Posts Tagged ‘Zambia’

[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 Boots.com 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.

[AUDIO] Chinese Relationship and Marriage Customs in Africa

Saturday, October 16th, 2010

Chinese Relationship and Marriage Customs in Africa by ChinaTalkingPoints

There are no precise figures on the size of the Chinese population in Africa.  Given the fluidity of this immigrant population and the weak immigration controls in most African societies reliable numbers are just impossible to achieve.  There are very sophisticated networks that serve as pipelines for people to make the long journey from China to Africa, and not surprisingly, most of these are out of sight of Western observers.  Nonetheless, without foundation, a number of journalists and academics have speculated that the population now hovers around a million Chinese living across Africa.  If accurate, there are now more Chinese living in Africa than there were French residents at the height of the French colonial period in the 19th and 20th centuries, according to authors Serge Michel and Michel Beuret.

Despite the impressive size of the Chinese population on the continent, there is remarkably little investigation into the social and cultural aspects of this community.  The overwhelming majority of analysis about the Chinese in Africa, including on this blog, focus on the geo-political and economic impact while essentially ignoring the often poignant human stories of the individuals who have made this long inter-continental journey.

“You have a lot of young people who have to come of age in Africa where it is very difficult to find a partner and this creates a whole other dynamic within the [Chinese] community.”   – Solange Chatelard, Sino-Zambian relations scholar

In this edition of the “China in Africa” podcast, Sino-Zambian relations scholar Solange Guo Chatelard  details why traditional Chinese marriage and relationship customs are critical to understanding the social glue that binds the Chinese diaspora in Africa.  While it goes without saying that immigrants of all kinds bring along their social customs, Chatelard explains that in Africa there are unique challenges confronting Chinese immigrants that often frustrate their ability to easily replicate longheld relationship, courtship and  marriage customs.

The China in Africa podcast is produced weekly and is available on iTunes.

[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] 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: Who is Michael Sata?

Friday, July 23rd, 2010

Zambian opposition leader Michael Sata has emerged as a central character in the story of China’s engagement with Africa.   He has become a staple of the mainstream media’s coverage of the issue, portrayed as a vocal critic of the Chinese, particularly in Zambia.    By any measure he plays the role well.  Where most African politicians dare not air their concerns or frustrations about the Chinese, Sata is seemingly fearless in his criticisms, giving journalists one provocative quote after another.   Among his more prominent appearances as “the go-to critic,” Atlantic Monthly writer  Howard French featured Sata in the magazine’s May 2010 edition:

“Our [Chinese] friends are too numerous, and we know their resources cannot sustain them,” Sata told me  in his Lusaka office, taking phone calls from constituents and filling out a lottery card as he reeled off a catalog of reproaches. “Zambians do not need labor being dumped here. The Chinese are scattering all over the world, but there is no such thing as Chinese investment, as such. What we’re seeing is Chinese parastatals and government interests, and they are corrupting our leaders.”

Similar comments can be heard in a 2008 interview with the U.S. radio network NPR, or in the UK newspaper The Daily Telegraph where he is characterized as “the anti-Chinese candidate for president” and as far back as 2006 in the Washington Post.

Ironically, the Chinese may recognize many of their own traits in Sata rather than regard him as the thorny figure he is portrayed to be in the Western media.

From all this coverage, it would be easy to conclude that Michael Sata is a one-dimensional caricature as the lone, prominent “panda basher” in Africa.  While governments from Algeria to Angola sign one multi-billion dollar deal after another, Sata, as the story goes, stands as a solitary voice of opposition.  The problem with this narrative, according Sino-Zambian relations scholar Solange Chatelard, is that it is not entirely accurate.

Chatelard is a researcher at the Max Plank Institute in Halle, Germany and a Phd. candidate at the Institut d’Etudes Politiques (Science Po) in Paris.  Through her academic work and her role as a field producer on the recent BBC4 television documentary “When China Met Africa,” Chatelard has spent considerable time in Zambia and, as such, has had the opportunity to study Sata for several years now.  Her impressions of the Zambian opposition leader are far more nuanced than how he is portrayed in the media.  While he is very much the provocateur that French and other journalists describe,  Chatelard explained, it is equally important to understand the political context Sata operates within.  “I think Michael Sata is a very interesting and intriguing character that people, especially observers on the outside, don’t grasp very well,” she said.  As one of the continent’s last remaining colonial freedom fighters still active in politics, much of Sata’s legitimacy is derived from his decades-long role as the strong-man who led the fight against European imperialism.  “He claims he knows what Zambians were fighting for back in the early sixties when they were struggling for independence,” according to Chatelard, and that defines so much of who he is today with respect to his comments about the Chinese.  However, Chatelard and other observers note that Sata is also a very savvy politician who recognizes that the Chinese are not the British and 2010 is not 1960.  Subsequently, they add, he interacts with the Chinese to ensure Zambia gets the best possible deal rather than to simply create a hostile climate for international investors.

