China’s Inexorable Rise: Blessing or Threat for the Horn?

despite your triumphs in sewage, drinking water and Olympic gold medals, still don’t have democracy…we may not have sewage, drinking water, and Olympic gold medals, but we do have democracy… If I were making a country, I’d get the sewage pipes first, then the democracy’’i

The appropriateness of a quote from a novel about a chauffeur-cum- servant who murders his employer may not seem immediately obvious in the context of a Horn of Africa Bulletin (HAB) thematic issue on Sino-Horn of Africa relations. But there are some intriguing parallels. The plot of the novel unfolds in the form of letters written by the narrator (i.e. the murderer) to the then Premier of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), Wen Jianbao.ii Even more strikingly, a constant refrain in the novel are the implicit and explicit contrasts between India and China, that the narrator draws attention to especially in terms of the developmental gains achieved by the PRC with its distinctive political system relative to the entrenched corruption and social injustice in democratic India. A variation of this binary trope is a standard feature of the media and academic treatment of China in Africa.