Posts Tagged ‘Africa’

[AUDIO] CTP Podcast: China’s Libya Policy-A Debrief with Deborah Brautigam

Saturday, March 26th, 2011

[VIDEO] China faces new scrutiny in Africa (but this time it’s different)

Tuesday, December 28th, 2010

A small, yet highly energetic group of demonstrators marched through the streets of South Africa’s Umlazi Township earlier this month to protest against what they claim is Beijing’s inadequate support for the United Nations’ anti-AIDS/malaria/tuberculosis initiative known as the “Global Fund.” Organized by the internationally recognized HIV/AIDS organization AHF Ithembalabantu Clinic located along the Eastern Cape in KwaZulu-Natal, the demonstrators rallied against Beijing for not living up to its financial responsibilities in the battle against HIV/AIDS transmission in Africa.

The clinic’s central charge is that China itself has benefitted enormously from the assistance provided by the Global Fund with $941 million in grants since 2002 yet Beijing has only contributed a paltry $16 million to the fund during that same period. Moreover, they add, now that China is the world’s second largest economy and Africa’s dominant trading partner, it now has the resources to not only consume less of the Global Fund’s resources but also contribute more of its own financial assets to help the fund’s activities in Africa.

This rally went entirely unnoticed by the international media and no doubt didn’t even register among Chinese officials in Pretoria. However, everyone should take notice.  There is a growing popular perception, particularly among many in the developing world, that China is no longer a victim of the industrialized world as it now itself is among the ranks of the major powers. The AHF demonstrators clearly suggest that China is facing an entirely different set of expectations among Africans than it did in the 20th century and that Beijing now has a different level of responsibilities that  it must live up to if wants to be taken seriously as a global leader (an assumption, by the way, that still remains to be seen in Africa).

The accusations of Global Fund greed are now just the latest on a expanding list of criticisms of China’s engagement in Africa.  Allegations of widespread environmental destruction, labor rights violations and a general lack of transparency in its dealings with African governments are all contributing to a growing sense of unease among a number of prominent African observers.

China would be well-advised to take heed from the message conveyed by the women outside of the AHF clinic. If Beijing wants to continue to deepen its influence in the region, the government needs to proactively engage its critics.  Engagement does not necessarily imply that the activists’ allegations are just or even accurate, but they must be acknowledged.  If Chinese officials fall back on their natural instincts to hide behind the walls and resist dialogue with their various African constituencies, then the frustrations expressed in KwaZulu-Natal will no doubt spread.

Wikileaks reveals failures of Western aid in Africa

Sunday, December 5th, 2010

It really shouldn’t comes as a huge surprise that African governments have become tired of the West’s indulgent aid and development programs that place a significantly higher emphasis on “process” over actual results.  No doubt though that the latest damning Wikileaks release will shock, SHOCK, many in the Washington aid business as it reveals an increasingly painful truth that African governments find the USA’s and other Western governments’ obsession with “capacity building” to be tiresome.  Instead, according to the Kenyan ambassador to Beijing, Julius Ole Sunkuli, China’s focus on producing tangible results with its investment and development programs are far more preferable to many African governments.

Sunkuli claimed that Africa was better off thanks to China’s practical, bilateral approach to development assistance and was concerned that this would be changed by “Western” interference. He said he saw no concrete benefit for Africa in even minimal cooperation. Sunkuli said Africans were frustrated by Western insistence on capacity building, which translated, in his eyes, into conferences and seminars (REF C). They instead preferred China’s focus on infrastructure and tangible projects.

After all, why would any African government choose to have dozens of very well paid USAID officials write endless reports, attend numerous conferences that generate yet more reports all to little or no effect?  While this may seem like an exaggeration, the amount of bureaucracy and paperwork that has come to dominate the American aid process cannot be overstated.  Pretty much everyone inside the US aid industry itself will tell you, largely off the record, how demoralizing it is to be buried in spreadsheets and reports while producing little to no tangible benefit for those supposedly intended to benefit from American “aid.”

