23 April 2010

China Busy Remaking Africa Like Europe Once Did

“As soon as we have problems, we ask someone else to take care of them for us,” Isaac continued. “We ask the Europeans. We ask the Americans. We ask the Chinese. We will run this train into the ground, and then we will tell the Chinese we need another one. This is not development.” I thought of the wreckage by the tracks. In China, there is no such thing as metallic waste. Armies of migrant workers scour the countryside with hammers and chisels, collecting and selling every scrap to the insatiable smelters that feed the country’s industries. Here, by contrast, was a land without industry. _Atlantic

China has a deep and abiding interest in doing business in Africa. The interest is in Africa's vast mineral resources, primarily, and in Africa's fertile soil secondarily. China also has an interest in using Africa as a political tool against the west, but that interest remains largely in the background.
Some people suggest that China wants to rip Africa's face off. In the sense of grabbing resources without all the ecologic niceties demanded by western political interests of their own companies, that is figuratively true.
It's no secret that China thirsts for natural resources. That country's demand for oil increased 28% year-over-year in January, a magnitude of increase the International Energy Agency called "astonishing." Further, while China accounts for 20% of the world's population, it consumed just 10% of the world's oil in 2009. As that latter number continues to rise, China will find itself in more and more of a pickle because China's domestic oil production today satisfies just half of domestic demand. In other words, the country's energy security relies on imports -- a reality the government finds very unsettling.

...More directly, the Chinese government is also signing deals with African governments to secure rights to farmland and mineral resources in exchange for infrastructure building. The highest-profile action here may have been last summer's $9 billion agreement between China and the Democratic Republic of Congo, which delivered to two Chinese SOEs the rights to more than 10 million metric tons of copper and 600,000 tons of cobalt. And while China is delivering on its part of the agreement to build roads in the DRC, a fabulous recent article by Howard French in The Atlantic suggests that Chinese infrastructure construction won't actually benefit the country. First, there's the issue of maintenance (roads in that part of the world won't last more than a few years). Second, there's the fact that the first roads being built aren't useful for the general population or for local industry, but will rather simply connect the country estates of the current political elites to major cities.

This is graft, plain and simple (a practice Chinese business leaders reportedly are not unfamiliar with), and it looks like resource-rich African nations are giving up their natural wealth to China without realizing tangible, lasting benefits. _Fool

China is beginning to move manufacturing to Africa. That will certainly have the effect of moving pollution away from Chinese air and rivers, to African air and rivers. But will the new African factories built by China employ African workers or Chinese? Here is part of the answer:
And on the other hand, the Chinese are also moving manufacturing to the continent. In South Africa, for instance, three Chinese companies are making television sets — and most of their workers are black Africans, not Chinese. In Zambia's Copperbelt, they will soon manufacture copper cables, a much sought-after, value-added product.

Yet despite China's interests in securing Africa's natural resources, the average African doesn't appear to be getting any richer.

Most of the Africans I spoke to said they don't blame the Chinese for making sure the wealth is spread around. They blame themselves. If the profits from a nation's resources seem to be squandered or spread about within governing elites, they said, that is a matter for Africans to resolve. _CBC
China's economy is becoming an integral part of Africa's economy by the day. China is buying a lot more fossil fuels from Africa. And Chinese traders do not tend to squabble very much about paying bribes to key personnel who can help the deal go through. That can make it tougher for non-Chinese companies to make honest deals that are structured to benefit a wider swath of the population, not just the elite.
CHINESE FARMERS have been trickling into Africa for years, buying small plots and working them using Chinese techniques. But China began to prioritize large-scale agricultural investment in Africa around the time of the lavish 2006 China-Africa summit in Beijing, a milestone in China’s courtship of the continent. At the time, China promised to establish 10 agricultural demonstration centers promoting Chinese farming methods, and to send experts far and wide. Last June, the Economic Observer, an independent Chinese weekly newspaper, reported that China, “faced with increasing pressure on food security,” was “planning to rent and buy land abroad to expand domestic food supply.” Beijing had earmarked $5 billion for agricultural projects in Africa in 2008, with a focus on the production of rice and other cash crops.

...I asked [a Congolese lawyer] if the arrival of the Chinese was a new and great opportunity for the continent, as some have said. “The problem is not who is the latest buyer of our commodities,” he replied. “The problem is to determine what is Africa’s place in the future of the global economy, and up to now, we have seen very little that is new. China is taking the place of the West: they take our raw materials and they sell finished goods to the world What Africans are getting in exchange, whether it is roads or schools or finished goods, doesn’t really matter. We remain under the same old schema: our cobalt goes off to China in the form of dusty ore and returns here in the form of expensive batteries.” _Atlantic

The mainland Communist Chinese is among the most racist of all cultures of Earth. When the Communist Chinese go to Africa to do business, they hire Africans only as brute labour. For skilled jobs they tend to import Chinese professionals and craftsmen. Skilled Chinese workers only want to stay in Africa long enough to save money to buy a good place to live, and to set themselves up financially back in China.

The CCP government is only interested in getting the job done, in getting the goods -- whether the goods are oil, coal, copper, gold, uranium, or food. Questions of improving the conditions of the average African are irrelevant, as long as a well placed bribe can remove local governmental obstacles to the job.

The infrastructure that China builds inside Africa will crumble and fail as soon as China no longer needs to maintain it. This is true of railways, expensive hotels, power generating equipment, or basic paved roads. The Africa that China will leave behind will not be a nice place -- because most of Africa's profits have gone into the bank accounts of government-connected elites. That wealth is already gone to Switzerland, never to return.

European colonialism did not permanently help Africa. Generous foreign aid from American and European governments and NGOs has not helped Africa over the long run. And Chinese investment and infrastructure is not likely to help Africa, once the Chinese exhaust the resources they came for.

What Africa needs, it can not get from outsiders. Africa must somehow learn to incorporate the organisational skills, maintenance ethic, and self-discipline of successful outside cultures. Even more, Africa needs to learn how to bring in human capital from the outside in such a way that the outsiders become true Africans -- without fear that a new Idi Amin or Robert Mugabe will arise and drive them away from everything they have worked for.

To do that, Africa will have to outgrow its own racism and learn to accept persons of other colours as Africans. There is no other way. As long as it is Africa against the world, Africa will lose.

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