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China’s Growing African Empire – The Bad

Yesterday we looked at the good coming out of China and Africa’s relationships, but today we are looking at a few of the conditions that seem less than desirable for Africa.

One of the complaints about China’s development of infrastructure in African countries, is that it seems to be largely self-serving.

China might build a freeway, but it heads straight to the oil field or diamond mine that China also owns. So even though these projects help to increase the country’s GDP (my thoughts on GDP), they do very little to help improve the living standards of the people of that country, nor do they provide means to support the country’s own industries.

Often aid from western countries and the World Bank have several conditions attached to the project that helps to ensure the money is spent on projects that have broader impact.

Most aid packages also come with extra conditions, usually requiring the money to be spent on products from the granting country (true for aid from most countries). So for instance if a country gives you a few hundred million dollars to build a freeway, you have to hire a company from that country to oversee or design the project.

China goes one step further. The African country not only has to hire a Chinese company, but they also have to hire Chinese workers. This is why in the wake of Libya’s upheaval, the UK brought about 5,000 people home, while China had to bring back 35,000 workers.

This has two bad effects.

One being that virtually all of the aid money ends up leaving the country through wages, instead of being introduced into the local economy. With other aid packages a chunk would have left for materials and management fees, but there would also be a percentage taken home by local workers.

The second problem this causes is that after the construction is complete all the experience also leaves the country. The traditional argument was that foreign companies would at the very least be training local workers in construction (or some other skill) building capacity in that region.

Whether or not this has ever been effective, is debatable. China’s aid projects disregard this aspect of aid, and their projects often seem to serve as a means of reducing their own domestic unemployment.

This usually goes even further, as Chinese companies bring their own staff to run Chinese restaurants, and import Chinese clothes. This reached a breaking point in Tanzania a few weeks ago, when the gov’t removed the Chinese merchants from the Dar-Es-Salaam bazaar (China would have done the same here).

The final downside that I wanted to look at today is racism. China’s relations in Africa have created some ideas that make “the White Man’s Burden” feel progressive.

In interviews with foreign media I have heard Chinese managers have good and bad things to say about their few African workers. One boss was very pleased because “they are loyal like dogs” and didn’t ask many questions, they just did what they were told.

The other boss found that “All African’s are lazy,” he added that most of them didn’t want to work more than 8 hours a day, while the Chinese ones would work 12 hours.

Tomorrow we’ll be looking at the truly ugly side of China’s Growing African Empire.


17 Comments

  1. […] Seeing Red in China My life in their world Skip to content HomeAbout MeMap of China ← News Story of the Week China’s Growing African Empire – The Bad → […]

  2. I say given the history of Westernaid to Africa, it has been no better especially since the neoliberal doctrine of the 1980s. China’s aid is self-serving, but so is the US and other western nations. And unlike those countries who are trapped within the neoliberal/”Washington Consensus” paradigm, Chinese economic history provies a new avenue for Africans.

    • Tom says:

      Well, I think it may provide a new avenue to the same destination. I haven’t seen any hard evidence that Chinese aid is any more efficient, and it seems to be holding up several leaders that aren’t exactly role models. I hope you will read tomorrow’s post about the ugly side of China’s role in Africa and comment again.

      • Jiesheng says:

        I will. But is all Chinese aid so bad? I hypothesise (cause Ive never been to Africa) that between neoliberal conditions from Western aid, the African politician would go for a new source.

    • Chopstik says:

      I’ll echo Tom’s response here – what “Chinese economic history” are you alluding to and a new avenue to what? Sure, both Western aid and Chinese aid has been self-serving. The main difference appears to be that China doesn’t pretend (as much) that it is for the benefit of all – it simply says this is what we want, here are our terms (and you will agree to them because you really don’t have a choice – particularly for those countries/leaders that are anathema to the West) and you can sign right here. In the end, Africa remains much as it did before except poorer as its natural resources are stripped by a new colonial master.

