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Last year China replaced the United States as Africa’s second-largest trading partner after Europe. Carla Freeman, interim American co-director of the SAIS Hopkins-Nanjing Center, led a group of students to Ethiopia and Ghana last August to discuss the issue with experts and policy-makers in those countries’ capitals.She found that many Africans admire China’s ability to quickly lift so many of its own people out of poverty. In Ethiopia, the Chinese have invested heavily in roads, cell towers, and other infrastructure improvements that have helped the poor country’s economy experience double-digit growth.Then the question becomes not, are there democratic practices, but is democracy being implemented and enforced. What should we make of China’s surging interest in Africa?
Patrick Bassey, a senior from Lagos, Nigeria, studying economics and psychology at the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, has received some curious questions from fellow students once they learn he’s African.
“The most ridiculous thing anyone asked me,” Bassey recalls, “was when I said I was from Nigeria and someone said, ‘Oh, do you know my friend in Zimbabwe?
With the United States and Europe mired in a protracted economic downturn, Freeman says, “many of the Western political and economic models are being called into question.” And then there’s China’s less-than-stellar environmental record.
“China’s reform has come at a tremendous cost to the environment, and from that perspective it’s a terrible model,” Freeman says.
“There was very little eating, just more or less inebriation and passing out from lots of alcohol.” Then, in the wee hours of the morning, drummers would besiege the out-cold celebrants, making a huge racket to wake them.
In the resulting hazy moments of hung-over consciousness, statues of the lion goddess would be brought forth.“I say, more power to them.” Last October, Evans was named the national director of Jesuit Refugee Service/USA, a charity focused on the humanitarian needs of displaced people.He spent the previous 20 years living in Africa as the organization’s director for Eastern Africa.“China has drawn attention to Africa’s economic potential, and that’s a really good thing for Africa,” Freeman says.However, one concern is whether African admiration for China’s economic approach will lead to a similar appreciation of its hard-line political system.“In 50 years of independence, the idea of democracy as the legitimizer of African regimes has pretty well penetrated, though this doesn’t mean that the idea of democracy is well practiced.” Indeed, over the last couple of years, elections in Ivory Coast, Guinea, Zimbabwe, and Mauritania, among others, have been disputed, disrupted, or mired in fraud charges.Still, Zartman says, the idea of democratic participation in elections has stuck, and men and women vote with some enthusiasm across the continent.“There would be this moment of connection, this epiphany when the celebrants could speak directly to her and ask for something,” Bryan says.Perhaps they’d request an aspirin or an Alka-Seltzer? “Can you imagine being woken up by drums at 3 o’clock in the morning with that kind of headache? Are Western celebrities such as Bono really doing much good when they support African causes?To save mankind, the gods send down a flood of red-tinted beer, which the bloodthirsty deity consumes until passing out.“Kiosks were set up with large vats of this alcohol,” Bryan says of the boozy, myth-inspired ritual.