What about China in Africa? – A Debate Revisited

Mutual benefit or sucking resources?

Mutual benefit or sucking resources?

On March 12, 2009, I attended a presentation by Dr. Henning Melber at the Institute for Security & Development Policy (ISDP) in Stockholm. Dr. Melber is Senior Advisor and Director Emeritus of the Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation in Uppsala, Sweden. He revisited the Sino-African relations debate by looking at the implications of the global financial crisis and how it could affect Africa. “What’s in it for the African people and not just their governments?” asked Dr. Melber. He felt that securing a common platform on such issues was very important.

Dr. Melber, who considers himself “a free speaker”, expressed his thoughts openly and even lodged a scathing attack on the West which for many years, has seen Africa as its own backyard. He gave an overview of the Sino-African relations, stressing that historically, the Chinese have been for the emancipation of Africans: supporting the losers in various political struggles, and not the winners. Western Europeans on the other hand, have a record of suppression, slavery, and scrambling for Africa’s resources, which they continue to exploit heavily. To emphasize the level of exploitation, Dr. Melber referred the audience to Walter Rodney’s book titled: ‘How Europe Underdeveloped Africa’.

The speaker felt that suspicions, aversions and other negative responses had initially dominated the discourse on Sino-African relations for a period, but currently, there is more calm. The fear of the unknown is common at the beginning of bilateral cooperation, but since China changed its policy and became familiar with issues pertaining to the collaboration, it has become significantly good. China slightly improved its policy after being criticized for supporting the Sudanese government during the war in Darfur.

Key issues
The Chinese have had an indirect presence in Africa through building sports arenas and the well-known Tazara Railway, which they built to connect Tanzania and Zambia for the copper trade. This is a great infrastructural landmark. The Chinese approach is through friendship, politeness and respect. During the past few years, their top leaders have traveled to Africa to acknowledge their friendship; something that very few Western leaders have done, despite having dominated bilateral issues for years with the Africans.

Chinese leaders do not wag their fingers at African leaders and do implement the policy of non-interference. China is therefore becoming a preferable partner in bilateral relations. There was an increase in capital investments from the West to China in the 1990s. In Africa, this increase was notable through Chinese companies contracted by companies in the West. By 2009, there were around 800 Chinese private companies in 49 African countries. They had minimum rules and regulations which should not violate the Chinese government rules and were given government security just like those from the Western countries.

Double-standards are quite visible in the way Westerners regard Sino-African relations. They criticize them yet do the same. The West was not very strict when the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre took place and continued trading with China as usual. Sweden also follows a “value-oriented” policy which is a Nordic model, yet is unethical in some instances, like the suspected bribes during the sale of Swedish jets to South Africa over a decade ago. Economic interest seems to be heavier than other values and they still trade with rogue governments.

Former President Mobutu of then-Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo), committed atrocities yet the Belgians, French and the USA traded with him for many years, at the expense of the Congolese people. Nothing has been said openly by the West about the conduct of King Mswati III of Swaziland. Further, Somalia and Somaliland got onto the world map when Somali pirates began hijacking ships with expensive cargo owned by the West, being transported across the Indian Ocean. There lacks a coherent perspective on human rights and the West should be criticized as much as China. “Who is the West to lecture China on moral conduct yet they do the same?” wondered Dr. Melber.

Rapid industrialization in China
In 1997, China’s trade turnover in Africa was between 5 to 55.5 billion US dollars, making it the third biggest trade partner after USA and Britain. In 2005, the turnover was USD 105 billion, a volume that was expected in 2010. Moreover, India and China controlled the highest dollar reserves outside USA, amounting to three trillion US dollars. A high dollar value is good for their exports. Africa’s economy means a lot for China to boost its rising demand for oil, gas and other minerals.

During their recent entry on the continent, the Chinese invested immensely in Southern Africa, thus reviving the Zambian copper mining industry and Namibia’s diamond industry, which used to have a lucrative market in China. However, since the beginning of the current financial crisis, the mining industry has plummeted and many mines have closed in Zambia and Namibia. Half of Namibia’s economy is fuelled by diamonds. In the diamond-rich country of Botswana, things are just as bad because the global demand for diamonds has reduced drastically due to the deteriorating economy. Diamond owners might instead sell them for cash, which would affect the country badly, since 80-90% of its economy depends on it. Growth rates in Africa projected at 7-10% per annum are likely to be halved.

