, J. and Mills, G. 2006. Africa in 2020: Three Scenarios for the Future.

Acemoglu, D., Johnson, S., & Robinson, J. A. (2015). An African success story: Botswana.         Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Songwe, V. and Winkler, D. 2012. Exports and export diversification in sub-Saharan                    Africa: A strategy for post-crisis growth. Africa Growth Initiative, Brookings Institute.

Bollinger, L. and Stover, J. 1999. The economic impact of AIDS in Botswana. The POLICY           project.

http://www.pepfar.gov/countries/botswana/

Malila, I.S. and Molebatsi, R.M. (2014). Botswana’s Experimentation with ‘Ethical Foreign         Policy’. Southern African Peace and Security Studies, 3(1), 5-25.

http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/09/zimbabwe-castigates-botswana-leader-mugabe-comment-160924055155465.html

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Healing & Developing Uganda

Healing & Developing Uganda

Based on what we have discussed in this term, I would advise Ugandan leaders to improve domestic relations before diving into foreign relations. Uganda is still a very divided nation and the north is recovering from the impact of Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army. In terms of international relations, Uganda needs to move away from relations with the US and move towards other interests. The USA provides aid to Uganda for humanitarian and health issues, whereas China, Russia and Netherlands aid development in Uganda. I would in no way advocate for Yoweri Museveni to remain in power, but it is probable that he will be for the foreseeable future. Furthermore, Museveni will need to progress Uganda’s domestic and foreign agenda with the goal of healing and developing Uganda in an equal way.

Uganda serves as an ally to the USA in its fight against terrorism and will likely continue to do so. Perhaps, Uganda can find a way to manipulate that agreement and attain more aid for development. Museveni rarely appears on the international stage, but Uganda’s relationship with the USA can prove worthy. So, I would advise Museveni to either reform the relationship with the USA or find new countries to progress its agenda. This leads back to a central question: what are Uganda’s key interests? Uganda continues to struggle in clearly defining its national interests and needs to figure it out. I have addressed Uganda’s ‘leaders’ as Yoweri Museveni, which can be both a blessing and a curse for Uganda. Museveni controls national interests and everything involving Uganda. Thus, Museveni can enact and progress whichever foreign and domestic policies he sees fit. The blessing in this is that Museveni can enact bills quickly and does not need to cater to a bureaucracy. The curse is obvious: Museveni can just as easily drive the country into the ground with ill-advised policies.

We have learned of many economic crutches throughout the course, such as underdevelopment and the oil curse. However, Uganda’s newly discovered oil deposits might prove to be a major source of future income, which should lead to development. USAID has helped to eradicate AIDS from northern Uganda, which should allow Uganda to focus on growth. The only concern I bring up is that with Museveni leading a near-authoritarian regime, the prospect of fair and equal growth and development is optimistic at best. Uganda has proven effective in conflict resolution in both domestic and foreign disputes. Uganda has proven ineffective in domestic humanitarian issues as its child death rate and ethnic violence.

Museveni needs to heal ethnic sectarianism in Uganda first. Then Museveni needs to establish clear national interests, ideally focusing on development in the north and economic freedom. Foreign investment in Uganda is increasing (China is building factories, while also extracting oil) and Museveni could be instrumental if he ensures Uganda receives its fair share of development. Colonial remnants remain engrained in Uganda, but Museveni is working to eradicate them and bring Uganda to a position of power and influence (hopefully he also promotes equality and democracy).

Word Count 520

 

Republic of Uganda, Ministry of Affairs

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Guinea and China’s Important Partnership

As Chinese hegemony in Africa becomes even more apparent today, Sino-Guinean relations have become a priority for the Guinean government. Thanks to its resource-backed infrastructure investment approach in Africa, China has overshadowed both France and the United States as Guinea’s most important foreign partner. Although on paper, neither China, nor France or the United States are the top importers of Guinean goods, the strategic partnerships Guinea has established with those foreign actors over the years outweigh the country’s exports earnings when considering long-term implications. China’s win-win approach with most African countries has helped Guinea make important strides towards development.

While it took several decades before China could become a major trade partner for Guinea, the two countries have cooperated on various infrastructure projects since the 1960s. The first major project that would foreshadow this type of cooperation was the construction of “Le Palais du Peuple” (The Palace of the People) by the Chinese in 1969, which remains one of the most important venue in Conakry to date. Since then, China has built roads, schools, hospitals and more recently, financed and built the Kaleta dam, the biggest in the Guinea’s history. In addition to developing Guinea’s mineral industries, China has gradually become a major actor in the country’s tremendous hydropower potential. Lastly, China’s position as Guinea’s largest trading partner in 2015 further highlights the importance of this bilateral relationship, although Guinean reliance on Chinese imports has exacerbated the country’s trade deficit.

