Posts Tagged ‘China in Africa’

[AUDIO] China hardens stance against Libyan air strikes

Friday, March 25th, 2011

This article was originally published on

The Chinese government stepped up its criticism on Thursday of US and European air strikes on Libya. “We believe that the objective of enforcing the U.N. Security Council resolution is to protect humanitarian (objectives) and not to create an even bigger humanitarian disaster,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said at a regular news briefing in Beijing.

Jiang’s comments are just the latest in a series critical signals to come from Beijing over how the coalition is implementing United Nations resolution 1973 that authorised the creation of a no-fly zone over Libya and the bombing of ground targets.

Although China abstained from the vote, Beijing has been very clear in its position that the coalition air attacks risk killing civilians and should be halted immediately.


[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.

[VIDEO] The Chinese in Africa: Profile of Yu Yuan

Sunday, December 19th, 2010

Vimeo user Yara Costa produced a very interesting short video that profiles Ghanian-based Chinese technology entrepreneur Yu Yuan.  This is an especially compelling video as it highlights a number of key themes related to the emergence of a large Chinese business class on the continent.  Specifically, it dispels the common misperception that the Chinese operating businesses across Africa are part of large multinationals when in fact there is a surge of small businesses that are having a tremendous impact on the local communities they operate within. (more…)

[VIDEO] Richard Dowden: The Pros & Cons of China in Africa

Wednesday, December 15th, 2010

In a very interesting video blog posted on “Big Think,” the head of the Royal African Society in London, Richard Dowden, shares his views on the pros and cons of how the Chinese are engaging Africa.  While he praises the economic boost that Chinese companies and investment have given to many regions across the continent, he decries the lack of interest that those same Chinese companies have towards the development of equally important civil society initiatives like transparency, human rights and the rule of law.

Why the US just doesn’t have a chance against the Chinese in Africa

Friday, December 10th, 2010

No doubt Africans across the continent likely reacted with puzzlement to one of the latest revelations from the stream of leaked United States diplomatic cables from the controversial whistle-blower website Wikileaks.  After a century of aggressive United States economic, political and military engagement in Africa, particularly during the Cold War, it is laughably ironic Washington is somehow dismayed that China’s foreign policy in the region may not be entirely benevolent.

While history may conclude that the ends did justify the means in the resolution of the Cold War, Africa undeniably paid an extraordinarily high price for its role in American foreign policy during that period.  Whether it was Washington’s alliance with brutal dictator Mobutu Sese Seko in Zaire, Ronald Reagan’s embrace of Jonas Savimbi in Angola or its support of the apartheid government in Pretoria as an anti-communist bulwark.

By any measure, the United States was, and remains, deeply invested in Africa for its own, narrow geo-political interests.

So when considered in that context, it is somewhat surprising that the United States appears to be dismayed that China, like other countries, is aggressively pursuing its own economic, political and even military interests in Africa.

In a memo transmitted from the United States Embassy in Lagos, Nigeria on February 23, 2010, Washington’s top diplomat on African Affairs, Johnnie Carson, said: “China is a very aggressive and pernicious economic competitor with no morals. China is not in Africa for altruistic reasons, China is in Africa for China primarily.”

The fact that Carson framed the issue in moralistic terms is fascinating because it reveals so much about how the United States still regards its foreign policy as somehow above the fray, almost with a divine sense of self-righteousness.  Implicit in his response is that Washington is in Africa not for its own interests but for the benefit of Africa in pursuit of some “altruistic” purpose.  Again, this must seem painfully ironic to those familiar with the history of American foreign policy on the continent.

The Assistant Secretary of State goes on to explain that Washington’s tolerance of Beijing’s engagement in Africa does in fact have its limits if China crosses one of the White House’s so-called “tripwires.”

“Have they signed military base agreements? Are they training armies? Have they developed intelligence operations?  Once these areas start developing then the US will start worrying,” Carson said.

So the United States seemingly has nothing to worry about until Beijing embarks on a policy to significantly enhance the militarization of its African foreign policy?  Right? Well, it appears that Washington’s perspective adheres to that old adage if you think you’re a hammer then the rest of the world just looks like a bunch of nails.