During the March 2009 “Changes Conference” in Dar-es-Salaam, organized jointly by the government of Tanzania and the International Monetary Fund, former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said this about the financial crisis: “We could be facing the economic equivalent of a tsunami.” In Angola, profits generated from vast oil and gas resources are not ploughed back to elevate the majority of citizens from poverty. Poverty has been reduced in China, while it is on the rise in Africa. Therefore, Sino-African relations might not have a “trickle down effect” on many Africans after all.

Dr. Melber recalled that during the 2007 World Social Forum (WSF) in Nairobi, a Chinese civil society delegation attempted to ‘lecture’ Africans on human rights and met the wrath of some seasoned Africans, who were quite aware of the Chinese penetration into petty trade in Africa. They were informed of how they had entered into competition with hawkers by flooding many African markets with their cheap goods. They were told that their trade methods were worse than the Europeans’ because they even brought cheap labor from China, and did not employ local laborers.

The Chinese have a monolithic policy which is not modeled to deal with outside matters. On the other hand, the Westerners have a policy of enhancing democracy. For instance, there are common interactions among social movements in America, Europe and Africa, while the Chinese do not interact with the local people when they come to Africa. The unknown is always threatening and this is why the degree of racism towards the Chinese in some parts of Africa is extreme. Dr. Melber referred to the textile industry in Togo which is almost collapsing, since the Chinese entered to compete by selling their cheap clothes. The Togolese refer to them as: “The Chinese Devils”. The Chinese have forged friendly relations with many African countries, but not the ordinary Africans. Although many aspects of life in China are still strictly regulated, more Chinese are now able to travel abroad as tourists, and might gradually understand other cultures.

China has big plans for Africa and in the recent past has been offering massive soft loans and grants. Is this sustainable amidst the current financial crisis? Will these loans harm Africa? There is an upward spiral in mineral and oil-rich countries like Angola because of China’s demands, yet there is an imbalance of trade which involves the exploitation of natural resources like oil and gas at 62% and other minerals at 13%. However, African governments must also share the profits widely by improving the infrastructure and the people’s wellbeing.

China is among the top three exporters of arms to Africa and in 2008 was forced, after worldwide pressure, to recall its “Ship of Shame” – a term coined for the ship that had exported massive weapons to Zimbabwe after the botched presidential elections.

Remarkable policy change has been noted from China in the case of Darfur. However, more is required. Economic development needs to go hand in hand with democracy, accountability and human rights. Democracy and participation in societal values are required in Africa for prosperity.

The European-Chinese-African discourse seeks to reconcile issues and shape policy even at the European Union level. Is the Chinese presence in Africa an alternative? So far, China offers more options for Africa but might still bring “more of the same interest” like the West.

Jared Odero


  • China exploiting Africa

    Jane Goodall alarmed China plundering Africa, but admits destructive habits changing
    (02-18 11:30)

    China is exploiting Africa’s resources just like European colonizers did, with disastrous effects for the environment, acclaimed primatologist Dr Jane Goodall told AFP.
    On the eve of her 80th birthday, the fiery British wildlife campaigner is traveling to world capitals lecturing on the threats to our planet.

    During the past decade China has been investing heavily in African natural resources, developing mines, oil wells and running related construction companies.
    Activists accuse Chinese companies of paying little attention to the environmental impact of their race for resources.

    “In Africa, China is merely doing what the colonialist did. They want raw materials for their economic growth, just as the colonialists were going into Africa and taking the natural resources, leaving people poorer,” she told AFP in an interview in Johannesburg in South Africa.

    The stakes for the environment may even be larger this time round, she warns.
    “China is bigger, and the technology has improved… It is a disaster.”
    Other than massive investment in Africa’s mines, China is also a big market for elephant tusks and rhino horn, which has driven poaching of these animals to alarming heights.
    But Goodall, who rose to fame through her ground-breaking research on chimpanzees in Tanzania, is optimistic.

    “I do believe China is changing,” she said, citing as one example Beijing’s recent destruction of illegal ivory stockpiles.

    “I think 10 years ago, even with international pressure, we would never have had an ivory crush. But they have,” she added.

    “I think 10 years ago the government would never have banned shark fin soup on official occasions. But they have.”

