Archive for the ‘China in Africa’ Category

[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] 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.

[AUDIO] China in Africa Podcast: The Future of the Tanzam Railway

Monday, July 12th, 2010

In this edition of the China in Africa podcast, host Eric Olander talks with the editor of and London School of Economics masters candidate, Henry Hall, about the future of the famed Tanzam railway. The rail line, also known as the Tazara railway, serves as an important milestone in Sino-African relations as it marks Beijing’s first major infrastructure project on the continent. In 1975 when the first trains rolled from landlocked Zambia to the Tanzanian coastal city of Dar es Salaam there was great promise for its potential to bring economic development. The past 35 years, though, have not been kind to the railway as it has fallen in to disrepair due to a lack of parts and regular maintenance. Now, there is renewed hope that China will once again turns its attention, and significant financial resources, to revive this once monumental symbol of Chinese-African partnership. (more…)

[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: Over 40? You Probably Don’t Get It

Thursday, July 8th, 2010

There is a discernable generational divide when it comes to opinions about the Chinese in Africa.  It isn’t subtle and the split lines up according to age.  In almost every instance, those over 40 years old frame the issue in “colonial terms” clearly influenced by their own early education of Western imperial activity on the continent.  For these critics, Beijing’s engagement in Africa is binary — it’s either good or bad.  This explains why so much of the news coverage on the subject is structured in such simple terms with headlines like “Is China Good For Africa,” et al.   For this generation, the memories of decolonization, Live Aid and the countless Hollywood portrayal of a female  aid worker (and they are always women in the movies) gently holding a starving African child have had a profound impact on their worldview.  For the over 40 crowd, their education in the West never clearly condemned colonialism for its brutal failings.  There was always a hint that European, and even American attempts, to “civilize” the “natives” was a benevolent ambition. (more…)