A new podcast revisits China as the best model for Africa's development

'The crane' is bringing young African voices to the Africa-China debate.
A new podcast revisits China as the best model for Africa's development
Photo: LIONEL HEALING/AFP via Getty Images (Getty Images)
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The Crane: An Africa-China podcast has a mission. With episodes exploring tough questions such as “Is China a neo-colonial force?” or “What role did China play in African liberation?” the show co-hosted by South African and Zambian social researchers, Mikaela Nhondo Erskog and Amadeus Musumali, is bringing young African voices to the Africa-China debate.

The bi-monthly podcast is highly critical of the West—both the US and EU—and has landed both hosts interviews on popular newscasts such as Break Through News and has steadily increased its audience after only broadcasting its seventh episode.

One reviewer AmritHxH of Canada wrote: “I’m really excited to listen to more of this podcast directly from African and Chinese people talking about the reality of Africa’s development. I’m just so over the west’s constant barrage of propaganda that is all projection. Thanks for this podcast. It’s going to be a much needed resource in the years to come.”

China-Africa policy media coverage

The co-hosts base their episodes on research findings from their work at Donsheng News, an international collective of researchers interested in Chinese politics and society. Erskog also works as a researcher with Tri-Continental Institute for Social Research, a progressive think tank reporting on social movements throughout the Global South.

They say that most of what Africans know about Chinese policy towards Africa comes from western dominant media sources. China and the US are competing for the hearts and minds of Africans in what could be seen as an actual cold war. Their mission is to be a source to inform their audience with actual evidence of China’s progress in Africa’s development.

“It is important that people learn the historic relationship between Africa and China through a fact-based, data-driven approach,” says Musumali “What are the facts? What is really happening to our continent?”

Lessons in food security

“Half of the continent is prone to food insecurity of which 250 million Africans suffer severe food insecurity,” said Erskog. “Only 5% of arable land is using irrigation systems while 95% is completely dependent on rain. 85% of Africa’s agricultural base is grown by peasant or smallholder farmers of which 75% are still using hand tools only.”

These dire realities are among some of the reasons that the co-hosts see common ground with China which feeds 20% of the earth’s population—nearly 1.451 billion people—with only 9% of the available arable land. They point out that Africa’s current population of 1.41 billion, with a median age of 19, will soon surpass China’s.

Africa also needs to expand food storage capacity like China.

“China was preparing long before the war in Ukraine occurred,” said Erskog. “It doubled its grain storage capacity from 76 million metric tons to 150 million giving it an 18-month cushion against supply chain ruptures.”

The Chinese government and private sector have established 24 Agricultural Technology Demonstration Centers (ATDC) throughout the continent to provide technical aid and “teach a man to fish sort of programs,” says Musumali.

These programs range in their effectiveness based on management, said Musumali, but they have expanded food production by teaching local producers modern technological methods. As a result, African farmers get technical support on improving soil quality, irrigation, and fertilization methods.

Musumali has a background in agricultural science and having planted some corn by hand notes that it is hard work for which the farmers earn small financial rewards.

East vs. West: Cold war returns

The co-hosts believe that the West, both Europe and the US, have very little to offer Africa.

Erskog has been highly critical of America’s most recent policy paper the US Strategy Towards sub-Saharan Africa and US secretary of state Anthony Blinken’s trip to Africa in August.

“It is very clear that they are trying to increase their competitive position against China and Russia and any other country who wants to engage in Africa,” said Erskog in a recent interview.

“On one hand, Africa, you can choose who your partners can be. And we don’t want to interfere with you, but then, doubles back by saying ‘Watch out for Russia, watch out for China.’”

In contrast, Erskog said that China has a policy of mutual territorial respect, mutual non-aggression, non-interference in internal affairs, equality and mutual benefit, and finally peaceful coexistence.

A Ghana-based Afrobarometer survey reported last year that Africans have a “somewhat positive” or “very positive” view of Africa-China relations but are concerned about allegations of China’s human rights abuses, exploitative mining methods, and secretive ‘debt-trap’ loan programs which are a burden to many African nations.

What has China done for Africa?

Erskog points to China’s plans to support trade and agriculture projects with 10 connectivity projects, 10 agricultural and poverty reduction projects and sending 500 agricultural experts to Africa. China has also cut tariffs up to 98% to increase the exportation of goods from nine African nations. In August, China initiated a debt forgiveness program which directly helped 17 African nations overwhelmed by the economic impact in the aftermath of the covid-19 pandemic.

So where was China during Africa’s liberation struggles?

Musumali provides historic information that China was supportive of independence movements in Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria. “China provided Egypt with a $5 million loan, a first for China in Africa, and called on the UK and France to end their aggression,” says Musumali.