China’s emergence in Africa as a counterbalance to U.S. and European donors has been very positive for Africa by creating “competition” and giving African countries options. — US Embassy Beijing cable 2/11/2010

While US aid industry officials complain openly about the paperwork and bureaucracy that clearly inhibits efficiency, they will in turn defend American aid using moralistic language once only employed by evangelical Christians.  Without even a shred of humility, I have personally met dozens of US aid officials who argue passionately that China’s engagement in Africa will ultimately fail because of Beijing’s refusal to adopt “democratic principles.”  The United States in turn, according to their logic, as a “beacon of freedom” has a “moral” responsibility to employ “capacity building” techniques as a center piece of its aid program.  While this may sound pedantic, it is painfully typical of widely held sentiments throughout the American aid industry.

The level of self-righteousness on the part of US aid supporters is simply staggering.  One can only hope that this blunt assessment of the US aid process and the preference for Chinese projects that produce tangible results will serve as a long overdue wake-up call to an industry that desperately needs a new moral compass.

Deborah Brautigam on China in Africa

Tuesday, November 23rd, 2010

Although it has the feel of a propaganda puff piece, Blue Ocean Network’s (BON Live) recent story that featured leading Sino-African affairs scholar Deborah Brautigam is worth watching.  Brautigam’s point that the Chinese have a real chance at helping Africa raise its overall living standard with the surge of infrastructure and other investments is very interesting.  Specifically, she says, the Chinese are employing a development strategy that is entirely incompatible with Western policy but one that may actually produce far more lasting results.

[AUDIO] CTP Podcast – China’s Rare Earth Advantage

Sunday, October 3rd, 2010

Eric and I (along with my softly cooing newborn, Flynn, tackle the recent Diao Yu Tai islands dispute brought about by Japan’s seizure of a Chinese fishing vessel and the detention of its captain.

China utilized its fast growing control of rare earth metals as leverage in the rapidly resolved dispute, and this serve as a harbinger of future tactics or it may just serve as a lesson for how to deal with the multiple conflicts that will continue to arise as the world order adjusts to China’s prominence.

The Personal Challenge of Being Chinese in Africa

Friday, October 1st, 2010

For most people, the Chinese engagement with Africa is an enigma.  The combination of these two peoples, cultures and, increasingly their politics, are just so foreign to most of us that we do not have the necessary reference points to form an opinion. Instead, what emerges, is a series of emotional arguments that mistakingly lay a Western colonial filter over a lack of understanding of Chinese culture on top of deeply-ingrained stereotypes of Africans themselves.  From coffee shop conversations to newsrooms to college classrooms, the misunderstandings of the Chinese in Africa are pervasive.  And I think I know, in part, why…

The Faceless Monolith

The prevailing perception of the Chinese in Africa is one of massive international conglomerates doing shady deals to extract the continent’s natural resources with no regard (e.g. No Strings Attached) for politics or human rights.  While there is no doubt some truth to that, as is there is with all stereotypes, it is entirely misleading.  The hundreds of thousands of Chinese who have emigrated to countries across Africa are individuals that are too often hidden behind physical and cultural walls that prohibit meaningful interactions between the Chinese and outsiders (Africans, Westerners, etc…).   This lack of engagement leads to journalists, academics and others to extrapolate based on what limited information is available and that leads us back to these huge generalizations that too often mislead the outside world.

Regrettably, the Chinese in Africa story does not fit neatly within the traditional narrative structure of western journalism.  It is just too complex a story to portray within the traditional protagonist/antagonist formula that has come to define so much of contemporary Western journalism.  To understand this story, you have to get know the individuals who live it.

Meet Kafka

Picture of Sina.com blogger "Kafka" taken in Qingdao, China

While perusing through the online classifieds posted on the Chinese in Africa BBS I came across an entry from a user named “Kafka” (卡夫卡) who emigrated a few years ago from the Eastern Chinese city of Qingdao to the Cameroonian city of Douala on the West Coast of Africa.  In his signature on that post, he included a link to his blog on the popular Chinese portal site Sina.com (the 17th largest website in the world incidentally, according the internet ranking service Alexa.com) that features entries that are essentially a diary detailing his experiences managing a small hotel and restaurant in Douala.