Unlike Sino-Guinean economic relations, U.S.-Guinea trade relations puts an emphasis on Guinea’s mining sector. Guinea is the second largest source of U.S. bauxite imports, which were valued at over $60 million in 2010. Another major difference between Guinea’s relations with the U.S. and its relations with China is that it is more elastic. During the cold war era, Guinea received more assistance from the U.S. because Soviet influence in Africa needed to be thwarted. Guinea’s progress toward democratization also affected its relationship with the U.S. while bilateral aid to Guinea was altered to respond the Ebola outbreak in 2014. Conversely, China’s approach in Guinea has remained pretty consistent, if not improved, throughout the past few decades regardless of the circumstances. Nevertheless, USAID and Peace Corps agendas in Guinea have proven to be very beneficial to the country’s health and agricultural sector.

France is another country that is helping Guinea develop its agricultural and health sectors through its aid agency, the AFD. Similarly, the trade statistics between Guinea and France have been very comparable to those of Guinea and the United States. However, Guinea has benefited more from their relations with France than with the U.S.–the only form of free trade agreement Guinea benefits from the U.S. is AGOA while France has multiple free trade arrangements with Guinea; France has been more generous towards Guinea in terms of debt relief programs; investment and aid figures from France surpass those from the United States.

Nevertheless, U.S. and French relations with Guinea pale in comparison with Sino-Guinean relations. Imbued with their western characteristics, assistance from the U.S. and France usually involves certain conditions while the Chinese uses a more “no-strings attached” approach. Moreover, China has been the go-to partner for many African countries, including Guinea, seeking to develop their domestic infrastructures; an aspect that underscores China’s significance to those countries.

 

http://photos.state.gov/libraries/guinea/231771/PDFs/GUINEA-2015-Country-Commercial-Guide-Final-Draft.pdf

https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/gv.html

https://books.google.com/books?id=tUa3rZQL0nkC&pg=PA40&lpg=PA40&dq=when+did+the+chinese+embassy+in+guinea+conakry+open&source=bl&ots=Wu4p88l_Q1&sig=QkxEwo0uViCDoViSH74_Oq3ewFE&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiX-fOb6tbQAhWE64MKHfstCYoQ6AEIMzAE#v=onepage&q=Guinea&f=false

http://gn2.mofcom.gov.cn/index.shtml

http://www.afd.fr/home/pays/afrique/geo-afr/guinee/afd-guinee

https://www.hsdl.org/?view&did=759128

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News from Nigeria

This is a very interesting, yet saddening article about the negative indirect effects of the Boko Haram’s deadly presence in Nigeria.

 

http://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/msf-survey-thousands-kids-dying-northeast-nigeria-43542957

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Country Post #6: Foreign Actors

The classification of Somalia as a failed state has dramatically affected its relation with foreign nations. A general inability, to maintain secure borders, monopolize state violence and suppress serious oppositional forces all directly contribute to Somalia’s position within the international community. In terms of what countries matter most, the focus will be on countries that have played an integral role in the sustained sovereignty of the Federal Republic of Somalia.

Ethiopia

Its northwestern neighbor, Ethiopia exists as the regional hegemony in the Horn of Africa and has served as both an invader and protector of Somalia’s land and interests. Points of similarity between the two nations include a bilateral trade relation, shared languages and a shared ethnic population of Somalis that inhabit a large part of Ethiopia’s southern-most region. Their shared history begins at the end of WWII when Western powers attempted to establish acceptable boundaries for the newly consolidated Somali state. This has inevitably led to conflicts, such as the Ogden War and the smaller border skirmishes that have continued into the modern era. The threats of expansion have largely arisen from Ethiopia because despite it being the regional dominant power it lacks access to the Red and Arabian Sea. Its role however as protector has since developed in the last decade, an example being the joint intervention during the conflict in 2006-2009. This period was when Ethiopian forces interceded in cooperation with the Somali TFG and Puntland militants to seize control of the country from the extremist ICU. Without Ethiopian and foreign assistance Somalia’s current government could not have reclaimed control of the state and would be unable to resist non-state actors like Al-Shabaab.

