Beyond China’s Human Rights Exceptionalism in Africa: Leveraging Science, Technology and Engineering for Long-Term Growth

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This brief response to Timothy Webster’s article, “China’s Human Rights Footprint in Africa,” critically appraises China’s disavowal of human rights, the rule of law and democracy in its African relations. China has argued that its African relations are based on the principles of political equality and reciprocity, mutual trust and benefit, common prosperity, sincerity and friendship. I critically evaluate this effort to redraw the boundaries between political and economic interventionism. In so doing, I make two major claims. First, viewing China’s involvement in Africa as purely or primarily economic, and not interventionist, imperial or political, is inaccurate. Second, to address Africa’s development and human rights challenges, African countries must capitalize on the trade and investment opportunities China and other countries provide by taking concerted measures to transform their dependency on primary products by developing a productive base upon which competitive industries could emerge to promote the kind of growth that would inure positively for human rights. African governments must develop relations with Chinese firms and government that transfer skills and technology to African firms so that Africa can benefit from Chinese expertise and knowledge as a positive strategy for moving away from dependency on raw-material production without value-addition.