Kafka is typical of many young Chinese expatriates who find refuge online from the rigors of daily life in Africa.  As with all expatriates everywhere, there is obvious relief being among your own people who share a common language, values and experiences.  Chinese bloggers in general, including Kafka, are far from shy and reserved as they so often are in the presence of foreigners.  So blogs like Kafka’s are an invaluable resource to get to the personal level that is so often missing from the standard coverage of the Chinese in Africa.

“Time moves so slowly,” Kafka wrote in a June 2010 blog entry, “that it makes your brain go stupid.”  In this particular entry, that is representative of a lot of the posts from young Chinese living in Africa, Kafka shares his struggles of dealing with the monotony of daily life for young emigres in often remote parts of Africa.

“Everyday, all I know is to go online, eat, work, sleep and don’t even know what the point of reading or studying are.  Occasionally, I see online when the annual college entrance exam starts and finishes — all now faint memories of when I left school .  I once had tremendous opportunities [written with the Chinese idiom of  a ‘thousand soldiers and tens of thousands of horses’] to cross those bridges (into a different defined by academic success), however today I have probably forgotten everything.

天天只知道上网、吃饭、上班、睡觉,不知道看书为何物,不知道学习为何物,偶尔在网上又看到一年一度的高考开始、结束,才隐约想起自己原来也是从学校里走出来的,原来自己也曾经从那千军万马争抢的独木桥上走过,然而如今已经忘却的差不多了。

“Before I heard people say, after work then you can become lazy, for me that’s ridiculous as I have  become so lazy [all the time], I just need to find a reason to stop [being so lazy] and when I go to work to not feel that this isn’t always the case.  Everyday I feel so lazy, lazy when I wash, lazy when I leave the house, lazy when i’m walking down the street… I just don’t know what to do with myself.

以前听人家说,上班以后人就会变得很懒,自己还在毒理偷笑,心想那只能是你自己太懒,想找个理由安慰自己罢了;而如今自己参加工作了,才知道此言非虚。每天懒得起来,懒得刷牙洗澡,懒得出门,懒得走路,真不知到自己还能做什么。

“The work life here in Africa is obviously not the same as it is back in China.  Here [in Cameroon] you don’t work from 9am to 5pm, you don’t need to check in with the boss everyday, don’t need to wear a tie; but here things just don’t work very well and there’s not the security there is back home and sometimes I am held-up at gun point and blackmailed.  There aren’t the conveniences that there in China where whatever you want you can have — if you want a certain kind of entertainment you can have it.  [Here] there’s just nothing to do but stay home, surf the web and watch TV.

非洲这里的工作生活当然和国内的不一样,这里不必朝九晚五,不必天天看着老板的脸色,不必西服领带;但是这里也有很多的不便之处,没有了国内的安全感,有时候会被抢或被人敲诈,没有国内的服务设施那般便利,想要什么就要什么,想怎样娱乐就怎样娱乐。没有事的事情,只能呆在家里上上网,看看电视。

Looking through the blogosphere

Kafka’s isolation and disappointments appear to be quite common across the Chinese in Africa blogosphere.  There are dozens of posts published in the just few weeks alone that reveal that same sense sense of personal despair.  Obviously, it is hard to tell how representative Kafka is of such a large and diverse expatriate population however, his and the other blogs do offer a rare, first-person view of the distinct challenges confronting this new immigrant population in Africa.

[AUDIO] China in Africa podcast: India & China Compete in Africa

Thursday, August 26th, 2010

CTP Podcast – India & China in Africa by ChinaTalkingPoints


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. (more…)

Your Letters: CTP Readers Respond

Wednesday, August 4th, 2010

One of the biggest challenges that confronts any media professional is getting honest feedback on the content s/he produces.  TV journalists at the biggest networks in the world share the same complaint as the lone blogger — constructive criticism of one’s work is extremely hard to come by.  So when we received a pair of thoughtful, well-written feedback emails from a reader in Scandinavia and another in the United States, it was immensely appreciated.  Although the critiques (below) do sting a bit, their suggestions are valued and, in some cases, have already been incorporated into how we produce content on China Talking Points.   We thought it would be great to share their comments as a way to invite other readers to contribute feedback as well.  The comments below have been reprinted with the authors’ permission however both individuals did requested anonymity. (more…)

