Violence and Abuse
A large portion of China’s investments in Africa have been targeted at the extraction of valuable metals. Over the past few years a number of disturbing reports have come out of several countries deploring Chinese mining practices.
In the Democratic Republic of Congo, Chinese companies now own 60 of the 75 ore smelters in the Katanga region and 90% of the minerals go to China. The mines there are typical of Chinese mining operations throughout Africa, often employing child laborers, some as young as 13, to work in mines with no safety equipment, no ventilation, and hazardous supports. Hundreds of African miners have died working in Chinese run mines over the past 5 years.
In late 2010 Zambian workers began protesting the labor conditions at the Chinese mine where they worked. When the crowd began moving towards the Chinese bosses, the two bosses opened fire on the crowd with shotguns injuring 13. The two men were released on bail, and skipped their first trial date. They were later arrested, but have yet to be sentenced.
Despots and Dictators
It is widely known in the West that China has long been a supporter of Sudan’s government, and is its largest oil customer. China repeatedly blocked resolutions and sanctions against them, despite overwhelming evidence of the genocide taking place in Darfur. What is less well-known is that China was also supplying the ammunition used to attack UN Peacekeepers and civilians.
The loophole was that countries were not to sell weapons or ammunition to Sudan if they knew they were going to be used in acts of genocide. China simply claimed ignorance as it continued to supply the Sudanese army.
Meanwhile in China, stories of genocide were never reported. When talking with several students and teachers about Sudan and Darfur I was met with blank stares. They knew of Sudan only as an oil-producing country.
In Zimbabwe China has been vocal of its support of President Robert Mugabe, a man who was named the world’s worst dictator in 2009. President Mugabe has worked very hard to earn that title in the last few years, in November 2008 the country managed an annual inflation rate of 516,000,000,000,000,000,000% (26% inflation counts as hyperinflation, which is really bad). If you are having a hard time imagining this kind of inflation, after one week a $1 hamburger would be $32, and by the end of the month it would cost $1,048,576.
Earlier that year Mugabe had lost the first round of the presidential election, but before the second round he unleashed a wave of violence against the opposition’s supporters. During that precarious moment, after news reports had come out about the violence, a cargo ship from China carrying small arms destined for Zimbabwe was caught in South African customs. The ship was not unloaded in South Africa, but quietly headed onto Angola where the arms were unloaded and delivered to Zimbabwe. China never acknowledged this incident.
What was China’s reaction to all of this? In 2010 China threw Mugabe a birthday party in their Zimbabwean consulate and later inked a $10 billion deal for platinum there.
To me it seems that China’s goals in Africa are in no way living up to Zhou Enlai’s vision of China’s role in Africa. These projects seem to be purely out of China’s own interests and the few strings that are attached ensure that many African countries will remain under the control of despots and dictators for years to come.
For a glimpse of China in Africa I suggest taking a look at China International, a photo essay from ForeignPolicy.com.