United States

The US has also been another state, with almost direct influence on Somali statehood since its inception. Through both economic and military means, the United States has proven in a contemporary sense as a substantial contributor to Somali sovereignty. For example, the US has played an active role in both the removal of extremist power in 2006 and an abusive autocracy in 1991. Although these interventions occurred because of primarily US interests, the investment of US resources into the African state has immensely helped progress within the failed state. These interventions allowed for the greater security of not just the Somali people but also of the state itself. Humanitarian aid has also served a crucial role in existing Somali government. Various programs coupled with US-led initiatives have accumulated to billions of dollars (USD) being invested in the overall betterment of the Somali state.

China

China’s developing relation with Somalia has been an additional venture tied to the overall interest of the Chinese developing new diplomatic relations with African states. Due to its inability to maintain a general security, Somalia has yet to enjoy the economic benefits of Chinese partnerships. However, there is a definite desire by the PRC to expand its military presence in the Red sea and greater Middle Eastern area that coincides with Somalia’s strategic geographical location. An example of current Chinese action within Somalia includes its naval operations to stem the threat of Somali piracy that once dominated the maritime region. This is but one of the few examples of China deliberately cooperating with the international community, and although motivated through self-interest has a direct beneficial impact on the Somali state.

Sources

http://www.raceandhistory.com/cgi-bin/forum/webbbs_config.pl?md=read;id=115

http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/09512748.2012.759265

Hansen, S. J. (2013). Al-Shabaab in Somalia: The history and ideology of a militant Islamist group, 2005-2012.

Bruton, B. E., Center for Preventive Action., & Council on Foreign Relations. (2010).Somalia: A new approach. New York: Center for Preventive Action, Council on Foreign Relations.

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Nigerian Relations

Due to Nigeria being the most opportunistic African country with its surprisingly and continuously growing GDP from its vast oil reserves and its access to resources, Nigeria has quite a few international partners, both on a regional level and an international level. At the international level, Nigeria’s main partners include the United States and China. At the regional level, Nigeria’s partners include, Chad, Niger, and Cameroon. However, it is Nigeria’s growing relationship with international partners such as China and the U.S. that have benefited Nigeria the most.

Since Nigeria discovering a vast amount of oil deposits at the tip of the Niger River delta and economically growing to have the highest GDP within the entire continent of Africa, Nigeria has grown to attain a large amount of lucrative partners. Those partners mainly include China and the U.S. In terms of the U.S, besides Nigeria being one of the top suppliers of oil to the U.S., Nigeria and the U.S. have begun to work together to address major issues within Nigeria that is keeping this important African country from reaching its full potential. Within the six years, the U.S. and Nigeria have been able to work closely with one another through a committee jointly created by the two countries in 2010 called the Binational Commission (BNC). Since 2010, the BNC has allowed the U.S. and Nigeria to focus on high-level discussions and meet regularly, mainly focusing on the two countries’ key areas of mutual interest, which include: good governance, transparency, and integrity; energy and investment; regional security; the Niger Delta; and agriculture and food security. Recently, in July 2015 when President Obama and President Muhammad Buhari of Nigeria met at the White House, President Obama expressed U.S. commitment to strengthening and expanding U.S.-Nigerian relations by making clear of preparations to increase support for Nigeria’s government to combat the violent insurgencies made by the Boko Haram through the protection of human rights and bringing together security and development tools to not only defeat the Boko Haram, but also eliminate factors that fuel such extremism. These two leaders have also been able to discuss ways to strengthen Nigeria’s economy, which could be doing so much better if not for the constant presence of corruption. They have been able to do so by coming up with a comprehensive approach to tackling corruption and reforming Nigeria’s energy sector.

In the case of Nigeria and China’s relationship, their relations are much more fueled by economics and Chinese aid to Nigeria. According to Nigeria’s state oil company, Chinese businesses have recently pledged to invest US$80 billion on oil and gas infrastructure projects in Nigeria. Additionally, to support its swelling trade in Nigeria, China is funneling billions of dollars to build roads, rail lines, airport terminals, power plants and other desperately needed infrastructural issues in Nigeria. With the combination of oil and infrastructural ties to Nigeria, China is currently the top lender to Nigeria, since political instability, corruption and violence have made Western investors skeptical. Furthermore, with such involvement by China, in turn Nigeria has become the largest overseas customer of Chinese construction companies, which is an important market for Beijing, especially when China’s own economic growth is currently slowing down at the moment.

Regionally, Nigeria’s relationships with neighboring countries such as Chad, Niger, and Cameroon have grown. Since the violent terrorist acts of Boko Haram have unfortunately begun to spread into Nigeria’s neighboring countries, Nigeria and these other countries have made a mutual effort to support one another militarily to ultimately put an end to the Boko Haram.