Chatelard described Sata as a politician who strives to protect his country from foreign exploitation, ensure that international investments also build domestic capacity and force investors, such as the Chinese, to deal with Zambians on equal terms.  Sound familiar?  It should, as Sata’s agenda mirrors that of China’s own leadership priorities of the past 30 years.  Ironically, the Chinese may recognize many of their own traits in Sata rather than regard him as the thorny figure he is portrayed to be in the Western media.

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.

China in Africa: the BBC’s Annoying Interview of Liu Guijin

Sunday, April 11th, 2010

BBC iplayer imageIt’s not often that senior Chinese officials make themselves available for interviews with the international media, especially in English.  So when I first heard that the BBC World Service’s “Business Today” radio program was to interview Beijing’s top diplomat on African Affairs Ambassador Liu Guijin I was genuinely excited. Unfortunately, that excitement didn’t last long.  Host Steve Evans, like so many of his colleagues in the Western media, employed what has now come to be a rather standard cynicism whenever talking with Chinese officials.  It’s the same tone that we hear in the coverage over the internet in China where despite an incredible expansion in the Chinese information marketplace, journalists like Evans focus on the singular question of “what if someone wants to look up the Dalai Lama on Google?”  While I don’t dispute that China’s limitations on the freedom of speech is a legitimate issue, I do take exception when it becomes the ONLY issue.  There’s a similar trend occurring with the international media’s coverage of the Chinese in Africa.  Just as with the freedom of speech story, there are a numerous areas where China’s African foreign policy deserves credible scrutiny.  Its arm sales to despotic leaders (Robert Mugabe), support of brutal authoritarian regimes (Sudan) and active involvement in official corruption (The DR Congo) are all worthy of questioning and investigation.  However, the story of the Chinese in Africa is far more textured than just the shortcomings of Beijing’s policies on the continent.  Evans, like so many other journalists, approaches the story with a visible level of cynicism that  ultimately deprives the listener of understanding the nuances of this important story.  China’s engagement with Africa has changed the geopolitical landscape on the continent, for better and worse.  Yet, on this rare occasion to engage the Ambassador in a constructive exchange over the pros and cons of Beijing’s policies, we are led down the path of cliches about how China would respond to an African country inviting the Dalai Lama to visit.  Who cares?  This is such an extreme point with little representation of any larger issue relevant to China’s political involvement in Africa (scroll down for more on this part of the story).

Listen to the full interview here.

Here is a summary and critique of the issues addressed in the interview:

CHINA’S “MOTIVE” IN AFRICA?

Evans opens the interview by asking Liu about “China’s motive” in Africa.  There’s nothing actually wrong with the question, there’s just an arrogance to it through the use of the word “motive.”  It’s comparable to how the BBC, CNN and other international news organizations selectively use the word “regime” to define a government.  Somehow,  Beijing is a “regime” and Washington is a “government.”  The word “regime,” as does “motive,” has a distinctly negative connotation that is rarely applied to Western governments.  I have never heard a comparable question of what “America’s motive” is anywhere in the world.   It should go without saying that China’s “motive” in Africa is multifaceted driven by a blend of economic, political, humanitarian and military interests — no different than Washington, London or Paris’ “motives” in the region.

Importantly, Liu does highlight a key difference between the Chinese perspective on Africa and that in the West.  For most government and populations in the U.S. and Europe, Africa is regarded as a basket case of war, disease, famine and decades of failed development policies.  In contrast, Liu highlights, the Chinese see Africa as opportunity.  Beyond the obvious extractive industries, the Chinese are engaging the continent as an export market that the West long ago abandoned.   Furthermore, China’s development policies in Africa are proving to be far more effective than those of bloated, expensive and ineffective Western aid agencies.  Liu rightly points that China’s effectiveness is leading to enhanced political ties in the region at the expense of the former colonial and international powers.

SANCTIONS

Following the international community’s successful sanctions campaign against South Africa’s former apartheid government in the late 80s and early 90s, a pipe dream still exists within the UN, US and the EU that sanctions are an effective tool at isolating despotic governments.   Yet after two decades of evidence to the contrary where Myanmar, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Zimbabwe and many others have defied international sanctions policies, the presumption that sanctions actually work persists.   It was refreshing then to hear Ambassador Liu challenge this conventional wisdom by clearly stating that China does not support sanctions measures because mass populations suffer disproportionately compared to the elites.  Liu was responding to Evans’ question about China’s unwillingness to join the West to coordinate a sanctions policy against Robert Mugabe and Zimbabwe.   China, as mentioned earlier in this post, should be scrutinized for its military sales to Zimbabwe but not on the issue of supporting yet another failed sanctions policy.

