While United States and Western Europe was busy bombing Iraq and Afghanistan, and are now laboring solving the economic crisis at home with stimulus money borrowed from China. China is busy spreading its influence in Africa and is projecting its power through aid, investment and policy of non-interference.
China’s power in Africa is growing by the day and is consolidating the Sino-African relationships with tangible infrastructure building such as roads, electricity power generation, water wells, and agriculture. China is building entertainment venues such as sports stadiums, hotels and others. For example, the Western countries are severely cutting back aid to Africa while China is doubling aid to Africa. China is reducing tariffs and providing debt relief to African countries affected by the global financial crisis. Recently, China completed $65 million Sports Stadium in Tanzania. China is also investing agriculture, energy and livestock in East Africa. Places like Kenya, Ethiopia and Rwanda.
Chinese investment and aid touches all countries in the African continent. Take the tiny land-locked African country of Malawi. Malawi established diplomatic ties with China back in 2007 by severing diplomatic ties with Taiwan. China rewarded Malawi in aid by building major highway, sports stadium and parliament building.
In return Chinese mega corporations will get land concessions to farm tobacco for Chinese cigarette makers. The Chinese experiment is based on mutual benefit and the relationship is not all philanthropy as this clearly points out. But aid money from Western donors is not without attachments either. In fact, the Chinese model works better as they leave the local governments to their own affairs and in democratic African countries like Zambia, Ghana, and Tanzania with strong institutions it is boon for the local economies.
China is also investing heavily in natural resource rich African countries like Democratic Republic of the Congo. It was recently announced that China will be investing over 9 billion US dollars in rebuilding this rich but war torn nation. Three billion will go to mining rehabilitation and 6 billion for infrastructure projects such as road in DRC.
The Sino-African relationship will see robust growth in the foreseeable future as more African countries attracted by foreign policy of non-interference align economically and politically with the China. On the other hand, this relationship will see some turbulence as some unscrupulous Chinese companies and African dictators collude to take advantage of weak and non-existent legal frame work in Africa.
In some countries there is already friction in the labor side, where Chinese companies are accused of not providing adequate salary, sanitary and safe environments to their African workers. In other cases Chinese companies are exploring energy in areas where ethnic war is ongoing like Ethiopian Ogaden region and Southern Sudan. There are phantom projects where either the project does not exist or the money has disappeared and Chinese government and corporations will save-face rather than call on their African counter parts on their gross misappropriations and corruptions.
There are cases where Chinese companies are airlifting the entire work force on major projects directly from China. The locals are not getting employment and benefits of development. African NGOs and labor unions allege, the profits from the natural resources are not trickling down and this upsets the local population. Frustration is growing where the money is gone to dictators and the natural resources are depleted by Chinese companies with nothing left for locals except environmental disaster to sort-out.
As more non governmental and global organizations with no ulterior motives, point out these inequalities, the hope is that the Chinese government will impose more oversight on aid projects and for profit companies to make sure they adhere to their global social responsibilities, and to protect the environment, especially where weak and non-democratic African countries are concerned.
Another problematic area for China is where Chinese companies are developing a disputed land like Sudan and Ethiopian. For example, The Ogaden National Liberation Front, a group fighting for autonomy and equal rights for the ethnic Somali minority in Ethiopian occupied territory claims that a division of Chinese State owned oil corporation Sinopec, Zhongyuan Petroleum of China is developing a land evicted from the local Somali nomadic herders in the Ethiopian occupied Somali state. The Chinese oil company is not only developing a land forcefully evicted from the rightful indigenous population, but is also engaged in a land contested by Ogaden National Liberation Front.
Sino-African relations are a complex, and as China projects its power and influence into Africa, they will have to learn, adjust and change. But one thing is for sure, it is not as bad as some western media with ulterior motives are making it to be and it is not as all good and rosy as some Chinese media like us to believe, as the case in Ethiopia-Somali border region and Southern Sudan shows.
Time will tell, but eventually it is the Chinese companies and their government’s decisions that will determine the outcome. If Chinese companies take the high road and make sure local customs, environmental and labor laws are respected and protected. If the Chinese companies and their government stands up to their social responsibilities and avoid paying bribes to gain favorable conditions in the expense of the local people, and avoid disputed conflict areas they will be respected and will have strong ties with African and its people. But if they align themselves with the worst dictators, labor violations become the norm, the environment is destroyed and local customs and population are devastated, then I am afraid it is the Chinese that are to be blamed and that will be detrimental to future success in the Sino-African relationship experiment.
If Chinese government implements major oversight measures, it will succeed in becoming a new partner in Africa, one that is mutually beneficial for both partners and is based on respect for both people and the environment. A partnership that is different from the one Africa had with Europe and United States for the last 60 years. The Western model was “we know what is good for you. Do as we tell you or else”. Obviously that did not work as Africa is poorer, hungrier and unhealthy as ever before. Let us hope this Sino-African relations prospers and matures as Africa has very few friends in this global economic crisis.
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