Posts Tagged ‘natural resources’

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: Chinese business operations in the DRC

Thursday, September 9th, 2010

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.

[AUDIO] The China in Africa podcast: getting to know each other

Thursday, September 2nd, 2010

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.

[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…)

[AUDIO] China in Africa podcast: Why CN will not dominate FDI in Gabon

Sunday, August 8th, 2010

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. (more…)

[VIDEO] Unreported World: China’s African Takeover

Tuesday, August 3rd, 2010

Before the Francis’ brother impressive documentary “When China Met Africa” was broadcast on BBC4, rival UK network Channel 4 ITV produced “China’s African Takeover” in 2008.  Reporter Aidan Hartley and producer travel through Zambia and the DR Congo to document conditions in Chinese-run mine and agricultural operations.  In general, they paint a very grim picture of the conditions that local workers endure under Chinese management and it provides a sobering overview of the harsh realities on the ground that confront both Chinese and Africans alike.

While this production is two years old, it nonetheless remains worthwhile viewing.

Segment 2

Click on image to view Unreported World segment 2

Segment 3

Click here to view Unreported World segment 3

[VIDEO] China in Africa: The Foundation of Africa’s Resurgence?

Sunday, July 11th, 2010

CNBC Africa/ABN Digital tackle the “China in Africa” question head on in a recent segment that provides a very pro-business view on the subject (not surprising coming from CNBC).  Although the host leverages a number of the old cliches of Chinese “colonialism,” all in all, it’s definitely worth viewing.

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…)

China in Africa Podcast: The Coming Sino-African Revolution

Friday, May 28th, 2010

china_africa

In this edition of the “China in Africa” podcast, Johannesburg-based blogger and academic Charlie Pistorius says the debate over whether  Chinese investment in Africa is either good or bad is entirely irrelevant.  Instead, one should evaluate the substantive outcome of China’s policies which will invariably produce a far more nuanced perspective.   In a pair of noteworthy essays published on his blog www.toseque.com, Pistorius walks us through the difficulties that come with framing the China in Africa debate in terms of “good” and “bad.” (more…)

China in Africa: A Critique of Howard French’s “Empire” Article

Friday, April 16th, 2010

china_africa1China is walking down the same path towards empire in Africa as the once former European powers did a century ago writes former New York Times Shanghai and Africa correspondent Howard French in a new article for the U.S. magazine “The Atlantic.”  While his conclusion is questionable on several fronts, French’s article is far and away the best among a recent series of “China in Africa” articles that have emerged over the past year.  In particular, French does an excellent job of highlighting the failure of the West’s engagement with the continent over the past century, noting that billions of dollars in aid and development programs have done nothing to stem rising poverty levels.   Separately, French also delves into one of the less understood, yet critically important facets of the Sino-African relationship: food production.  With China’s arable land supply falling rapidly to environmental degradation and industrialization, Beijing is recognizing that it will soon have no choice but to go abroad for its food supply.  Africa, with its vast supply of arable land and limited capital, offers an ideal solution.  Yet, French appropriately warns that China must proceed cautiously on this front as foreign land-use in any country, especially in parts of Africa, is an extremely volatile issue.

In the end, French reaches the same, stereotypical conclusion that most Western writers come to with their China in Africastories, that Beijing is merely following the same path of colonial exploitation as Europeans and Americans did duringatlantic_logo_M_1col#6CE497_smtheir imperial adventures.  In fact, French’s last paragraph of the article concludes that the relationship between Africa and China will mirror Africa’s previous ties to other empires through the extraction of raw materials and the re-importation to Africa of finished products.  This is where French is either mis-informed or doesn’t fully understand the scope of China’s engagement in the region.

So while you read the article yourself, I propose the following additional points to consider:

  • The Chinese engagement with Africa cannot simply be defined on an economic level, the arrival of hundreds of thousands (soon to be millions) of poor Chinese immigrants who are moving in to neighborhoods across the continent will have a profound impact.  In less than five years, there are now more Chinese immigrants in Africa than France had at the height of its colonial power on the continent.  These immigrants are not just the workers who labor on the infrastructure and mining projects, but also economic migrants who are establishing small businesses and contributing to an emerging civil society in ways that billions of dollars of wasted Western economic development assistance could never achieve.
  • At one point in the article, French mentions “when the Chinese leave” which is another key difference between the Chinese presence in Africa and former Western colonial powers.  Simply put, the Chinese are NOT leaving.  This is not like the French, Germans or British who left when it was no longer economically viable to sustain their expensive colonies.  Just as there are now a million ethnic Chinese living in Southern California who have no intention of returning to Asia, the Chinese emigres are building a permanent presence in Africa.
  • French, like the overwhelming majority of his journalistic colleagues, concludes skeptically that China will ultimately fail to build any sustainable economic engagement with Africa.  In the end, they contend, it comes down to merely pulling out as much oil, gold, bauxite and other natural resources from the earth.  The reason I challenge French on this point is that he goes to the same guy that every other journalist contacts to get “the other side of the story.”  Zambian opposition leader Michael Sata is the most outspoken critic of the Chinese in Africa, particularly in his own country.  The fact that almost every article on the subject features a quote from Sata is either evidence of journalistic laziness (a real possibility) or the fact that it may be difficult to find articulate critics of the Chinese.  It’s disappointing that French and other writers do not venture off the main roads, past the big construction sites and away from the academic and political elites to get the layman’s perspective on the Chinese in their countries.  When I did this during my time in Kinshasa, I found far more nuanced and textured answers than what was provided to me by so-called “experts.”  French fails to deliver that important perspective strongly enough.
  • French offers a cynical view on the value of low-cost Chinese imports to Africa.  Just as Wal-Mart did in the United States where it recognized there was a viable market among the working poor that most other companies ignored, China is opening new markets for its products at the lowest rung of the economic ladder in developing countries across South Asia, South America and Africa.  Liberal elites in the coastal U.S. cities turn their noses up at Wal Mart with the same dismissive attitude they display for China’s arrival in the Southern Hemisphere.  The fact remains in places like the DRC where people have extremely limited disposal income, the ability to purchase headphones, toys, food products and electronics is nothing short of revolutionary.  These are all products we take for granted in developed societies and things that critics hope developing societies will avoid so as to prevent the corruption their “traditional” cultures.  The overwhelming cultural arrogance of that perspective is a separate issue, while the Chinese offering this critical service deserve praise.  The Chinese are operating in markets with such limited margins where Western and Japanese companies simply cannot compete with their significantly higher cost structures.  Contrary to popular journalistic perception, the Chinese behavior in these markets is nothing like their colonial predecessors and deserve separate analysis.