    Her organization Roots and Shoots, founded over two decades ago to instil conservation values in children, has also become involved in China.

    “We work with hundreds of Chinese children, and they are not different from children we work with here. They all love nature, they love animals, they want to help, there’s no difference because they’re Chinese,” she said.

    Young people’s enthusiasm to change the world gives her hope.
    “These young people will become the next parents, the next teachers, the next lawyers, the next business people and the next politicians, some of them.”
    “The biggest problem is that people understand but don’t know what to do,” she said.
    “If you have one thousand, one million or eventually several million people all making the right choice, all thinking about the consequence of their behavior, then we’re going to see big change.”

    Another glimmer of hope is “this amazing resilience of nature,” she continued, citing as an example the China’s Loess Plateau on the Yellow River bouncing back after massive soil erosion.

    “It was set to be the biggest totally destroyed ecosystem in the world,” she said.
    A US$400-million project funded by the Chinese government and international donors introduced better farming methods in the area, which greatly reduced erosion and lifted 2.5 million people out of poverty, according to the World Bank.

    “That took a lot of money, but if you look at it now, it’s all green, lush and farmland, and children have come back from the cities. It’s even got a whole area for wildlife,” said Goodall.

    “We still have a small window of time to change things.”

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  • Mengistu Haire Mariam

    JERUSALEM (AP) — Dozens of Africans have accepted an Israeli government offer to relocate to Uganda, an Israeli official said Wednesday, part of the Jewish state’s efforts to cope with an influx of migrants from the continent.

    The announcement came weeks after officials said a third country, which they refused to identify, would soon begin to accept migrants who had gone to Israel.

    About 50,000 African migrants, mostly from Eritrea and Sudan, have poured into Israel in recent years. The Africans say they are asylum-seekers fleeing persecution and danger. Israel says they are job seekers, but does not deport them because they could face danger in their conflict-ridden countries.

    The influx has caused friction with locals and alarmed authorities, who say Israel’s Jewish nature is threatened by the presence of the Africans.

    But rights groups have said Israel has an obligation to protect the migrants, in part
    because of Israel’s history of taking in Jewish refugees following the Holocaust.

    The official said Israel paid $3,500 each in recent weeks to about 30 migrants who agreed to leave for Uganda. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media on the matter.(good news blacks back to Africa)

    http://uk.news.yahoo.com/israel-officia … ml#hqEVWF0

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  • is china helping africa?

    Analysis and reflections

    Top 10 Misconceptions about Chinese Investment in Africa (Codrin Arsene)
    Many people consider China to be Africa’s new best friend, discovered after years and years of searching. Is this really the case? What are the common misconceptions about Chinese Investment in Africa? How much of a win-win relationship is this? Who benefits most out of this deal? Find out here.

    1.China is helping Africa achieve its millennium development goals by investing in its infrastructure, economic markets and development projects. In fact, China is not really “investing.” Most of the “Chinese investment in Africa” is actually a very well-structured program of concessional loans. What does that mean? China has taken the World Bank’s place in lending money to Africa. The real investment actually accounts for less than 1% of China’s business in Africa.

    2.China is an equal partner who respects and assists African states in solving their problems. False, false, and false! More than 95% of all China’s programs in Africa have a clause that stipulates one breathtaking agreement: all infrastructure-related programs are required to have 70% Chinese contracted personnel. Only 30% of the people hired in these infrastructure programs are Africans. Last time I checked, equality means 50-50, not 70-30. Moreover, while the African governments choose where the infrastructure is needed, they have to pay back the money in natural resources, and are practically forced to give employment to thousands of Chinese instead of Africans.

    3.China has helped Africa develop in the last ten years by employing more and more Africans in business-related sectors. Firstly, it is true that the Chinese have helped decrease the unemployment rate in natural resource-related programs. However, more people are discovering the common knowledge that China is dumping its cheap products on African markets, forcing Africans out of business, as they cannot afford to sell goods at the prices listed by Chinese sellers.

    4.China will always help African leaders, including those with poor human rights records. China immediately distanced itself when the International Criminal Court indicted Slobodan Milosevic of crimes against humanity despite its previous promises of supporting the Serbian leader at all costs. In Africa, the Chinese government has already broken its promise of non-interference in the cases of Angola and Sudan when it “encouraged” leaders to change their policies with an eye towards fulfilling international trade agreements and ceasing the targeting of civilians. Moreover, China did not use its veto power to stop the ICC from investigating the crimes in Darfur.

