Chinese investment in Africa can be a force for good

China & Africa - C Gavin Coates

(c) Globalab

Henry Fowler is a recent politics graduate

The recent economic downturn has seen country after country in Europe finding themselves ‘cap in hand’ to their other European neighbours, either to bail them out or to help stabilise their disintegrating economies. China, the emerging superpower of the world continues to grow in influence with heavy investment in Africa. Justin Rowlatt’s recent BBC2 documentary, ‘The Chinese are coming’, only scratches the surface in this increasingly complicated and growing relationship. The estimated number of Chinese migrants in Africa is at about one million and looks to grow in the not too distant future.

With the growth in immigration and investment from China to Africa, what does this mean for Africa? As Rowlatt’s programme illustrated, this relationship creates many negatives for Africa. The negatives include the selling-off of large amounts of industries such as copper mines and steel works, mistreatment of workers and a lack of native employment in these Chinese-owned industries. There is an argument that this investment is merely 21st century economic imperialism.

This argument points to the rise in competition within the African economy, like the difficulties for local sellers compared with the rival Chinese business. This is seen with Zambian chicken trade with African sellers being outmanoeuvred by cheaper Chinese sellers . Furthermore, the harsh and often brutal treatment of Africans employed by the differing Chinese business ventures is endemic. Worryingly, these negatives mirror our own colonial template on the exploitation of Africa.

Is the West getting too hung up on the fact that China is investing in Africa? With the growing influence of China within the world diplomatic stage such as the United Nations (UN) and World Trade Organization (WTO), what we are seeing is the expansion of a new eastern empire manifested in massive investment and transportation of people to secure its own gigantic economy. This economy needs markets and raw materials to continue its unprecedented double-digit growth seen in the last ten years. Furthermore, the massive investment in key infrastructure such as roads, hospitals and schools is creating greater quality of life for many Africans far greater than that experienced under the previous European colonial rule. This leaves me with an uncomfortable sympathy for the Sino-African project.

What cannot be understated is that for generations the West has failed Africa where China seems to be succeeding. Although this relationship is still embryonic in terms of development, China’s investment in key infrastructural projects and the igniting of certain African nations’ economies will eventually benefit the ordinary African. However, Africa’s experience of China varies. Different nations have contradicting views on the impact of China in Africa. For example, Angola and other nations rich in raw materials have seen a massive expansion in demand for certain commodities which, in turn, has led to a small but significant economic development within African nations.

As scepticism grows from the west, in particular the USA, what seems to be the issue is the growing influence of China beyond its borders, not a genuine concern of the impact the Sino-African relationship has on Africa. For this reason alone, the west’s current dialogue of suspicion seems disingenuous. This is reflected in Africa’s attitude towards the west’s growing concern. As Kwesi Kwaa Prah, (Director of the Centre for Advanced Studies of African Society), comments:

“What I find a bit reprehensible is the tendency of certain Western voices to… raising concerns about China’s attempt to get into the African market because it is a bit hypocritical for Western states to be concerned about how China is approaching Africa when they have had centuries of relations with Africa, starting with slavery and continuing to the present day with exploitation and cheating.”

What is clear is that the Sino-African relationship is growing and is here to stay. The issue is that the west is uncomfortable facing the growing strength of China and the inevitable shift in the balance of power within the international economy that China and its African partners symbolise. There are abuses and negatives within the Sino-African relationship. The left should be emphasising these to its politicians and policy makers. However, the west is not preoccupied with these abuses, though it should be. It is far too caught up in the loosening of its grip around the world, in particular the African continent, which for a long time it has failed and continued to view as its playground.


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