 

Sources

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/06/business/international/in-nigeria-chinese-investment-comes-with-a-downside.html

-http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/2836.htm

-http://oilprice.com/Latest-Energy-News/World-News/Chinese-Companies-Splash-US80-Billion-on-Nigeria-Oil-Gas.html

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Conflicts in Gabon

Corruption and the lack of government accountability in Gabon are the driving forces for violent conflicts happening in Gabon. In spite of the myriad of ethnic group existing in Gabon, there are not many ethnic conflicts. Gabon is at peace with its surrounding countries as well and even participates in peacekeeping efforts in the area. Conflicts in Gabon are more prevalent in the after math of presidential elections. Since independence, Gabon has had three presidents. The current Gabonese President, Ali Bongo Odimba is the son of the last Gabonese president who had maintained power for 42 years prior to his death.

At the heart of each Gabonese elections, tensions in the country began to rise and talk of corruption and of rigged elections follow. Gabon was in the news a lot due to the violent protests that erupted after Ali Bongo Odimba was re-instated as president. Protestors took to the streets and demanded their freedom and liberation. Some even burnt government building. The United States and France became involved in the conflict and offered to oversee a recount of the vote because Bongo’s opponent, Jean Ping, and his followers claimed that he had rightfully won the election.

In September. Gabon was in the news spotlight because of the violence that happened following the elections. One thing that many of the articles forgot to mention is that this situation is not new. Gabon was under the same duress in 2009 after Ali Bongo Odimba was first elected as president after the death of his father. His opponent at the time, Andre Mba Obame, declared that Bongo had rigged the election and his supporters protested for a recounting of the votes and to elect the candidate that they believe the Gabonese people had voted for. During the protest, demonstrators also burnt government buildings and a number of arrest was made.

One can predict that another violent eruption will take place at the next Gabonese election if President Ali Bongo Ondimba is once again re-elected. There are numerous factors to the belief that the election was rigged. Whether or not Bongo was unfairly elected is not certain. The investigations led by both by the United Nation in concert with France and the U.S. shows irregularities committed by both Bongo and his opponents. Nevertheless, there are major flaws in Gabonese elections. The voter turn-out for both elections was about 98-99%. These percentage are unrealistic as they do not even happen in the most liberal democracies and in places, like Australia, where people are fined if they do not go out and vote. There are dead people who are still registered to vote and are mysteriously able to cast ballots.

Gabon needs a new president who is not from the Bongo family. Citizens will probably not stop to protest at every election if the irregularities present within the voting system are not fixed and if Bongo is once again re-elected.

 

Sources

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-37252778

http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/08/gabon-election-protests-ali-bongo-beats-jean-ping-160831183011584.html

http://www.cnn.com/2016/09/01/africa/gabon-election-protests/

http://www.cnn.com/2009/WORLD/africa/09/03/gabon.post.election.violence/index.html?iref=nextin

http://www.aljazeera.com/news/africa/2009/09/200993115640388734.html

 

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Affaires Étrangères Gabonaise

President Ali Bongo Odimba has been a catalyst to change the course of Gabonese foreign relations, expanding Gabonese relations with countries such as China, Japan, Morocco, and Turkey to name a few. However, in spite of the newfound alliances that Gabon has made, France remains the foreign country that matters the most to Gabon both politically and economically and China is the second one.

The relationship between France and Gabon is based from historical colonial and familial ties. France is of great importance for many reasons. Because Gabon is part of the CFA Franc Zone, it is economically tied to France and the weight of its currency depends on the Euro. Furthermore, France holds 65% of Gabon’s bank reserve, it still has a military based in the country, and there’s over 120 French enterprises in the country. Though, France has significantly loosened its grip on the Francophone African countries, including Gabon, it will take time and viable policy changes in order for France to fall from being the top foreign partner that Gabon has.

As many developing countries, Gabon’s goal is to develop its economy and infrastructure, diversify its resources and attract foreign investors in the country. Partnering with China seems to be helping with some of these goals. Sino-Gabonese relations are very different from France-Gabonese relations on various levels. Diplomatically, it seems like Gabon and China are in more of an equal footing than relations with France and Gabon that evoke colonial ties that have never truly been broken. Sino-Gabonese relations have manifested itself with the construction of about 3 hospitals in Gabon, of the stadium in which Gabon hosted the CAN 2012, and along with talks of building alternative energy power sources. China has invested in Gabonese oil and in Gabonese wood.  Gabon has borrowed money from China for development projects and has not required any major politically changes from Gabon as opposed to France, which has recently criticized President Bongo Odimba for corruption and breach of human rights.

