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January 23, 2019

Belle at the ball

Immigrants netted at Yuji Island Majoreni Shimoni ./FILE
Immigrants netted at Yuji Island Majoreni Shimoni ./FILE
I remember a time my then 11 Year old daughter Layla attended the school disco and when I picked her up, her eyes glittered and she could scarcely stand still. I asked, ''Darling, how was it?'' She said, "Daddy, I danced and I danced and I didn't stop!'' I wanted to pick her up, spin her as Jean Rhys wrote in her Novel ''Wide sargasso sea'': Only the magic and the dream are true - all the rest's a lie. And, "I must remember about chandeliers and dancing, about swans and roses and snow."
My mind looped back to my Layla was because Financial Times's David Pilling asked me about Theresa May's visit to Africa. 
I thought May deserved a big up and said, "Because of its history, Britain has a lot of leverage and indeed ground-level knowledge of the continent so in a post-Brexit world it makes sense to sweat its African equity." 
"Britain preceded China and US and is seeking to play to that advantage. This is largely a 'born-free' generation and UK is wise to play to that theme for multiple and overlapping reasons."
Dancing and giddiness came to mind because Africa has been a little swept off its feet over the last few days. Since June, Narendra Modi, India’s prime minister,Turkey's president Recep Erdogan, and Xi Jinping, president of China, have all made African forays. Emmanuel Macron, president of France, has visited the continent three times since November.
President Kenyatta was received by President Trump, Prime Minister Theresa May dialled up Africa last week as did Angela Merkel and now just about everyone has trooped off to China to make ''win-win'' music with Xi Jinping and his Forum on China-Africa Co-operation gig. 
John Ashbourne said, ''African politicians should be praying for a sino-western bidding war for their affections. A huge opportunity if they can play it well.''  
Howard French responded ''No. They should go one step further and devise well thought-out development strategies based on a deep reading of national interest generating as much local financing as possible, and pushing hard on regional integration'. We might well ask what is going on? 
 Here's some hard core data.  The 50 countries in sub-Saharan Africa have a combined output of $1.4 trillion, less than half the size of France’s economy, according to 2018 International Monetary Fund estimates. From 2000 to 2016, China loaned around $125 billion to the continent, data from the China-Africa Research Initiative (CARI) at Washington’s Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies shows. Chinese goods exports to Africa are eight times larger than those of the UK and even bigger than the top three exporters Germany, France and the US - combined.
A wave of African nations are looking to restructure debt with China on the eve of a major Beijing summit provides a reality check for the continent. Ethiopia and Zambia, heavy borrowers from China, have expressed desire to restructure that debt, while bankers believe Angola and Congo Republic have already done so, though details of such deals are sparse. IMF says Cameroon, Ghana and others face a high risk of debt distress, as does Djibouti, whose main source of foreign loans is China, and which holds the majority of external debt.
"China had a singular and positive influence on Africa. It rebalanced the demand side for Africa's commodities and also bought those commodities on a long-term basis. It was this which triggered the African recovery some two decades ago, However, since then a freewheeling China has favourited elites, has facilitated large-scale looting via inflated infrastructure, some of which were white elephants and has lumped the African citizen with the tab. How this plays out is now the key to Sino-African relations going forward. A Hambantota scenario would be problematic," referring to the Sri Lankan port which has been leased to China for 99 years.
The west is pushing back for reasons. Since uncorking Libya, immigration to Europe is a big theme. There is a clearer sense that in order to stem immigration, Europe needs to put its shoulder to the wheel and look at how to stimulate African economies and job creation. Trump is also rattling Xi Jinping's golden cage and surely wants to bottle up China in the South China Sea, hence the Indian Ocean becomes central. It even got a mention in Trump and Uhuru's press release. The west sees a very big debt crisis looming and is positioning for the fallout. The dominoes have already started to fall. Will we really find out if Xi Jinping is Santa Claus? 
May started her trip in Cape Town, which was particularly apt given that on February 3 1960, another British PM Harold Macmillan said
''The wind of change is blowing through this continent. Whether we like it or not, this growth of national consciousness is a political fact.''
I refer you to Uganda. Bobi and Barbi Wine have now arrived in the US. But what caught my attention was a video of revellers at a Tarrus Riley concert who while chanting ‘people power’ threw bottles at @BebeCoolUG while he was on stage performing and later ended his performance. Inflexion points are difficult to discern but this is one right here. A debt crisis and a political inflexion point where those who fought for independence hand over to the ''born free'' generation is in fact a ''double whammy''.
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