Saturday, February 24, 2007

China - Did you say yellow colonial masters?

Much is to be said about the wave of Chinese investment in Africa. The resource poor nation's thirst for raw materials and energy as well as market for cheap consumer goods is driving trade and investment across the poor continent of Africa with trade between the two standing at more than 40 billion a year having more than tripled since 2000.

So you ask why some think this is a bad thing?


China's business style of "no questions asked" is in sharp contrast to that of Western countries whose aid and investment come with "ties" for example world bank loans. Sometimes African countries are expected to meet certain standards, which could be anything from democratic principles to forest policy - all entirely up to the donor.


Not China.


Driven strictly by business savvy and ignoring all of the socioeconomic problems of its trading partners, China has drawn sharp criticism from Western governments and some NGOs for not going beyond trade to address social and political issues such as corruption, good governance and human rights. Beijing has been accused of being too cozy with Mugabe's corrupt Zimbabwe and the genocidal Sudanese regime but is the coziness based on trade or political support? I would think the former.


We must ask ourselves this: has the Western way of doing things in Africa lifted Africans out of poverty? The answer is a resounding no.


In late July, Zambian miners rioted against Chinese-owned mines when union leaders accused mining management of violating labor laws. They complained of poor working conditions, low pay and lax safety standards in the mines. Correct me if I am wrong but is it not the government's duty to protect its citizens from exploitation by putting in place strong labor laws?

 It is time Africans took their destiny in their own hands and stopped blaming enterprising foreigners for their lack of good leadership.

Is it China's duty to police African governments to act in the best interests of their people? Why should China be concerned with the corruption rates in Zimbabwe or the genocide in Sudan over its own gains from trade? No reason.


In short, China owes Africans no duty of care.


The major difference between the attitudes of China and the west is that China's conscience is clean of colonialism. They can afford to treat Africa like any other trading partner without opening historical wounds for Africans. The West should therefore continue its efforts in sorting out the mess it created but also let the new player bounce its own ball.


Chinese have been noted by corruption watchdog, Transparency International as one of the most rampant bribers in Africa and it is definitely possible that an unquestioned business relationship will bring out the worst in African leaders but it is about time Africa came to terms and dealt with its worst problem – leadership. Until good governance is achieved, there will be no gains from trade, no peace, no chance of competing in the global market and no chance of escaping poverty.


Raising legitimate concerns that come with the Chinese wave of investment in Africa is indeed important; but even more important is channeling those concerns away from feelings of xenophobia against the Chinese toward challenging African governments to making laws that protect their people from exploitation and give them equitable gains from trade so as to lift them out of poverty.

Olivia Byanyima.








1 comment:

Black River Eagle said...

Thank you for leaving a comment about this subject at "Jewels" Olivia and welcome to the blogosphere. It's great to see a female economist join in the fray re: PR China's investments in and overtures toward African nations. Most of the opinions I have read so far have come from males.

You may want to visit and share your opinions about this subject with Jennifer Brea at the Africabeat blog. Jen is living and working (or studying?) in Beijing at the moment and focuses a great deal on China in Africa.

What you have written is echoed by many people in and outside of the African continent, but I'm afraid that the approach is too simplistic. The new relationships developing between PR China and certain African countries is not just based upon trade and economics but deeply rooted in geopolitical strategies as well.

It is true that the brutal regimes that rule countries such as Zimbabwe or Sudan must be held to account for governing their people properly by Africans themselves, but there will be little incentive for these despots and dictators to change so as long as other governments and the world's citizens continue to turn a blind eye on our collective responsiblity to help these necessary changes to take root.

In my opinion the present regime in PR China is not part of the solution but is part of the problem and those problems will grow in magnitude and have devastating consequences for the future of peoeple in certain African countries over the next few decades...unless of course PR China changes its course and abandons its philosophy of "it's not our business how our trading partners govern their people".