[VIDEO] The Francis Brothers’ Documentary: When China met Africa

Saturday, July 24th, 2010

Although the China in Africa story is receiving increasing amounts of media attention through blogs, print coverage and radio.  Producing video content on this subject is considerably more difficult given the traditional Chinese reluctance to speak publicly on camera.  After all, standard print and book journalists have a hard enough time getting people on the ground to talk on this issue much less someone with a full camera crew and all of the accompanying equipment.  So kudos to Mark and Nick Francis on their new documentary “When China met Africa” that, as far as I know, is the first long-form video project about the Chinese in Africa (please do let me know if I a mistaken here).  The program aired exclusively on BBC4 in the United Kingdom and was inaccessible via the BBC iPlayer to international viewers until now, thanks to You Tube.

Due to You Tube’s length restrictions on each clip, the video has been divided into six segment.  Watch segment one above and the following can be accessed below by clicking on the images below:

Segment 2

Click here to view segment two of "When China met Africa"

Segment 3

Segment three of "When China met Africa"

Segment 4

Segment four of "When China met Africa"

Segment 5

Segment five of "When China met Africa"

Segment 6

Segment six of "When China met Africa"



China in Africa Podcast: Understanding the “Negative Narrative”

Saturday, June 12th, 2010

CHINA TALKING POINTS: I want to start by asking you about a blog post you wrote on April 19th of last month about what the West can learn from China’s activities in Africa and in your first paragraph you talk about the suspicions that are prevalent in the West about China in general and their African policies in particular.  Where do you think those suspicions come from?
CHEN: The skepticism that we see comes across in so many different ways.   It starts with language.  All this talk of China being this hungry hungry dragon on this great African adventure [is part of the] loaded language that gets used frequently in China’s involvement in Africa which feeds in to the already resident skepticism that folks already have about China.   For much of the skepticism that we see a lot of it comes down to ignorance.  There is not a lot of knowledge about China’s involvement in Africa which is a function of a number of factors:
One, a dearth of information.
Two, there is a language gap, obviously
Three, China has not equipped itself with a team of savvy PR experts.
I think a lot of this stuff comes down to the fact that there is this vacuum of information that gets filled with a lot of irresponsible media coverage.  Obviously it’s an
attractive story line.  There’s this sense of almost gleeful reporting like “look who’s exploiting Africa now, you know, we’re not the only colonizers.”  That’s the kind
of theme you see in quite a bit of the press, particularly in the British press.
CHINA TALKING POINTS: Is the skepticism that you describe about the Chinese in Africa separate from the larger skepticism that the media has about
China as a whole or is part and parcel of the general China meme that’s out there in the media?
CHEN: I think it’s part and parcel of the general China meme with the added benefit that obviously the narrative about a new continent and Africa resonates
deeply with Western audiences which is why I think you see a lot of overblown rhetoric coming out of articles that will often cite quote-unquote “critics” of China’s
involvement in Africa.    Usually those will come back to the same two critics.  They’ll quote [former South African President] Thabo Mbeki and [Zambian
opposition leader] Michael Sata but they won’t cite, for example, the public opinion reports which actually do find that in a number of African countries surveyed if
you ask them to compare U.S. involvement in their country and Chinese involvement  that actually margins of between 60-90 percent of the people say Chinese
involvement is beneficial.  And the fact that you do see that kind of one-sided presentation is quite telling.
CHINA TALKING POINTS:  One of the other implicit themes that’s in that coverage is that the way the Chinese are going about it is somehow sinister or
somehow manipulative even, dare I say it, “colonial.”  Whereas the Western aid model is considered effective and somehow seen as “without us the
deluge.” When you were writing the blog post on what the west can learn from China, what were some of the ideas that you think the folks down the street
from you in Washington at USAID (The United States Agency for International Development) and other agencies can learn from what the Chinese are
doing in Africa?
CHEN:  I think that something that is interesting to raise is the question of what we define as the Chinese model?  Typically the way we hear it being presented is
in opposition to the supposed “Washington Consensus” which is much more ideologically driven, much more about democratization.  Whereas the Chinese
model is presented as the Chinese willingness to do business with absolutely anybody and the political “amoralization” of their work in Africa.  I think that is,