    5.China will not try to take over Africa. They will not be intrusive and will always abide by local rules. An estimated 750,000 Chinese have settled in Africa over the past decade. Millions are on the way. Several clashes between police forces and Chinese co-nationals have already been registered throughout Africa. For the latest, click here.

    6.China cares deeply about most of the African states and will work closely with most of them in order to achieve their development-related targets. So why is that only four states get the bulk of the so-called “Chinese investment”? Nigeria, Angola, Ethiopia and Sudan have received 70% of the Chinese funds designated to Africa. What about the other 50 states? Are they just a “negligible minority?”

    7.China is not a promoting a new form of colonialism on the continent. They are building roads designed to help them take minerals out of Africa; Chinese are getting privileged, under-market prices for the commodities they are shipping out from Africa (oil, timber, coal, copper, coltan, etc.); they are creating segregated neighborhoods for Chinese people only: Chinatowns have sprung up throughout the continent just like the Apartheid era white farms; they are paying Africans very low salaries and often fire them when they try to object to working conditions (see the cases registered in Zambia, South Africa and Angola). All this considered, we still haven’t gotten to the “new” colonialism. All the above are replicas of the policies used by the white racists 50 years ago.

    8.China truly cares about environmental issues. True: The Chinese care about the environment in China. China’s strategy is based on protecting the country from further environmental damage, while obtaining resources from other parts of the world. That’s why, despite being able to get all the necessary timber for its internal market in China, the Chinese officials have signed contracts that will fulfill 70% of its imports from Africa. Environmentalists all over Africa have been signaling out other cases of severe environmental degradation caused by Chinese firms not respecting conservation laws. Currently, Chinese firms are wiping out whole forests throughout Gabon, Cameroon, Congo- Kinshasa, Equatorial Guinea and Liberia.

    9.By the power of example, China will stimulate economic growth, sustainable development and ultimately democracy and stability. China is the main investor in those countries that are led by autocratic leaders with dictatorial aspirations (the only exception is Nigeria, whose democratic record is actually improving). It is widely agreed that without Chinese intervention, which is supporting the autocratic governments to the extent that it lends up to 10-15% of their yearly national GDP (Sudan, Zimbabwe are the most notorious cases), these leaders would not have been able to hold power against the will of their people for so long. Most countries named in this article submit to this argument, Nigeria again being the exception.

    10.The South – South cooperation, started by China, is the best thing that ever happened to Africa, and it will help lift Africa from extreme poverty. China is the number one weapon supplier to Africa. From Ethiopia, Sudan, and Congo to Zimbabwe, Cameroon or Gabon, China is selling Africans the weapons that Africans will then use against their own peers. Alleviating extreme poverty means stopping wars. China gives weapons to both autocratic governments and, according to Amnesty International, to the guerrilla troops as well (the cases of the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda are standing out). Moreover, countries like Zimbabwe or Sudan, where people are most affected by extreme poverty, have received the harshest loan conditions possible. Quoting from one of my previous postings, these two states have the worst lending agreements “with the largest interest rate, the smallest grace period (only about .04 a year since 2002, while the average among the African countries is somewhere around 3 years), and by far the highest interest rate (around 6.1% while other countries, such as Ethiopia, get interest rates as low as 1%).”

    As always, there are more examples to add. Objections or additional misconceptions are always welcomed.

  • China colonizing Africa
  • Mugabe at 90 years

    Six reasons why no one should have shown up for Robert Mugabe’s 90th birthday

    23 February 2014

    He started out much like Mandela did – a prisoner-turned-freedom fighter, who rose to political prominence in Zimbabwe after the successful leadership of African rebel groups against minority white rule.

    But unlike Mandela, his wolfish desire to grab power by the throat and refuse, under any circumstances, to let go, ultimately led to Robert Mugabe becoming one of the continent’s most notorious villains.

    After seven terms and 34 years at the top (and still refusing to step down), he’s the oldest African President in history, and the second most senior ruler in the world behind Israeli President Shimon Peres (who has 203 days on Mugabe).

    And as he celebrated his 90th birthday party this Sunday he marked it with a lavish £600,000 party in the town of Marondera.

