Foreign Policy Blogs

"The Colony" – A short documentary on China in Africa, and African Thoughts On Their Situation

Something I ran across on the ‘net that I wanted to share with readers. The video below was originally posted by Aljazeera in September of 2010:

The past decade has seen Chinese economic growth explode across the world and the Chinese economic miracle seems to reach into every imaginable area of manufacturing and natural resources.

Filmmakers Brent Huffman and Xiaoli Zhou traveled to Senegal in West Africa to explore the onslaught of Chinese economic might and its impact on long-standing African traditions.

In the following account, Huffman describes the making of their film The Colony and the issues behind it.”

The same year this video was released, I wrote a short piece on China’s role in Africa and the reactions it generated among Africans and the traditional Western powers, here.  I found there were many misconceptions and outright fear-mongering (e.g. the true size of China’s economic footprint) on the part of many, especially in the West, concerning China’s position in Africa.  Still, there are legitimate concerns (e.g. China’s total disregard for human rights), most of which my previous piece and this video highlight well enough.  Despite the lack of African voices discussing their own problems in the Western press, there are such folks with vast insight into the problems of their continent.  The Oxford and Harvard educated Zambian economist Dr. Dambisa Moyo.  This is but a small bit of what she has said and written on the subject:

Moyo’s attitude toward the boom in Chinese business in Africa is amply revealed by the name of a chapter in her book [“Dead Aid: Why Aid Is Not Working and How There Is a Better Way for Africa”]: “The Chinese Are Our Friends.” Perhaps what Africa needs, she notes, is a reliable commercial partner, not a high-minded scold. And perhaps Africa should take its lessons from a country that has recently pulled itself out of poverty, not countries that have been rich for generations.

“I would say this is a transformational moment for Africa,” Moyo told me from London last spring. “I see the explosive development of infrastructure. I see people producing more food and having more jobs … And besides, I don’t see how otherwise you are going to get a civil society, except by building up a middle class.”

However, there are other African voices who believe the contrary, such as American University professor, Ghanian-born, Dr. George Ayittey:

“The nature of China’s contracts is most objectionable. They are secured through outright bribery by building presidential palaces (Namibia, Sudan and Zimbabwe) and sports stadiums (Democratic Republic of Congo and Guinea)…China’s engagement has devastated local industries in Lesotho, Nigeria and Zambia. In Nigeria, the influx of Chinese products has destroyed Kano’s manufacturing sector. In 1982, 500 factories churned out textile products in Kano, but fewer than 100 remain operational today, most at far less than full capacity. In South Africa, the textile union says some 100,000 jobs have been lost as Chinese synthetic fabrics replace cotton prints in street markets across Africa…..More troubling, China’s increased engagement with Africa has impeded the continent’s halting steps towards democratic accountability and better governance. The West has made its aid conditional on progress on these fronts. But since China attaches no such conditions, African countries receiving Chinese aid have little incentive to improve governance. Indeed in 2003, when the IMF suspended $2 billion in aid to Angola, citing rampant corruption, China came to the rescue with a $2 billion oil deal…The claim that China’s intentions in Africa are noble is fatuous. Its real intentions are well known: to elbow out all foreign companies and gain access to Africa’s resources at cheap prices; canvas for African votes at the UN in its quest for global hegemony; isolate Taiwan; and seek new markets for Chinese manufactures as European markets become saturated with Chinese goods. Less well known is its quest for African land to dump its surplus population. As a condition for Chinese aid, African states must accept large numbers of Chinese experts and workers as part of their investment packages. Chinese communes are springing up across Africa. In Namibia, the number of Chinese expatriates has reached 40,000, with 100,000 in Zambia and 120,000 in Nigeria.”

I would love to see a debate Dr. Ayittey and Dr. Moyo on this issue.  A “hat tip” to Shay at the Booker Rising blog for bringing Dr. Ayittey to my attention.

On a personal note: I traveled to Ethiopia in December of 2010.  I probably saw more Mainland Chinese than Western people on the streets of Addis Ababa, the capital.   Even some place you would not expect, such as Axum, there were many Chinese.  I spoke to one Chinese worker in there who was staying at a renovated hotel. He told me [I speak intermediate Mandarin Chinese, he spoke no English] that the Chinese had been there for several years building roads in rural Ethiopia, which are much needed.  I’m not sure why, but I was somewhat surprised to meet him and hear this standing on a dusty street in rural historic Axum.

China did not seem unpopular with the Ethiopians I queried.  In fact the BBC found that China had its most positive ratings in Africa, specifically Nigeria and Kenya.