obviously, an aspect of China’s policy of non-interference but i think, also, there are more relevant ways you can talk about China’s work in Africa and ways that
foster a way more productive discussion of aid in Africa.  For example, instead of presenting China as this exporter of dictatorship,  why not talk about the many
ways that China’s aid in Africa is actually more efficient? The preference for pragmatism over paperwork? When we have a situation like what Owen Barder has
written on his blog about Senegal’s 82 individual aid coordination forums that Chinese preference for pragmatism over paperwork can be quite refreshing.  And I
also think as well, the Chinese model that values agnosticism is, in many ways, better suited to the realities of development in Africa.  You know, we’re talking
about a continent of over 50 countries and I think there’s a lot that Western donors and developers can learn [from the Chinese].
CHINA TALKING POINTS: OK, so, you say when you have conversations that attempt to contrast the myths with the reality that it often falls on deaf ears.
What are some of the conversations that you have, even with your colleagues at change.org or in Washington about the Chinese in Africa?  Is there an
appreciation for what the Chinese are doing or is it “they’re not democratic, they’re Communist nothing that they do is valid?”
CHEN:  It depends, of course, on who you talk to.   I think there is an appreciation among certain circles of aid critics for the agnosticism that the Chinese model
can promote over traditional western models.  I do think though in many activist circles there is a lack of knowledge and, accordingly, skepticism.  Though, then
again, if you take someone like, say, Bob Geldof as any kind of bellwether, lately you’re hearing more accommodating statements like “the U.S. is pulling out and
China at least is still committed to Africa.”  And, as well, Duncan Green of Oxfam has pointed out the greater involvement of China in Africa  does give African
nations more of a bargaining opportunity in its relationship with the West.
CHINA TALKING POINTS:  Yeah, it strikes me as rather surprising given the scale of China’s participation and engagement with Africa — now the second
largest trading partner with Africa, soon to be the first — their investments are more diversified than the Americans which are largely in the oil sector —
that there isn’t broader awareness of what’s happening and geopolitically how critically important it is as the United States needs to diversify its oil
supplies away from the Middle East to more stable places.  Why do you think there is such a blind spot when it comes to this very important trend that is
taking place?
CHEN:  Again, a lot of it is the fact that there isn’t a lot of information out there and what is being supplied is being supplied through pieces of the narrative that
don’t present the full picture.  I think the media has sort of seized upon this narrative of “China in Africa” and “China’s African Safari” and it’s very much focused on
one level.    You’ll hear about how Chinese goods are shoddy but you don’t hear about the benefits for consumers.  You’ll hear again about all these critics but
you won’t hear about all the public opinion polls saying that Africans appreciate China’s presence.  So I do think that you see that vacuum of information being
filled by the same tired kinds of articles and my hope is that we are going to be able to get beyond Howard French’s piece of “meet Africa’s latest colonizer.”
CHINA TALKING POINTS: Yeah, using the terminology “colonizer” and “colony” sets the wrong tone because it’s really not that, and that’s what is so
dangerous is that people are thinking it’s like a British or European colonial adventure when in fact it’s something very different.   I want to go back to a
point that you brought up earlier about this idea of competing ideologies.  I have a theory and I’d like to hear your reaction to it:  that there is a war of ideas
and many Americans think that now the cold war is over and the Soviets had one way of looking at the world and the Americans had another.  We won
game finished.  Now I wonder if there is this new ideological war that is going on that is divided into three categories — the so-called “Washington
Consensus” led by the United States and Western Europe that emphasizes civil and political rights alongside economic development.  The second one is
religious extremism as best exemplified by Al Qaeda in places like North Africa, the Caucuses and the Middle East.  Finally, there is the “Beijing
Consensus” that is very appealing as it offers countries the chance to modernize without Westernizing.  What’s your reaction to this kind of theory and if
it’s plausible that it’s being played out in places like Africa?
CHEN:  That’s a tough one.  I think you’re certainly picking up on one element of what’s happening and there’s no doubt that Beijing does present a different
model, if you want to call it that, to the “Washington Consensus.”   But I also think that a number of Chinese officials would be a little bit hesitant to embrace that
