By any measure, the DRC is one of the most difficult places on earth to do business.
Let’s put aside for now the problems associated with the war in the east as that’s not really the issue here.
instead, we’re going to focus on what it actually takes to get business done in a place where there’s only a hint of a functioning government. And what little government there is is corrupt beyond your wildest imagination.
Take the figures from Transparency International’s 2009 Corruptions Perception Index that puts the DRC close to the bottom of the list, just shy of Afghanistan and Somalia.
So in a place where there’s essentially no rule of law and ubiquitous corruption, how do the Chinese the manage their multi-billion dollar investments in the country?
For some insights, I turned to Swedish researcher Johanna Jasson who co-authored a report for the Centre for Chinese Studies at the University of Stellenbosch in South Africa and the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative. She’s now pursuing her Phd in Denmark.
Jassen spent a considerable amount of time last year researching Chinese corporate activity in both Katanga and Lubumbashi, especially that huge 6 billion dollar Sicomines deal.
China’s embrace of Africa has produced some stunning statistics. The numbers look great pretty much across the board. From trade volumes to foreign investment to the growing popularity of Chinese ministerial junkets, the data all looks great. No, in fact, it’s fantastic. But those numbers don’t tell the whole story. While money, goods and services are flowing back and forth at unprecedented levels, a deeper question persists: how well do these two people actually know each other? For some folks, it may seem rather trivial. After all, if the checks cash, who cares, right?
Unfortunately, it’s unlikely that money alone will determine China’s long-term success in Africa. In fact, what they’ve accomplished over the past 5 years is really just the easy part. Throwing piles of cash around the continent is a sure way to buy companionship, but friendship and trust, especially in Africa, require more than just money.
Already, there have been hints of what’s to come if Beijing underestimates the importance of developing an effective soft-power agenda in Africa. Anti-Chinese policies enacted in Namibia earlier this year and rising hostility to Chinese labor migrants in Angola are now but two points on a graph, but could quickly transform into a trend if left unattended. Instead, it will be critical for the Beijing to help facilitate Africans and Chinese at EVERY LEVEL of society to get to know one another.
A model of what that kind of engagement looks like can be found in Cape Town, South Africa in the offices Fahamu. This non-profit pan-African activist and publishing organization recently led a small group of African journalists on a trip to Beijing to learn more about China and the Chinese. Fahamu’s Emerging Powers Program Research Director, Sanusha Naidu, led the team on their visit to China where they met with students, intellectuals and other journalists among others. Naidu said although the delegation was overwhelmed with China’s development and how much the country had achieved in such a short time, not all were convinced that China and Africa’s long term interests are aligned. “There was a cautious optimism,” she said.
China still has time to ease those apprehensions, but it must get to work right away.
Africa is now the latest front in an increasingly global competition between India and China for new markets, agricultural land and access to natural resources. While Western media and politicians have reacted with varying degrees of alarm over the surge of Chinese trade and investment in Africa, Indian companies have been quietly building their presence on the continent.
As China drives deeper into what many Indians consider their sphere of influence in South Asia, Africa offers an ideal opportunity for Indian firms to challenge China’s growing influence in the region. For many Indians, particularly in certain political circles and on the blogosphere, competition with China is presented in a classical real politik paradigm. The headlines misleadingly frame the issue in terms of win/loss or even as a “race” between the two countries. Although it may be compelling, even somewhat entertaining, to draw on 19th century colonial cliches (e.g. the Scramble for Africa or the Great Game) it is entirely misleading as both the Indians and Chinese are employing radically different strategies in Africa than earlier European powers. Read the rest of this entry »
Gabon is that tiny country along the central west Africa that is often overlooked by its larger, more controversial and considerably more powerful neighbors. With only 1.5 million people, Gabon is one of Africa’s smallest countries. Along with its modest population, Gabon also maintains a low-profile. Rarely does it make headliness in ways that neighboring Equatorial Guinea does where the ruling family/government there stands accused of widespreadl human rights abuses, corruption on a grand scale and even narcotics trafficking among other indiscretions. Instead, Gabon is a stable, relatively democratic country that is aggressively pursuing foreign investors to drill, mine and harvest its vast reserves of natural resources. Read the rest of this entry »