    “Turning 90 is no mean feat,” youth leader for Mugabe’s party Zanu-PF Absalom Sikhosana told reporters recently, the Scotsman reports. “You cannot turn 90 years when you are a womaniser, a drunkard or a chain smoker. We will be celebrating the life of a very special person on a special occasion.”

    There had been speculation whether he would actually make the grand event himself – Mugabe has been holed up in a private hospital in Singapore undergoing eye surgery, his spokesman George Charamba confirmed.

    “There is nothing more than that, nothing serious,” he continued, further dismissing speculation that Mugabe is struggling with a myriad of health problems, before adding he would be back to cut the cake “well in time”.

    Will it be a beastly 89kg novelty sponge, as per his 89th birthday this time last year? And will he again mint gold coins embossed with his images of his own face to mark the occasion?

    We’re not sure we’ll ever find out, because there isn’t a chance in hell we’d ever RSVP. And this is why no other human being should turn up either.

    1) Because Zimbabwe’s economy is in a state of collapse…

    Heavy job losses see companies getting rid of hundreds of employees every week, slowing economic growth to a chuntering halt and ensuring the once prosperous nation is sent spiralling into a “severe and persistent liquidity crunch” that recalls the disastrous downturn the nation suffered five years previously. Yes, the same downturn that left thousands without food and clean water. And yet still Mugabe is able to fork out £600,000 for a party.

    “People are asking where the money’s coming from,” Harare economist Vince Musewe said. “One million kids are out of school, there’s this Tokwe-Mukorsi Dam disaster [causing floods that have displaced millions] and people are having parties. It’s just irresponsible.”

    2) Because what he’s about to spend on cake could go towards tackling the water sanitation crisis, which has claimed more than 4,000 lives in Harare in the last five years…

    Severe sanitation issues in Zimbabwe’s capital city mean that residents continue to be exposed to a high risk of waterborne diseases, including cholera, Human Rights Watch confirmed in a report in November 2013. This is due to the collapse in public water services, meaning that citizens are forced to drink from shallow, unprotected wells contaminated with human waste and other sewage.

    3) Because, despite unemployment and poverty cause by the economic collapse, he has reportedly asked teachers and soldiers to pay for his party…

    Apparently, in previous years, Mugabe’s parties were largely funded by cash and cattle. But they often went missing. So this year, according to a report in independent Zimbabwean newspaper Newsday, fundraisers have asked teachers and soldiers to stump up £1.20 each to help reach the £600,000 needed.

    “This is extortion,” Raymond Majongwe, head of the Progressive Teachers’ Union if Zimbabwe was quoted as saying. “Why are they milking a stone? Teachers have no money.”

    4) Because his appalling human rights track record makes him far from endearing…

    More than 200 activists and journalists died opposing Mugabe’s dictatorship during the country’s ‘elections’ in 2008. A relative drop in the ocean compared to the 20,000-30,000 who perished in the mass genocide of the Gukurahundi, the civilians of the Matabeleland and Midlands, in 1982. Mugabe planned their ‘reorientation’ after he failed to win any seats in the region.

    5) Because what he says about homosexuality makes Putin look like a pussy cat…

    Gay Zimbabwean citizens, according to Mugabe, are “worse than dogs and pigs”. He also threatened them with beheading.

    “We made it clear that in our law homosexual activities are criminalized and that any person who commits homosexual activities will be arrested,” Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa told U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay in an urgent meeting in 2012.

    6) Because thousands lost their homes and livelihood during the Land Reform Programme of 2000…

    It was billed as an attempt to correct colonialist legacy by giving white-owned farms back to landless black people. But many actually saw the reform as a crude attempt to sideline Mugabe’s first political threat, the Movement for Democratic Change, organised by trade unions and political activists and partly funded by white farmers. It saw hundreds of property owners forcibly evicted by vigilante war veterans, their homes handed to black Zimbabweans, many of whom lacked the skills and finances to manage the farms. Some also fell under the possession of Mugabe’s cronies. The move had a big impact on the nation’s struggling economy. Soon, it relied on foreign aid to feed its civilians, and thousands fled the country to escape the disaster.

    And these are but a few low-lights of a catastrophic dictatorship that continues to claim lives. And for that reason, Mugabe, we’re afraid we can’t make it.

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