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.