THE DALAI LAMA QUESTION

One has to wonder what the Western media would do without the Dalai Lama.  He is such a convenient package for journalists who are either too lazy or too uninformed to know better that a question about the DL offers very little insight on Chinese policy.  Ambassador Liu stuck to the party line with his response that the DL is a separatist political figure who seeks to divide China.    Now, I understand what Evans was trying to achieve with the question by implying that if an African country invited the Dalai Lama to visit it would no doubt complicate relations with Beijing.  The reason why it is such an objectionable question in the context of Chinese foreign policy in Africa there are so many  more pressing and relevant issues that need to be addressed with someone at Ambassador Liu’s level.

WHAT STEVE EVANS SHOULD HAVE ASKED AMBASSADOR LIU:

1) Describe China’s military presence in Africa specifically the PLA base in the DRC’s Katanga province.  Is the purpose of the base to be part of a multilateral peacekeeping operation or its own deployment to protect Chinese interests in the eastern DRC?  Should we expect to see a larger presence of Chinese military and armed private contractors on the continent?

2) The industrial deforestation tools the Chinese are using for logging in Mozambique, Congo and Zimbabwe among other areas is raising serious concerns that the Chinese are hollowing out Africa’s forests at rate that is unsustainable.  Is China monitoring this trend and what specific protections, if any, are in place to prevent this from occuring?

3) With hundreds of thousands of Chinese immigrants coming to Africa each year, what is the feedback he is receiving from host governments on the presence of this large, new population?  In places like Namibia and Zambia, there is growing discontent by political leaders over the presence of an increasingly large Chinese population.  How is he responding to these challenges?

FINALLY…

The Western media’s blatant double standard for how it treats different governments is the most annoying aspect of this whole affair.  Compare, for example, this CNN feature that goes behind the scenes on how their reporter & camerawoman interact with the U.S. military in Afghanistan.  The CNN crew is embedded with Alpha Company and as such eats, sleeps and seemingly enjoys each other’s company.  ITN and the BBC did comparable puff stories embedded with British troops in both the Iraqi and Afghan theater of operations.  This chuminess with the militaries extends to their political leaders as well when journalists like Steve Evans rarely use that same cynical approach in interviews as they so often do with Chinese leaders.

It’s really too bad as we would all benefit from less fluff coverage of Western governments and more balanced coverage of China.

China in Africa: What’s on the Web This Week

Monday, April 5th, 2010

Made in Cameroon Another week, another set of major Chinese deals in sub-Saharan Africa.  Cameroon took the spotlight with an announcement that a Chinese bus manufacturer (still unknown but thought to be Kinglong United Automotive Industry (Suzhou) Co) will invest half-a-billion dollars in Douala. The factory will produce buses for the West-and-Central African markets and is apparently scheduled to be on line by as early as the end of the year.  What’s interesting in this announcement is how much Cameroonian officials emphasized that local labor and local managers will be employed at this manufacturing facility.   They’re likely trying to head off growing opposition in Africa over the Chinese tendency to import their laborers and managers to work on what are supposedly “joint ventures.”

Jia QinglinSino-South Africa Trade One of China’s most senior political advisors ended a 10-day African tour in South Africa pledging to address the growing imbalance in trade between the two countries.  Jia Qinglin (pictured) committed to China importing more finished products from South Africa and what’s interesting about this is that it comes just as Beijing is facing intense pressure from the United States over its artificially low currency valuation. In a move to thwart a drive to revalue its currency or stem growing criticism in the developing world, Jia may be an indication that China seeks to import more as a way of correcting its trade imbalance with many countries.

China’s Trouble in Zambia China in Africa researcher Aleksandra Gadzala teases us with what sounds like an extremely interesting article on the growing problems that Chinese immigrants are facing in Zambia. I say “teases” us because she only includes a small snipped of an extract of a larger paper on the subject that is available on through an expensive subscription to an academic journal (alas, beyond of the means of this poor blogger).   While so much of the research and news coverage of China investment across Africa focuses on elite actors, it’s my opinion that the much bigger story here is off the main roads, far away from the elites where hundreds of thousands of low-income Chinese immigrants across the continent are moving into unremarkable neighborhoods in Kinshasa, Lusaka and countless other cities.  The sheer size of the population and the speed with which it has arrived in Africa will play a significant role in determining the future course of Sino-Africa relations.

