Deborah Bräutigam is not a household name.
Then again, neither is her area of expertise — the investment relations between China and Africa. But according to Sherra Babcock, vice president and Emily and Richard Smucker Chair for Education, this relative obscurity is exactly the reason Chautauqua was eager to get Bräutigam on its lecture series.
Bräutigam is currently a professor and the director of the International Development Program at John Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies, and is widely published in the area regarding Chinese-African foreign policy. She will take the Amphitheater stage at 10:45 a.m. today to discuss recent Chinese investment in African nations and to explain why their economic alliance may not be a bad thing.
“This is something we know nothing about,” Babcock said. “We don’t hear about it in the general media because we prefer to think of Africa as a sort of backward continent that needs help. I would guess that most Americans don’t even know that China invests in Africa.”
Babcock said there is another face of Africa, one that cooperates with China and is experiencing fiscal improvement.
“I think that we don’t know enough about Africa as a continent of opportunity,” Babcock said.
According to Bräutigam’s blog, in 2012 an estimated $2.52 billion in foreign direct investment flowed from China to Africa — although Bräutigam notes that these numbers should be taken with a grain of salt, as they tend to be slightly skewed. It also reports that Chinese direct investment in Africa grew 20.5 percent annually from 2009 to 2012. The rough figures indicate Chinese aid is being funneled into African nations, and those finances are translating into debt relief, job creation and infrastructure development, according to Bräutigam’s blog.
This Chinese investment in Africa is vastly different from Europe’s own African colonialism of centuries past, Babcock said. Europe took from Africa but didn’t give anything back, but China’s approach is a bit more balanced. While they may be receiving resources from African nations and creating markets for Chinese goods, they are also boosting the African economy and helping to rebuild the continent. Bräutigam’s blog explains that the Chinese see debt simply as a function of project investment.
“Her position is that it’s a good economic investment,” Babcock said of Bräutigam’s opinion. “Investing in infrastructure creates jobs for the Chinese and the Africans, and it means development for African nations. So it’s a great exchange.”
While the issue of Chinese-African relations may seem largely removed from the American bubble, Babcock said she feels it is extremely important to educate the American public about foreign affairs which will ultimately impact global dynamics. With China coming into its role as an international hegemon, Babcock said it is important for the United States to take note of its actions and ideas; hopefully, it will eradicate American complacency and instead inspire inquisitiveness about the world outside the Western Hemisphere.
“I don’t think that everybody should have to know everything about Africa, but opening up our knowledge is really important,” Babcock said. “I think we look at China with a little bit of fear and skepticism as it becomes a superpower. And so knowing what they’re doing — and why they’re doing it — is important toward our own foreign policy toward China.”
Babcock said that understanding the motives behind China’s policies may ideally lend to self-reflection in the U.S. as people begin contemplating the political and socioeconomic roles of America in the global community.
“I think it’s important to be aware of the issue from both angles — both China and Africa — to at least know that these questions are out there,” Babcock said.