China’s Growing African Empire – The Ugly

Earlier this week I brought you the good and the bad that has come out of China’s role in Africa, today we are focusing on the truly ugly.

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

20 responses to “China’s Growing African Empire – The Ugly”

  1. […] Seeing Red in China My life in their world Skip to content HomeAbout MeMap of China ← China’s Growing African Empire -The Good China’s Growing African Empire – The Ugly → […]

  2. Jiesheng says:

    Hmm and who’s painting who as a dictator? Neither side, China of “other countries” can criticicse each other for deaths through aid–China can point back the finger at US hegemonic goals in Iraq, Afghanistan and the wider Africa continent–eg. the setting up of the US AFRICOM and US MCC–Millennium Challenge Corporation. If you want to fault China, each day US neoliberal (and not just aid) efforts trap countries and individuals into poverty and push them down from development (much more than China does).

    And so if China is celebrating with Mugabe, what’s the “West” doing? the UK’s DFID for example is increasing aid to conflict affected countries, aid that has the strong propensity to fall into the hands of “dictators”. Yeah, Western aid is far more subjected to accountability–when it suits the aid giver not the aid recipient.

  3. Meryl Mackay aka 马美丽 says:

    I agree with your comments, Jiesheng but the difference is the laobaixing in China know nothing of this, as Tom realised, whereas the ordinary person in the West can know about these issues, if they choose. BBC air programmes about US oil industry’s deplorable behaviour in Nigeria. “Democracy Now” (an American independent TV channel) beams stories like this almost daily. The knowledge is out there for everyone and we do not get penalised for talking about it!

    • Tom says:

      Thank you Meryl.
      Like I said earlier, my blog is about China, not what the US or UK or anyone else out there is doing.
      I’m waiting to see the proof that Zimbabwean’s are benefiting from this deal, or that the people of Darfur are thankful for China’s aid.

      • Jiesheng says:

        You cannot ignore others. If China is really that terrible in providing aid, then who is the better alternative? Then African people are no more thankful of Western aid too. And who ‘s aid has a long negative history?

        I suggest to view another side of China (and this person has lived and worked in China)

    • Jiesheng says:

      Freedom of the press? Democracy Now is no more biased than Fox News is. If press freedom worked so well as it is meant to be, then there wouldn’t be the need for third party sites like this.

      Just what is freedom of the press (and no press is ever “free”) meant to assist with development? Africans themselves know whose aid is worse.

      • Tom says:

        Well Jiesheng, I’m thankful for your input, but you’ll see in my posts, that I never declared that any other form of aid was better than China’s. I do not claim that world bank or the IMF have the African people’s interests at heart. I am simply posting facts about China’s activities in Africa, and I think you’ll find that I have provided a number of sources in my most critical post because I know that these are hot issues.
        I do not think China’s form of aid is as popular as you might believe, but neither of us have been to Africa for ourselves. After spending a lot of time reading about these relations, to me it seems that there are an elite few in Africa benefiting from these programs at the expense of the majority, and I have made my case.

  4. Pelo says:


    I appreciate the honesty and integrity of your posting. I have read many things that support what you stated.

    • Tom says:

      Thank you Pelo. I try not to report things unless I can verify them through a variety of sources. I also hope that if you ever find something you consider to be a factual error, that you would point it out so that it could be checked.

  5. Pete Nelson says:

    Thanks for these great articles, Tom.

    I am really at a loss for words when I see bashing of the US in forums like this. Do people like Jiesheng think that the US should just cut off all aid to other countries, because somehow money coming from the US is “tainted?” It’s ridiculous on its face. All countries that provide aid do so to further their own national interests – this is not news! The question then is, “what are that country’s national interests?” I’ll tell you – I’d pick the motives of the US over the motives of the CCP any day of the week. The US’s “hegemonic goals” – that’s hilarious. We must be the worst hegemon in the history of the world; we keep encouraging people to – wait! – govern themselves!.

    • Caroline says:

      Well, china must have done something wrong, because we didn’t push people of Africa to accept anything but aid. We didn’t encourage them to be democratic states under western standard. Oh, wait, we’ve never encourage these countries become autarchies to accept our aid!

      • Tom says:

        ….and China didn’t take anything, except for oil, diamonds, and other valuable raw materials. As evident by China’s quick support for Southern Sudan, after ignoring genocide for nearly a decade, and backing the Libyan rebels after allowing Gaddafi to attack civilians with troops. China’s aid to Africa exists largely because of their desire for oil and raw materials, not out of selfless charity (and I’m not saying the West’s motives are pure either).

  6. […] 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 this […]

  7. […] the news about China’s aircraft carrier, growing role in Africa, and second largest GDP, China doesn’t have any real power in the world. Just today they […]

  8. […] regimes leads to terribly corrupt countries that are unable to pull themselves out of poverty (Zimbabwe for example).  While China argues that these dictators provide the necessary stability that […]

  9. Caroline says:

    I didn’t say China didn’t take anything. The Africa countries have their wisdom to make their decisions. They can choose to whether accept the aid or not, accept the aid offered by who. When it comes to the trade, we all know the more developed the country is the more benefits can be got from the trade. Don’t tell me that all the western companies build the factories in China are out of selfless charity. But we still chose to open up rather than to close our door. Because we believe the competition stimulates us to do well and become stronger.

    • Tom says:

      Despite all of China’s talk of “opening up” it is still a highly regulated economy, that thrives on joint partnerships and technology transfers (and occasionally IPR theft) . China’s aid to corrupt gov’t in Africa limits the benefits that the average person in Africa enjoy, while their resources are gobbled up. One needs only to look at Zimbabwe to see how disastrous this type of “aid” from China can be.
      I’ve talked with several Africans about these issues since writing this series of posts, and they have expressed many of these same concerns.

  10. Caroline says:

    When you are the rich one, you make the rules and laws to protect your proverty. How can the poor people can become rich under the rules? Just like the conversation we are having now, do you know how much time and money I have spent on English learning so that I talk with you in English? You can use the time and money to learn other skills to build yourself a bright future. Why don’t we just share all the money and technology selflessly, and then we can talk about the IPR and fair trade. They(Africans) should concern their own county’s benefits since they are the masters of their own county. Both the western or China pursue theire own benefits.
    Anyway, thank you for your posts. It makes me think more about this kind of issues which I don’t have many chances to think about.

  11. […] my coverage of weapons sales to Zimbabwe, and Chinese attitudes about the genocide in […]

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

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