      • Jiesheng says:

        If you read H-J Chang (I don’t necessarily agree with all his points), Africa suffered developed wise more from neo-liberal policies than by their own economic faults or by colonialism. Yes all aid in some sense is self-serving but give the history of aid from Western nations, why would one want to continue receiving that form of aid?

        I’m talking China’s cautious move into the global system. Western policies along with the aid provided push African (and other developing countries) straight into the global world as if it can happen overnight. Granted Chinese aid is not the cure but the Chinese economic model never dashed straight into the global economy. It’s what Chang calls the industrialised world “Kicking away the ladder”(his 2003 book)–OECD countries took time to develop and used a mixture of protectionist and open-market policies. Today, they assume that for countries to develop, they should expose themselves straight to globalisation.

        Give the failures of privitisation, liberalisation and “Good Governance” and other policies coming in with aid from Western bilateral institions and International Organisations, Chinese assistance is the least worst alternative.

      • Tom says:

        More of what my point was, is that China actually does make claims that it’s aid is not self serving, but wholly for the benefit of the receiving country. If you read my post about communism, you’ll see that I agree that in some ways China’s model is useful for the early stages of development. My point here though is that China is looking at Africa with greedy eyes, much like western countries have viewed Africa. You’ll also see in my post yesterday that I highlighted some of the positive effects of Chinese aid, it’s not a black and white issue.
        As for your mention of the West pushing “good governance,” we don’t have to worry about China doing that. For the time being, they work quite closely with leaders that are seen as tyrants and despots in the rest of the world (although I will admit sanctions aren’t so useful).
        I think tomorrow’s final post in the series will provide even more information for discussion.
        I thank both Jiesheng and Mr. Chopstick for your thoughts, and hope you’ll keep replying.

  3. I’ll await the post. In terms of “Good Governance”, the mantra is nothing about governing justly at all; rather it is about ensuring that the aid recipient is agreeing to merge itself into the global capitalist system. One person’s tyrant doesnt mean hie is a tyrant. East Asian nations are hardly democratic (I know that) yet they practice strong governance. Same with Rwanda’s Kagame.

    • Tom says:

      I think we might be talking about two different ideas of development here. In that you seem more focused on the macro side of the development issue and looking at development models, while I’m talking more specifically about aid projects, and the more micro effects. In that a strong army may lead to a powerful govt, but the issues I care about is how the people are treated by that government.
      I also wanted to add, that I did not mean to imply that I was in favor of a kind of free market approach to development, nor do I think that the world bank has anything but their own interests in mind. Just that my blog focuses on China, so we are looking specifically at China’s aid projects in Africa as they currently are.

  4. […] Seeing Red in China My life in their world Skip to content HomeAbout MeMap of China ← China’s Growing African Empire – The Bad […]

  5. Jiesheng says:

    Oops to add on here’ is something from Oxfam’s Head of Research on China and Africa http://www.oxfamblogs.org/fp2p/?p=4660

    I especially am interested in the carbon emissions efforts party. Negative Chinese efforts aiside, the one-party state actually cares enough to focus onthe enivronment. it the democratic and advanced countries, the issue of CC never takes centre stage.

    • Tom says:

      China’s carbon emissions increased 13% last year, claiming that they are doing something, and actually enforcing their decrees are entirely separate issues.

      • Jiesheng says:

        And whilist that may be true, the US is stuck in limbo over whether to even tackle CC due to some hard head politicians. So who is worse?

  6. […] some of you might enjoy another look at this topic. If you missed my 3-part series (The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly) on China’s Growing African Empire, I would suggest reading that along with […]

  7. […] more about China in Africa in my three part series on the subject (The good, the bad and the […]

  8. Fred Odhiambo says:

    Well written article with hard facts. I am Kenyan and the Chinese were involved in constructiing a superhighway between Nairobi and Thika town. It is very true that they employ most of thier workers and this doess not augur well with Africa’s unemployment problems.

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