The following post is culled from Pencil Tribe (www.penciltribe.com), an online literary and arts journal focused on Africa
There is a new foreign power in Africa. It’s not Britain, France, Russia or the US. It’s China! Driven by a need to secure energy and natural resources to fuel its fast growing economy, China is on a prowl all over Africa to secure resources ahead of major competitors like the United States and Russia. Despite the evident investments in infrastructure and technology in African countries like Angola, Chad, Nigeria, Namibia and Zimbabwe, many observers are worried that Chinese national and corporate involvement in Africa can only be a new form of exploitation of the African continent.
China’s aggressive foray into Africa has been made possible by the enormous foreign currency reserves of the Chinese government as well as China’s comparative advantage in cheap labour and manufacturing. With a growing population of more than 1.2 billion people, it makes sense that China is not only looking for natural resources to sustain its economy but also new markets for its products and services. It is an open secret that most of the Chinese firms operating in Africa today are staffed mainly by expatriate Chinese workers who displace local labour even for low skilled positions. In addition, a lot of the construction materials and technologies Chinese firms use in Africa are imported from China thereby reducing potential benefits to local manufacturing sectors.
African manufacturing industries suffer even more by having to compete with cheaply produced imports from China, a situation which has led to the folding of many indigenous African firms. The net effect, opponents of Chinese investments argue, is rising unemployment for African countries, many of which are dealing with urban population booms and shrinking agricultural sector employment of labour.
The greatest cause for concern about China’s spending spree in Africa is that it comes with no conditionalities for rule of law, human rights or targeted development unlike aid and grants from Europe and America. Thus, seen from the perspective of democracy advocates and ordinary Africans, they promote misrule and foster corruption within the public sector. In short, Chinese funds are a lower value source of capital since they do not include necessary safeguards against potential abuse by already corrupt African governments.
African government recipients of Chinese investments are however ecstatic about the new dispensation. They argue that China’s approach is superior to the West’s in that China offers friendship and real business partnership unlike Europe and the US that often use aid and grants as a means to meddle in domestic affairs of sovereign African countries. Moreover, they contend that China’s involvement has already resulted in remarkably fast-paced development especially in areas of infrastructure development and technology.On balance, this publication contends that the problem is less with China than with African governments themselves. Consider the case of Nigeria: since 1959 when oil was first discovered, more than $400 billion of oil revenue is estimated to have been stolen or misappropriated by rogue regimes. That amount is more than all the foreign aid Africa has received during the period. Under such status quo of bad governance, unemployment and endemic poverty will prevail even without Chinese investments. China’s investments cannot be held responsible for the problems in Africa. Indeed, if African governments are responsible and sensitive to the needs of their constituents, China may very well be the best thing to happen to post-colonial Africa. (PT)