Dr Beyongo Mukete Dynamic is a senior research officer at the Australian Centre on China in the World. He shares with us how growing up during a turbulent period in Cameroon has shaped his interest in politics. As Africa-China relations enter tumultuous times, Beyongo explains the key challenges and opportunities for Chinese investments in Africa. At the height of superpower competition, why should Australia care about Africa-China relations?
1) Tell us a little bit about your background.
I was born in Matoh, a village in the southwest region of Cameroon, when the multi-party democracy wave was sweeping across Africa.
During this period, I saw my father, an ex-military officer, turned pharmacist caught up in the heady scramble for social, political and economic change. Millions of Cameroons, regardless of their language or tribe were fighting to sweep away the one-party authoritarian state.
Even though these hopes for change seem illusory, this was a watershed moment for many Cameroonians. It showed that change was not beyond our reach. These moments, the stories, the faces, the cries and emotions I experienced at that early stage made me an enthusiastic political observer.
2) Can you share with us some unique features of Cameroon?
Cameroon is internationally renowned for its talent in soccer. We have given the world some of the best football talents such as Roger Miller and Samuel Eto’o. Culturally, Cameroon is also the home of Makossa, a popular music genre across the world.
It is a central African state, with several distinctive features. It is made up of more than 200 ethnic groups and languages. It is a bilingual country; French and English are the official languages. Since independence in 1960 and reunification in 1961, it has built on its diversity as a strength.
Cameroon is also a country blessed with abundant natural resources. Currently, the government’s focus is on attracting investors through mining laws that provide certainty and security to investors and investment in infrastructure critical for the sector. Some Australian companies such as Sundance Resources are active in the country’s iron ore and bauxite sector. Cameroon has a huge infrastructure gap, however, which has limited its capacity to cultivate its agriculture, mining and manufacturing industry.
As with most countries, Cameroon is facing major political and social challenges. Politically, the country is dealing with issues of national integration and political transitions. The country is currently engulfed by a civil conflict in the southwestern Anglophone regions. The socio-political crisis rocking the northwest and southwest regions have forced the country to lose most of its social and political development gains made over the last half a century.
3) What motivated you to pursue research on Chinese investment in Africa?
When I started searching for topics to do my master research at the Cherkassy State Technological University, Ukraine, I found that there was a lot of talk about conflict and colonialism in Africa’s international relations. I wanted to do something different.
I found China-Africa relations fascinating. After reading several books on Deng Xiaoping, his economic policies from 1978 spellbound me. Deng emphasized that national power and security should build on a robust economy. Even though this idea wasn’t original, it certainly resonated with me.
4) How has Chinese investment in Africa evolved in the last two decades? What are the key challenges and opportunities?
China has extensive investment in Africa, which saw a rapid increase after the 1990s. Chinese investments in Africa have evolved in three major ways. Initially, most of the investment was in the natural resource and construction sectors. Resource rich countries such as South Africa, Zambia, Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo and Egypt were the main recipients of Chinese investment.
Then, as Chinese businesses gained more understanding of the local markets, they started diversifying into services, such as finance, construction services and pharmaceuticals. Now, we are seeing a large amount of Chinese companies in construction materials, footwear and textile sectors in Africa too.
There are currently two major challenges facing Chinese investment in Africa. First is the anti-Chinese sentiment across the continent, ushered in by global Sinophobia, as well as racism against Africans in China. The recent attacks on Africans in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou has done a lot of damage to the people-to-people relations between Chinese and Africans. Even though Chinese and Africans are still able to interact fairly well, the feeling of distrust and racism still hovers in the background.
Second is the absence of infrastructure. As I mentioned earlier, most African countries have a huge infrastructure gap. China has spent over USD$60 billion since 2000 in funding infrastructure projects in Africa, but this is not enough. Some key Chinese investments in Africa have been abandoned due to the absence of infrastructure. China has done a lot to finance infrastructure in countries, like Democratic Republic of Congo and Angola, to gain access and exploit the natural resources in these countries. However, China alone cannot afford the huge cost needed to bridge Africa’s infrastructure gap.
5) Why should Australia care about Africa-China relations?
Australians have several reasons to care about Africa-China relations. First, China’s reliance on Australia for its natural resources means with growing tensions between China and Australia, China may turn to other regions rich in natural resources to the detriment of Australia. Australia should be observing what China is doing in these regions, and the possibility of substituting Australian products, iron ore for example, with iron ore from Africa.
Second, Australia has for decades prided itself as flexing its powers at the level of international institutions. Even though Prime Minister Scott Morrison has touted a veiled form of nationalism when he said Australia will not kowtow to any superior authority above the state, Australia relies on multilaterism and international institutions to protect its interests at home and abroad, as Foreign Minister Marise Payne recently noted. This entails cooperating with 53 African states, which wield significant voting powers within institutions, such as the United Nations Security Council and the World Trade Organisation. Australia cannot afford to let China co-opt these states into a China-led bloc. That will be detrimental to Australia’s national interests and power.
Further, in a hyper-fragmented world, fuelled by superpower competition, Australia and several African states are likely to become “outliers” or outposts where these competitions will happen. Australia should observe the tools, methodologies and strategies employed by China to gain a strategic foothold in Africa, for example, Chinese economic statecraft in Africa. Generally, I think Australia and Africa should be interested in each other’s relations with China.
6) What projects are you working on?
I have been working on turning my PhD thesis into a book for a while now. My thesis was on ‘Regulating Foreign Direct Investments in Resource-Dependent African Countries: The case of Chinese Investments in Zambia’s Copper Mining Sector’.
Right now, I am working on a project I term, “Africa’s second industrialization wave”. As the first part of this project, I am developing a database of Chinese manufacturing companies in Africa’s construction materials industries, their sources of finance and their relationships with local entrepreneurs.
I am also collecting data on African entrepreneurs who have partnered with Chinese companies or banks to develop construction material manufacturing companies. The goal is to track China’s contribution to the industrialization of sub-Saharan Africa’s construction materials’ sector, as part of the second wave of industrialization.
What else you might have beenAn expert on US-Africa relations or an expert on postcolonial literature
Proudest momentComing to ANU
Favourite soccer teamForever an indomitable Lions fan — the Cameroon national team.