China’s Growing Presence in Africa

Written by  //  July 18, 2007  //  Aid & Development  //  No comments

18 July 2007
By Isabel Chimangeni IPS
Lusaka

Votes cast for presidential contender Michael Sata in the recent election suggest a growing discontent among Zambians over the effects of increased Chinese involvement in their country.
President Levy Mwanawasa won the Sep. 28 poll, but Sata received an overwhelming majority of votes in the capital — Lusaka — and the Copperbelt, two areas where Chinese traders and investors have a strong presence in the economy.
Despite the cordial relations that exist between China and Zambia, resentment towards Chinese businesspeople is widespread among small-scale Zambian businesspeople and poorly-paid workers.
Neo Simutanyi, a political scientist at the University of Zambia, says the anti-China sentiment that Sata raised in the run-up to the election endeared him to many voters in Lusaka and the Copperbelt. Simutanyi believes the labour practices of especially Chinese businesspeople spurred some people to vote for Sata. The Chinese are frequently accused of being the main culprits in the use of casual labour, which involves lower pay and no social security benefits.
According to the Chinese embassy, investment by its nationals in the Zambian economy stands at more than 300 million dollars, spread across 160 enterprises and employing more than 10,000 Zambians.

Such sentiments have become more pronounced in the wake of deteriorating working conditions at Chinese-owned factories. For most residents on the Copperbelt, home to most of the copper mines in Zambia, memories are still fresh of the BGRIMM blast
that killed 40 workers. The BGRIMM factory, which manufactured explosives, blew up with workers locked inside. Questions have been asked as to why all the Chinese workers escaped. Compensation claims have also not proceeded well.
In another incident, six workers were shot to death at a Chinese-run mine earlier this year after they demanded an improvement in working conditions. The Zambia-China Mulungushi Textiles of Zambia has struggled despite Chinese investment, shutting down
several times.
Zambian traders in Lusaka are also unhappy with Chinese traders who have taken up shops in the sprawling market of Kamwala. It is the city’s oldest trading place and has historically been dominated by indigenous Zambians. Traders say since the Chinese moved in a few years ago to trade in the textile business has never been the same. The Chinese retailers bring in cheaply-priced garments which have lured customers away from the Zambian traders. …people now prefer to buy cheap Chinese garments instead of the
“salaula” (second-hand clothes) which has been a booming industry for Zambian traders since 1991, the year that the country moved to free market economics.
… Presently, investors fill posts with their own staff even when qualified Zambians are available.
Ironically, this is coming against a background of strong economic and political ties between Zambia and China dating from pre-independence days. More

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13 July
*Business Daily Africa*
Lessons Africa must learn from Chinese expansion
by Calestous Juma
Africa’s growing relations with China are often explained by the country’s demand for its natural resources. While this is true, a large part of the shift is because China serves as an economic role model for the continent.
China is a startling example of how a region can rise from poverty within a generation and become a dominant player on the global scene. The west, on the other hand, continues to lecture Africa on economic growth but much of it not backed by contemporary examples.
China’s rapid economic growth gives African countries hope that they too can grow rapidly.
There are a few key lessons that stand out. First, China’s large market has been a major stimulus for innovation and incentive for foreign investment. African countries are currently exploring ways to expand their markets.
Secondly, China’s economic transformation has benefited from heavy investment in infrastructure.This is possibly the weakest link in Africa’s economic strategies, limiting the continent’s capacity to produce and move goods, services and ideas.
Thirdly, China has in recent decades invested heavily in science, technology and engineering as foundations for economic transformation. Africa leaders, operating
mostly under the auspices of the African Union, are starting to focus on technical training as a key policy measure. In fact, China is helping some of them in these efforts.
There are over 2,000 African students in China today, mostly in the engineering sciences. The country projects to double the number by 2009, making China Africa’s leading destination for science and engineering education.
Fourthly, China’s economic strategy has focused on complementing the expansion of local markets with export growth. This is an area where Africa remains weakest but continues to lobby for market access in internal forums.
Its ability to expand exports will depend not only on being granted market access, but on the capacity to harness technology as a tool for international competitiveness.
Finally, African countries are also inspired by the fact China’s development model differs from the approaches western advisors have previously offered them.
Two examples stand out.
In China, economic transformation appears to have moved ahead of political reform. Greater freedom in many African countries has hardly generated the promised economic benefits.
Secondly, China has been able to maintain strong growth through public enterprises weakening the case for rampant privatisation as stimulus for growth.
These examples signal to Africa diversity in development approaches and the importance of having political space for experimentation. In fact, the existence of several regional economic groupings could offer Africa the opportunity to experiment with different approaches for collective learning.
There are also negative lessons that Africa would prefer not to emulate. China’s rapid economic expansion is associated with immeasurable ecological costs. Africa would be better served to adopt ecologically-sound technologies for is economic transformation. This may also be an area of common interest between Africa, China and the rest of the industrialised world.
There is no doubt that natural resources are a major factor for relations between China and Africa. But it would be a mistake to underestimate the power of China as role model for African countries aspiring to work their way out of poverty. In other words, China is providing leadership by example.
Pliny the Elder said that “there is always something new out of Africa.” We are possibly entering a new age where we can reverse the adage: there is always something new into Africa. This time it may be economic lessons from China.

Prof. Juma teaches at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government where he is Director of   Science, Technology and Globalisation

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