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Uzodinma (Uzo) Iweala is the author of Beasts of No Nation. The novel, his debut, came out of his undergraduate thesis work at Harvard and was conducted under the supervision[…]

Iweala talks about why this issue may be misunderstood, as well as the dangers China presents.

Question: What do you make of China's rising profile in Africa?

Uzodinma Iweala: It’s funny. Everybody is talk . . . everybody talks about China so much, and . . . China and Africa. And the fact that, you know, “Africans” or, you know, the different people in the different countries in Africa should be aware because China has such a bad human rights record. And like the way I see it honestly, I mean like it’s not like dealing with the west has been that great, you know what I’m saying? So you know like why should we be taking . . . You know why should people . . . And I feel like . . . I mean I feel like it’s not Africans who are afraid of China’s rise in Africa. It’s the west that’s afraid of China’s rise in Africa. Like for . . . for Africans it’s a double-edged sword as is any interaction. There are a lot of positives and there are a lot of negatives. I mean I think the hope is that with more players in the game; with more . . . more resources; with more sources of capital, right; and with more sources of ideas; if you are a leader with a vision in any one of the African countries, now is the time that you can actually . . . you can maximize, right? Now is the time that you have access to this set of . . . you know these set of people who are willing to work on these projects. You have access to these . . . Like now is the time to really leverage your . . . your . . . your resources to really . . . to really bargain while you have a chance to. Before you couldn’t do that, and I think that’s a good thing. At the same time one has to be very careful, because it’s very clear that Chinese involvement is not all positive. I mean you look at the Chinese in Sudan, right? That’s definitely not positive. But you look at, for example, the projects that China is willing to work on. And a lot of the things that the west won’t touch, the Chinese are ready to do. Infrastructure development, the west has been about . . . has been about extraction. The Chinese, yeah, they want oil. That’s true and no one is going to deny it. But at the same time, like the projects that they’ll work on are . . . are projects that . . . They need it to happen. Like the roads need to be built, right? Railroads need to be built. And if it’s this set of people who has that skill, and who have those resources, and who have that ability, then I don’t see why we shouldn’t be talking to them, right? And you know the . . . You can bring up human rights all you want. And I think what we need to do as Africans in our various countries is to make sure that our leaders are . . . are paying attention to that, and are trying to make sure we’re not exploited in that way. But I don’t necessarily think that it’s . . . that . . . that Europe or the United States has really any right to say that these people don’t respect human rights when the track record is just not very great on . . . on their side. The track record isn’t great on either side, so it’s up to us as Africans to make sure that that track record changes. And you know whether that’s with the Chinese, or whether that’s with Great Britain, or with the United States, it’s up to us to do that. And that’s maybe where we’re not pulling our weight. But as for the Chinese in Africa, I say if they are ready and willing to come in, then that connection should be developed – just responsibly.

Recorded on: 10/7/07



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