Battleground of the East, West

Africa is fast becoming a populous continent with a large economy. More people than ever have disposable incomes – nowhere as much as Africans would like to have, but enough to make history’s Dark Continent blush.

And the world as a whole is taking note. People of the world do not see Africa as just another continent to aid or even colonise, but as a possible ally.

The race to curry favours has already begun and is very aggressive. Financial favours in the form of aid, investments or loans are one way to woo Africans or, at least, African politicians. But a more subtle touch has been what has come to be known as soft power.

But maybe it is not so subtle. It is hidden, but in plain sight, just too obvious to notice. Outside influence could be glimpsed in our attitudes, fashion wear and most importantly preferences.

Ethiopia, an ancient country which has relatively recently become landlocked, with a surging population rate and an impressive economic growth, is one African country which is weighing its choices, unable to make its mind up in the vast game of international politics.

The West has for some time had the upper hand, as nations that comprise the bloc have been one of the most industrialised and most advanced.

The military intervention used to be second nature to these powerful nations, but they have somewhat since mellowed out. Perhaps, along the way, they learned that there are other ways to impose their ideas and ways of life upon such nations as Ethiopia.

They are capitalists, why not privatise foreign intervention – why send guns, bullets and a soldier when they can send Nike shoes and Beyoncé?

The dominance of Western culture in Ethiopia, especially on urban youth, is easily palpable. Clothing and haircuts usually resemble the look of African-American pop stars.

Sagging one’s trousers was once considered very modish and together with large silver and gold jewellery, à la mode. Adults are no different.

The traditional Ethiopian garb, the Gabi, has been dispensed with for the more “modern” outfit, the jacket.

Add to all of this the English language, which has fed its way into the entire framework of life in Ethiopia. Schools and government policies are probably chiefs to blame.

The English language has gradually usurped the curriculum, by the time students have become a junior, they take, at the very most, only one course in Amharic, which is Amharic.

In colleges and other institutions of higher learning, all courses are given in English, unless a student happens to be studying the Amharic language itself.

Not many seem to be upset by this. The strategy of the West has been to appear exceptionally alluring, to the extent that onlookers have no choice but to join. It may seem as if it is Ethiopians, or Africans as a whole, who are straining to be Westernized, but it is the other way around.

Nonetheless, the West may have had its day. Wealth does not flow in a single direction anymore. The great beast of the East has woken up and is vowing to swallow the whole world. At the rate Asia is growing and expanding, it will get to burp soon enough.

China is expected to become the largest economy in the world before the current United States president leaves office. Other Asian countries, like Indonesia and India, will also become exceptionally wealthy in a few decades time.

Africa, geographically in the middle, has begun slanting to the East, particularly China. The latter is a country that is putting a lot of resources into what could be termed as hard power.

The Chinese claim to follow a policy of non-intervention, but non-intervention only in the military. When it comes to aid money and state loans, China has become a major player in Africa.

The Pew research centre, in its 2015 Global Attitudes Survey, suggested that China is the most highly regarded in Africa, then even in Asia.

The survey was proposed before China even unveiled its 60 billion dollar investment in Africa at a forum in Johannesburg. Many saw this as China’s way of cozying up to Africa, but the continent’s leaders are jubilant with the plan.

The massive investment will likely involve more Chinese presence in Africa, and as one of the continent’s highest debtors, Ethiopia too.

The way through a nation’s heart is through the youth, but China does not seem to be as interested in this section of society.

It is undeniable that some job opportunities have been created and many undergraduates have sought degrees in China.

But the country remains syphoned off from youngsters’ hearts and minds. Chinese culture and language are still very much alien and traditional attitudes too oblique, despite Ethiopia being a highly conservative society.

China does appeal to older Ethiopians who idealise society and nation, but not to the youth that has become better acquainted with individualism.

It will take quite a time for China to drive Western sensibilities out of Africans, and the way of life the Westerners have instilled.

By Christian Tesfaye
Christian Tesfaye ( is a writer/film critic at large whose interests run amok in both directions of print and celluloid/digital storytelling.

Published on Jul 22,2017 [ Vol 18 ,No 899]



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