their “model” is in fact a quote-unquote “model.”  If you read China’s official position on development policy there’s more a sense of agnosticism and recognition
that there can be no one overarching model that can be deployed across the entire continent of Africa, much less in Asia.   So if there is any alternative being
promoted, I’d like to think that there is this sense that just as China found its own path out of poverty without the influence of multilaterals and aid agencies,
likewise I think it can serve not exactly as a compass, but certainly a demonstration of the fact that it’s possible to build your own independent path towards
development however that’s defined in your country.
CHINA TALKING POINTS: You mentioned earlier about some of the shortcomings the Chinese have in terms of their ability to communicate their story
and the ability to articulate what they are doing and thus allows a vacuum for critics to fill with sometimes nonsense and misinformation.   With that in
mind, what are some of the risks the Chinese face as their engagement with Africa increases?  What are some of the “potholes” they need to be aware
of?
CHEN:   It depends on where you are looking, but certainly in Africa some of the bigger points of conflict have been over labor relations and we have seen from
some of the bigger Chinese firms that the longer they stay in Africa the more locals they need to hire.  Again, this notion that China through its special economic
zones [in Africa] will be able to create “Chinese enclaves” has been damaging and will continue to be damaging.  I think to an extent that’s offset by something
that you’ve documented in your own work Eric, unlike Western workers in Africa, the million plus Chinese immigrants that have come to Africa tend to live side by
side with Africans, tend to speak local dialects, purchase food at the local markets and aren’t driving around in massive SUVs.
The question of transparency too has continued to dog China, particularly in Africa.  I think for Western observers we have to be a little bit careful there when we
talk about it though.  To me, what matters is results on the ground and to an extent we have seen this issue of transparency has just served as a conversation
stopper.
Beyond that I think it’s important for China to be able to communicate that it really is around for the long haul and that’s another big misconception about China’s
development in Africa that it’s the “Great Chinese Takeout” and that the Chinese are there to grab their oil, grab some trees and get out — and that’s not the case,
it’s a more textured exchange one in which many more Chinese are immigrating [to Africa].  China’s shift to Africa is part of the country’s shift away from its focus
on production of cheap consumer goods like t-shirts and the like towards more emphasis on higher value goods.
CHINA TALKING POINTS:  So, finally, what do you think is the most important aspect of what the Chinese are doing in Africa that people should
understand?
CHEN:  A lot of coverage in the West misses the fact that the China’s engagement in Africa has extended over decades, likewise they are mis-portraying this
notion of the great Chinese take out when, in fact, you look at immigration, when you look at China’s positioning in Africa is really part of the country’s broader
hope to transition away from its emphasis on just the production of cheap consumer goods, t-shirts and the like, they’re really hoping to use Africa as an
opportunity to move up the value chain and develop factories in Africa as part of that process.  So I think that one of the chief misconceptions is this great
resource grab, this “Great Chinese Takeout” when in fact the Chinese are not intending to leave.

china-africaIn this edition of the China in Africa podcast, host Eric Olander talks with Washington, D.C.-based writer and journalist Te-Ping Chen.   Chen is an editor for change.org where she writes extensively on sustainability and social entrepreneurship in the developing world.    In a recent post on What the West Can Learn From China in Africa, Chen addressed the sensitive issue about China’s investment and development initiatives in Africa that diverge from traditional Western aid strategies.  Many Westerners reject the Chinese approach over concerns that Beijing’s longheld disdain for transparency breeds corruption.  However, Chen contends that the issue is far more textured than just the transparency argument presented by critics.  The Chinese, she says, employ an entirely different mindset in their approach to African economic development, one that is often misunderstood by Western journalists and observers.  The fact that Chinese investment is not tied to civil and political reform as is often required by Western aid agencies is not because they’re fundamentally corrupt, Chen argues, but rather evidence of Beijing’s agnosticism on non-economic issues.  This non-ideological, agnostic approach to development that emphasizes practical, tangible results over process “falls outside of the traditional aid umbrella,” according to Chen, and will most likely force the West to re-evaluate its own policies that have produced mixed results at considerable expense. (more…)