Former Kenyan Prime Minister and current MP Raila Odinga addressed a full house plus overflow at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, D.C., Tuesday, June 18.
Odinga’s talk addressed many issues including Chinese involvement on the continent as well as Africa’s role in the world economy and the advancement of the African Union.
In regards to China’s trading presence in Africa, Odinga did not see it as threatening when Africa controls the operation. The Chinese, he said, are ready to help and Africans should be prepared to accept such help as long as it’s on Africa’s terms.
“I think governments in Africa should define the relationship with China,” he said, “because China is, of course, interested in a number of things in Africa.”
Odinga said petty trade or buying and selling of small (petty) goods should be reserved for Africans. The Chinese, he said, should not control what goes on in African markets.
“We’re not going to import retailers,” he said, “people who are coming here with textiles and so on to come and sell here because we also have got an abundant labor force in our country, which is able to do all this petty trade in our country.”
African raw materials, Odinga said, are of high interest to foreign investors, China included. However, these resources are of no use to Africa “unless they are exploited and used for development.”
In essence, Odinga wants to see Africa take charge, not just in its trade operation and relations with China, but in many areas. Odinga referred to himself as an “Afro-optimist.” According to Odinga, Chinese involvement is welcome, but Africa should be the party leading the conversation on the continent and not relegating itself to casual observer.
“Africa needs technology. Africa needs to develop its infrastructure,” he said. “China is ready to come [to Africa] and help develop infrastructure, but it must not be at China’s terms. It will be at Africa’s terms.”
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