If Carson’s narrow-minded focus on the militarization of Chinese foreign policy is the benchmark of when to “worry” about the competition from the Chinese and his characterization of China’s engagement in Africa in such stark moralistic terms, then the United States truly does not understand the challenge that it is up against and likely stands only a slim chance of mounting an effective policy of its own.

For an American, such as myself, it’s hard to decide whether to laugh… or cry.

[VIDEO] China in Africa: Perspectives from Ghana

Monday, December 6th, 2010

The overwhelming majority of videos and documentaries produced about the Chinese in Africa are done through the perspective of Anglo eyes.  In contrast, “China in Africa” offers a the duel contrasts of both Chinese and Ghanian views on the changing role of China’s engagement in that country.  The video is beautifully shot and offers and a compelling narrative that is not well understood by most outsiders.  The producer also features an interview with China-Africa scholar Deborah Brautigam that offers some helpful historical context.

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] China in Africa Podcast: “Aid, Trade & Some Indignation”

Wednesday, October 27th, 2010

China in Africa Podcast: Aid vs. Trade in Africa

Sure, there’s a vigorous debate over just how many hundreds of billions of dollars the West has sent to Africa in the form of “aid” over the past half-century since colonial independence.  Some estimates put it in the trillions, while the OECD and others claim it’s merely in the 800 billion dollar range.  Regardless, the sums are huge.

That said, the amount of money is not what’s in question, the more pressing issue is what has all this “aid” actually accomplished?

The “aid” business

Each year NGOs, state actors and multi-lateral organizations like the UN pour ever greater sums of money into African states and rarely, if ever, are they actually held to account for the effectiveness of these costly programs.  Despite ever growing aid and development budgets, many of the key poverty indicators across Africa remain stubbornly high.

Aid industry critic and NYU professor William Easterly argues that the aid business itself is partially to blame for the problems.  The high level of professional incompetence on the part of too many young and inexperienced aid “experts” mixed with the economic distortions that result from the billions of aid dollars that flow through these countries often combine to form a toxic mix with debilitating consequences.

Enter the Chinese

Ten years after the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation summit that marked Beijing’s renewed enthusiasm for African engagement, the surge of Chinese investment, migration and influence across the continent is unmistakable. Like the West, the Chinese are pouring billions of dollars into Africa.  However, that money is largely going to support an aggressive agenda to acquire natural resources with complex cash and infrastructure deals.

Beijing’s so-called “No Strings Attached” trade-based approach has sparked the ire of Western governments and the aid industry who largely dismiss the Chinese as neo-mercantalists, even neo-colonials. That indignation, though, is prompting a growing number of analysts to raise their eyebrows.  Fellow African blogger and Beijing-based policy analyst Bradley Gardner highlighted in a recent article, “Aid, Trade & Some Indignation,” the inherent contradiction of EU/US states generously subsidizing their agricultural sectors that ultimately deprive developing world farmers of selling their goods at fair market value; subsequently impoverishing these states only to make them more dependent on Western aid.

The recent shooting of Zambian mine workers by Chinese supervisors and the well-documented corruption that accompanies many of China’s massive natural resource deals are indicative that Beijing’s African foreign policy is troubled in equally challenging ways.  However, the Chinese rejection of the Western aid model and the emphasis on trade deserves our attention.  After all, in a shorter period of time, China pulled more people out of subsistence poverty than any other society in human history — with only minimal international assistance.

Les Chinois En Afrique

Tuesday, October 26th, 2010

The French radio network “Radio France International” has published a very interesting interactive map detailing Chinese investments, populations and infrastructure projects across Africa.  Although the map is in French it’s nonetheless easy to follow for non-Francophones and offers a great visualization of how vast China’s engagement with Africa has become.

It is important to remember that just five years ago this map would have looked entirely, with just a fraction of the dots on the map that highlight China’s economic activity.  For better and for worse, the Chinese have moved with unprecedented speed to enhance diplomatic ties with governments across the continent.  Furthermore, the migration of hundreds of thousands of Chinese peasants, laborers and entrepreneurs is another important facet of this engagement that the RFI map nicely illustrates.