During his presidency, Ali Bongo Odimba has also solidified diplomatic ties with Turkey and Morocco. These new found relations date from 2011 when Bongo Odimba visited Turkey five times and when King Mohammed VI invited him to Morocco about three times in 2013. So far, these exchanges seem more diplomatic than economic. However, it may be a bit too early to determine the outcomes of these relations and the forms that it will take.

Japan has increasingly started to invest in Gabonese industries, namely those related to fish and wildlife services. This industry has also been important to the United States as Gabon’s forestry and wildlife plays a big part in food production and environmental regulations in the Central African Region. Both of these countries have good relationships with Gabon, but they do not have major stakes in the country.

So far, China and France remain the two countries closely tied to Gabon. Each country has a different historical tie to Gabon that informs their current relationship and the course that it will take. It would be interesting to see if China’s presence in Gabon will ever surpass France’s presence.

 

Sources

http://www.diplomatie.gouv.fr/fr/dossiers-pays/gabon/presentation-du-gabon/

http://www.diplomatie.gouv.ga/589-autres-informations/14-activites/294-relations-france-gabon/

http://www.afriquechine.net/pays/gabon.html

http://www.focac.org/fra/zfgx/t1355125.htm

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KENYA AND CHINA

“The surging entry of China into African economies will continue to raise anxieties. As Albert Hirschman wrote, all epoch-making political and economic innovation tends to provoke fierce
rhetoric on the damage that radical change is likely to do to the old order, even when some benefits are grudgingly accepted” (Chege, 37).  For the last three decades(1980-2007), China has been the lifeline for Kenya. Most foreign relationships are formed in the shape of trade, which has been on the rise with multiple actors on the Kenyan scene; India, China, and the East African community. What makes the relationship between Kenya and China special is China’s ability to take multifarious forms.

Kenya, just like any other developing country, is making an effort to hasten its development despite all obstacles, whether they be in governance, or the lack of human capital, or inadequate funds. China enables sub-Saharan African countries to attempt at rapid development, and that is why for a country like Kenya, China is currently her best ally. Chinese contractors get the job done more quickly than any other nations’. Furthermore, China’s simple bureaucracy, compared to that of Western countries, makes China attractive and easy to work with.

Moreover, China has actively personified her relationship with Kenya. A visit to Kenya, starting from the main airport in Kenya (Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, which was recently renovated by Chinese contractors) can attest to the tangible embodiment of Chinese relations with Kenya. China has contributed largely to Kenya’s infrastructural development and also at a lower cost. India and the East African community mainly conduct bilateral trade with Kenya. Trade is significant for the Kenyan economy, but then what will happen when the resources (tea) are depleted? Or something like a war obstructs their production? Or when the other nation’s manufacturing sector become better?

During pre-independence trade between Kenya and China, their commodities were almost of the same quality. But then when Kenya got independent, the conservative and “mixed economy” proponent, president Jomo Kenyatta, could not afford to work with communist Mao, so trade between Kenya and China came to a standstill for 13 years, until both died. So when Moi took over after president Kenyatta and established a relationship with China in 1980, China’s economy was already transformed. Their manufacturing sector was booming and thus when trade began, Kenya’s balance of trade with China was (and still is) at a deficit. China’s policy in the 1960s use to allow “commodity-financed” projects (Chege, 23), while now they fund projects through loans and grants. This is partly because they recognize that their commodities are cheaper and of better quality. Thus if their relationship with Kenya relied on exchange of commodities, it would be weak. It is therefore significant that China is creating institutions in Kenya that could ensure sustainable growth.  Kenya experienced a sustained economic growth between 2003-2007. “GDP growth rose from 2.9 percent in 2003 to a projected 7.1 percent in 2007” (Chege, 26). This was largely attributed to the increased cooperation between Kenya and China, amongst other factors. The other nations, India, EAC countries, UK, and the U.S. have traded with Kenya for decades without a similarly significant impact.

The 2007-2008 post election violence severely affected trade and foreign relations. However, infrastructure built by the Chinese remained standing. Hospitals like the Moi referral hospital in Eldoret even helped casualties of the violence. Therefore, no matter what people feel about the Chinese presence in sub-Saharan Africa, they have to recognize that China is filling a niche that was historically absent.

 

Sources.

