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NAIROBI — AFRICA must shake off its romantic view of China and accept Beijing is a competitor as much as a partner and capable of the same exploitative practices as the old colonial powers, Nigerian central bank governor Lamido Sanusi has warned.

Reflecting the shifting views of a growing number of senior African officials who fear the continent’s anaemic industrial sector is being battered by cheap Chinese imports, Mr Sanusi cautions that Africa is “opening itself up to a new form of imperialism”.

“China takes from us primary goods and sells us manufactured ones. This was also the essence of colonialism,” he writes in the Financial Times. His remarks are among the most trenchant by a serving African official about the continent’s ties with the world’s second-largest economy.

Trade between China and Africa was worth more than $200bn last year, 20 times what it was in 2000 when Beijing committed to a policy of accelerated engagement.

It has been a period of growth, partly thanks to Asian demand for African resources.

But a boom in commodities, services and consumer spending has coincided with the relative decline of African manufacturing from 12.8% to 10.5% of regional gross domestic product, according to United Nations figures.

African leaders and the African Development Bank have recently urged governments to work with each other to ensure they maximise benefits from relations with their leading trade partner, but they have traditionally cloaked their concerns in emollient diplomatic language.

In contrast Mr Sanusi has thrown down the gauntlet to Beijing. “China is no longer a ‘fellow underdeveloped economy’,” he writes.

“China is the second-biggest economy in the world, an economic giant capable of the same forms of exploitation as the west. China is a major contributor to the deindustrialisation of Africa and thus African underdevelopment.”

An experienced private sector banker, Mr Sanusi is credited with cleaning up Nigeria’s banking system after a crash that wiped out 60% of bank capital in 2009. He has also given Nigeria’s central bank a more activist role. In his article, Mr Sanusi argues that African countries must respond to “predatory” trade practices — such as subsidies and currency manipulation — that give Chinese exports an advantage.

He also says the continent must build infrastructure and invest in education. “Africa must seize the moment and move manufacturing of goods consumed in Africa out of China to the African continent … I cannot recommend a divorce. However, a review of the exploitative elements in this marital contract is long overdue.”

His comments come ahead of South Africa hosting a summit of Brics (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) nations next week. South Africa, the largest economy in sub-Saharan Africa, was incorporated into the bloc of Brazil, Russia, India and China last year.

President Jacob Zuma last week told western companies to stop warning against the embrace of China. “China is doing business in a particular way and we think we can see the benefits,” he said. “But we are very, very careful,” he added, citing Africa’s experience of colonialism.


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