Why the Chinese Currency is a Global Problem

Monday, April 5th, 2010

small RMBFor too many Chinese the current dispute over the country’s currency valuation is yet another chapter in a well-worn narrative of the United States trying to “contain” China.  Such nationalistic responses are now predictable yet regrettable as they too often blind the Chinese public to a far more nuanced understanding of complex international events.  While Washington is by far the most vocal critic of Beijing’s currency policies, it is by no means a lone voice.   In many corners of the developing South, there is growing unease over the steady rise of low-cost Chinese textiles,  apparel and furniture among other products that compete directly with manufacturers from Africa, South America and elsewhere in Asia.   The efficiencies of China’s well-oiled export machine that can easily overwhelm almost any domestic market in the world combined with a currency that prices those exports at a 20%-40% discount are just too powerful for struggling competitors in poor countries. (more…)

Rant: China Might Want to Consider Soft Power Too

Wednesday, March 17th, 2010

By any measure China’s awe inspiring embrace of Africa is impressive.  Let’s put aside the staggering financial statistics on how many billions of dollars Beijing is spreading across the continent or even the scale of its natural resource haul.  Honestly, there is no comparison because no other country or countries come close to the breadth and depth of china-africaChina’sengagement here.  While the Americans and Europeans meet in conferences and write report after report on the dismal political and humanitarian conditions in Africa, the Chinese are building deep roots here as part of a century-long investment.  From Algeria to Angola, tens of thousands of Chinese construction crews are laying the foundation of that investment with the building of countless roads, bridges, hospitals and other desperately needed infrastructure.  For that, there is widespread appreciation across many levels of society for Beijing’s ability to persevere where both national governments and international donors have largely failed.  Not far away, though, from those construction sites, problems are beginning to simmer that if go unchecked could severely compromise Beijing’s long term agenda in Africa.

China is not just bringing piles of cash and construction trucks to Africa, hundreds of thousands of immigrants are also making the long journey to resettle in cities like right here in Kinshasa.  These immigrants, like Mister Chen who we profiled Mister Chen1ctpearlier, are coming here in search of opportunity and to build a better life for their families.  They are opening businesses large and small in out of the way neighborhoods that largely go unseen by the casual observer.  In so many ways, the Chinese entrepreneurial enthusiasm is a welcome addition to poor and dysfunctional communities that essentially operate outside of the formal economy.  In short, the Chinese are bringing desperately needed jobs, goods and services.  Human culture being what it is though, there is also tremendous risk with how the Chinese ultimately assimilate with Congolese and other African cultures.  Initially, the arrival of those Chinese business were greeted either with indifference or welcomed as a positive addition to the community.  Now, however, the first rumblings of unease are beginning to emerge as some communities find the Chinese presence to be more problematic than they had initially thought.  This issue was most recently brought to light in Namibia where the growing competition from Chinese hair salon owners prompted the government to place an outright ban on Chinese ownership of these types of beauty parlors.  Separately, I am hearing more and more firsthand reports from Congolese who have friends and relatives working on Chinese construction projects who complain that Chinese foremen are becoming increasingly aggressive with their local employees.  It has been well documented that in countries such as Congo-Brazzaville, Angola and Algeria (source: China Safari, 2009) that many Chinese employers lack cultural sensitivity skills that would endear them to local populations.

To many Chinese, these so-called “soft skills” are meaningless.  The common retort from many Chinese business owners and project managers is that local workers complain because the Chinese work harder and demand more from their employees than do African companies.  The fact that local workers are complaining about working for low wages or not being paid at all just further reinforces that Chinese mindset.   In fact, the emotional standoff between Chinese merchants and their African critics is very similar to the same arguments made about cultural insensitivity by the Chinese in certain minority -populated provinces in China.  Now, let me be very clear here.  I do not have an opinion as to whether or not the popular sentiment held by the majority Han culture in China is correct or the views of minorities who feel their cultures are being paved over.  I will leave those questions to far more learned observers.  My point is that the debate is so similar.  The Han perspective emphasizes economic development as evidence by infrastructure construction.  Sentimentality for culture or religion is rarely a priority when measured against infrastructure development in economically deprived regions.

Considering the tremendous speed the Chinese are moving in Africa, particularly here in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, there may good reason to allocate a small percentage of that investment to building cultural ties between the Chinese and their African hosts.  The Congolese, for example, seem overwhelmingly positive about the Chinese arrival.  They regard the Chinese initiatives with optimism and see their enthusiasm for Africa as welcome relief from the failed policies of the West.  That said, the DRC is an extremely volatile country where a spark can light a blaze in seconds.  If the Chinese are not carefully with their cultural investment, it could handicap their broader regional agenda.