  1. Michael Chege, Economic Relations between Kenya and China, 1963-2007
  2. Joseph Onjala, The Impact of China-Africa Trade Relations: The Case of Kenya (Issue Number 5, 2010)
  3. http://www.ieakenya.or.ke/number_of_the_week/kenya-india-bilateral-relations
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Past, Present, and Future: Continuity and Change in the C.A.R’s Foreign Relations

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[Faustin Archange Touadera, then President-Elect, with a French official on a visit to Paris in early 2016.]

 

 

The Central African Republic sits firmly in the milieu of La Francafrique. As one of the most conflict-ridden and poor countries in the world, no global superpower has taken much of an active interest in pursuing a mutually-beneficial, bilateral relationship with the C.A.R. This has enabled France to retain its role as primary influencer, whereas both China and the United States have extremely limited contact with the C.A.R, and the contact that does occur is almost entirely centered around retroactive violence suppression and resource extraction. Conversely, the C.A.R’s closest neighbors have a much more direct impact on the C.A.R’s domestic happenings.

France’s continued importance to the Central African Republic and its progress (or lack thereof) is best illustrated by the fact that the C.A.R’s currency is the CFA Franc, which is pegged to the Euro and used across former-French colonies. While the CFA Franc’s fix to a stable currency helps the C.A.R avoid inflation and depreciation (which would exacerbate economic hardship caused by political and religious conflict), the economic procedure used to maintain the fixed exchange rate creates extreme dependency on Europe and keeps domestic prices high.

On top of the entanglement that comes with the CFA Franc, France is still the largest importer of goods to the C.A.R, with US $66 million worth in 2014, while it only receive a measly $4 million dollars of exports from the C.A.R a year. That $4 million is approximately the same percentage of total C.A.R exports as the $66 million is percentage of imports: 20%. This highlights an important tend: the relationship of influence between the C.A.R and France does not flow in both directions. Where France sends forces intervene in the C.A.R at times of high duress, like the peak of the current Seleka/anti-Balaka conflict in 2013, no recent French government has pursued meaningful economic or political initiatives in the way that the Chinese have in Nigeria or Ghana. Thus, while France is surely the largest Western foreign influence in the C.A.R, the nature of that influence does not seem to have majorly  transformed from that of the colonial period.

C.A.R’s most important reciprocal partners are those geographically closest: Chad, the Congo, Sudan, the DRC, and Cameroon. Perhaps the most productive point of connection between the C.A.R and foreign countries is through membership to multilateral organizations, like ECCAS (the Economic Community of African States) and OHADA (a French acronym for the Harmonization of African Business Law). Membership in these multilaterals is a support system of economic solidarity for the C.A.R to counter the dependence in its more far-reaching foreign partnerships. Beyond economic camaraderie, many challenges in Central Africa are not cut off by officially-recognized borders. This creates a sense of fluidity in the region and a necessity for governments to work together to address conflicts that cross borders. Some examples: a Chadian rebel cohort used the fluid borders of the C.A.R to cross into Chad from their base in Darfur in 2006, the Movement for the Liberation of Congo intervened in stifle a coup in C.A.R early 2001, and borders with Cameroon are kept lax to ensure ease in transporting goods from its ports into the landlocked C.A.R. All of this is to say: the countries that have the most direct impact on the C.A.R’s are those geographically closest.

Though neither China nor the United States are currently actively engaged in partnership with the Central African Republic, it is not unreasonable to guess that their interest will rise if and when intensity of conflict and poverty diminish. When democratization looked promising in early 2016 with the election of Faustin Archange Touadera,  Zhang Jianlong, administrator of State Forestry Administration of China, attended the inauguration celebration in March. This seemingly inconsequential act is indicative of the strategy that China has used across the African continent. As Ian Taylor explains in The Growth of China in Africa, Beijing symbolically…accords Africa equal diplomatic status with the dominant powers”, a trend that very much breaks from the French neo-colonialism described above. Though China is neither a major investor in nor trade-partner with the C.A.R as of now, perhaps its diplomatic actions indicate the coming of policies mirroring those it has already undertaken in more politically stable African countries. The central question that begs is whether or not this new, different kind of foreign relation between China and the C.A.R will actually break from the practice of a superpower acting primarily in its own interests, or if Chinese private and national companies will find a way to promote fruitful development for the C.A.R itself.

For the time being, while China’s interest is speculative and French engagement is one-sided, the foreign countries with the most impact on the C.A.R are those that share a continent, along with similar social, economic, religious and ethnic challenges.

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