Archive for the ‘China in Africa’ Category

[AUDIO] China in Africa Podcast: Winning Hearts, Minds and Wallets

Sunday, July 4th, 2010

In this edition of the “China in Africa” podcast, host Eric Olander speaks with Africa scholar Dr. David Robinson, Phd. of Western Australia’s Edith Cowan University about his recent article “Hearts, Minds and Wallets:  Lessons from China’s Growing Relationship with Africa.” This is a very compelling piece of work that highlights several critical double standards that Western observers often employ when evaluating Chinese activities in Africa.   Right off the top, Dr. Robinson debunks the myth that China’s presence in Africa is a relatively new phenomenon, echoing Dr. Deborah Brautigam and other scholars by pointing out that Chinese activities have been recorded in Africa dating back as early as the 14th century.  With respect to contemporary issues, Dr. Robinson explains how he does not seek to defend Chinese economic and political activity on the continent per say, which he adds deserves intense scrutiny, but rather highlight the gross inconsistencies of many of China’s Western critics in the aid, academic and diplomatic communities.    These critics, he contends, seemingly think the Chinese are employing extra-legal methods to “conquer” Africa when, in fact, Beijing appears to be using the very same economic and political levers used by European and American powers for over a century. (more…)

[AUDIO] In the Battle for Influence in Africa, China Turns to Agriculture

Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

Xie Yajing is among the legions of faceless Chinese officials who are little known outside of their own bureaucracies.  Despite his prominence as a senior Chinese commercial counselor for Africa and West Asia, not a single image of Xie appears in a Google image search of her name (quite an accomplishment, really, in this day and age).  Her low profile aside, Xie is among the leaders of China’s intensifying battle for influence in Africa between Beijing and the West.   In a recent announcement that went entirely unnoticed by the international media, Xie unveiled a bold initiative that some experts believe could represent a defining turn in Sino-African relations. (more…)

The Chinese Construction Boom in Kenya

Tuesday, June 22nd, 2010

construction-machineryIt may be hard to believe but half of all construction work underway in Kenya is now being done by Chinese firms, according to the U.S. public radio program “The World” (audio link below).  It appears the Chinese infrastructure building juggernaut in Africa is showing no signs of slowing down.  Kenya’s Business Daily newspaper reports the capital’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport has received a new round of funding for expansion and modernization where much of the work will likely go to Chinese contractors. Already, China National Aero-Technology International Engineering Company (CATIC) is on board to build out the airport’s new terminal four and a larger parking facility.  One would likely expect Chinese construction and engineering firms to compete vigorously for the millions of other dollars that have yet to be assigned.

(more…)

China in Africa: The Transparency Paradox

Tuesday, June 22nd, 2010

Publish-What-You-Fund-logoTransparency is a loaded word in the development business.  The idea that aid and investments in places like Africa should be subject to external audits and review is a sacrosanct principle within the industry.  Never mind the irony that organizations like USAID, the United Nations and the World Bank among others devote a majority of their time/effort with their aid programs to sorting through a byzantine bureaucracy that is anything but transparent — nonetheless, these very organizations maintain the “black box” that is China’s aid and investment agenda in Africa is alarming.   However, transparency can cut both ways and ultimately the West may regret its insistence that China pull back the curtain. (more…)

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…)

The China in Africa podcast: The Chinese in Kinshasa

Tuesday, June 8th, 2010

china_in_africa_web2.1In this edition of the China Talking Points “China in Africa” podcast, host Eric Olander speaks with Kinshasa-native and veteran Congolese television producer Tunga “Mimi” Mbia about the remarkable growth of the city’s Chinese community.  Just five years ago, the Chinese presence in Kinshasa was insignificant. Today, tens of thousands of new immigrants reside in the capital where they have opened small businesses, work on the major construction projects and are assimilating themselves into daily Congolese life with unprecedented speed.  Yet despite their impressive numbers, the Chinese are now part of a complex matrix of Kinois race relations that offers both promise and peril. (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…)

The China in Africa Podcast: U.S. vs. Chinese Approaches to Aid in Africa

Monday, May 24th, 2010


300_300The idea for this new podcast series was born from the constant frustration of talking with Western “development experts,” diplomats and aid workers in Africa. In every instance, Westerners were either strikingly ignorant of Chinese engagement there or summarily dismissed the Chinese presence in Africa as “counter productive” because China is not a democratic country. There was little nuance to their opinions about the Chinese in Africa and it reflected a broader ignorance within the aid community as a whole about non-Western methods of development.

(more…)

Question and Answers About Chinese People in South Africa

Friday, May 7th, 2010

QA in South Africa

The Dutch-based new media organization Couscous Global recently posted an interesting little gem of a video on You Tube that asks young South Africans to express how they feel about the country’s Chinese population. It opens with a young Chinese guy asking the question in English and then turns to a racially diverse group of South African teenagers for their responses.  On the surface, it just sounds like kids giggling and fumbling through their answers.  Yet there were some very interesting, and extremely important, points they used to explain why they get along quite well with Chinese immigrants.

(more…)

Chinese Aid in Africa: No Strings Attached

Sunday, May 2nd, 2010

The Canadian Broadcast Corporation sent their Beijing correspondent to do some rather extensive reporting on the surge of Chinese investment in Africa. In contrast to much of the other recent coverage of the topic, Anthony Germain’s reporting from Zambia was refreshingly balanced.  The highlight of his reporting centers on the f-china-africa-2426-306question of how China is taking full advantage of the failures of 50 years of Western aid.  Several of his sources pointed out that despite spending hundreds of billions of dollars in Africa, Western aid programs have very little to show.  The Chinese, by contrast, move quickly and efficiently and demonstrate visible results from their engagement.  That said,  Germain rightly points out that Beijing asks for very little in return from its African partners in the form of political accountability and transparency.   While I fully appreciate the importance of this kind of political pressure, it always strikes me as ironic to hear this perspective from Western critics, most notably through the Western media.   Specifically, the West (and by default the Western media) appear to be rather selective with their demands for political accountability.  While the international aid industry spends billions of dollars each year in the very same countries that China is (more…)