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« Western serial entrepreneurs, meet African parallel entrepreneurs | Main | Time's Battleland: CHINA | The Perfectly Ironic Chinese Foreign Direct Investment »
10:46AM

Excellent NYT op-ed on China in Africa

 

By Damisa Moyo, whom I like a lot.

[Side comment: Why is it that all male African political commentators seem to be fat ugly toads and their female counterparts all look like runway models?  Not complaining - just asking.  As the adoptive father of two of the most beautiful - and clever - female creatures on this planet (both Ethiopian), I'm imagining very bright futures in dad's chosen field.]  

Sounds like she's shilling her new book, “Winner Take All: China’s Race for Resources and What It Means for the World.”  I will be sorely tempted to buy next time I'm in an airport.

I dissect at length:

IN June 2011, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton gave a speech in Zambia warning of a “new colonialism” threatening the African continent. “We saw that during colonial times, it is easy to come in, take out natural resources, pay off leaders and leave,” she said, in a thinly veiled swipe at China.

Tart start!

In 2009, China became Africa’s single largest trading partner, surpassing the United States. And China’s foreign direct investment in Africa has skyrocketed from under $100 million in 2003 to more than $12 billion in 2011.

This is why Wikistrat ran its recent sim on "China as Africa's de facto World Bank."

Since China began seriously investing in Africa in 2005, it has been routinely cast as a stealthy imperialist with a voracious appetite for commodities and no qualms about exploiting Africans to get them. It is no wonder that the American government is lashing out at its new competitor — while China has made huge investments in Africa, the United States has stood on the sidelines and watched its influence on the continent fade.

Fair enough.

Despite all the scaremongering, China’s motives for investing in Africa are actually quite pure. To satisfy China’s population and prevent a crisis of legitimacy for their rule, leaders in Beijing need to keep economic growth rates high and continue to bring hundreds of millions of people out of poverty. And to do so, China needs arable land, oil and minerals. Pursuing imperial or colonial ambitions with masses of impoverished people at home would be wholly irrational and out of sync with China’s current strategic thinking.

"Quite pure" is a sales job, given what she stated next.  In truth, China will press for advantages in Africa for precisely the reason Moyo cites here: they will do whatever it takes to keep the development train on track back home - and the Party in power.

Moreover, the evidence does not support a claim that Africans themselves feel exploited. To the contrary, China’s role is broadly welcomed across the continent. A 2007 Pew Research Center survey of 10 sub-Saharan African countries found that Africans overwhelmingly viewed Chinese economic growth as beneficial . . .

As we've heard many times on this site from Maduka, that does compute.

Now, on to a stickier charge . . .

And the charge that Chinese companies prefer to ship Chinese employees (and even prisoners) to work in Africa rather than hire local African workers flies in the face of employment data. In countries like my own, Zambia, the ratio of African to Chinese workers has exceeded 13:1 recently, and there is no evidence of Chinese prisoners working there.

Next comes suitably boilerplate statements about China needing to respect human and labor rights in Africa. Moyo asserts her case and then ends with . . .

But to finger-point and paint China’s approach in Africa as uniformly hostile to workers is largely unsubstantiated.

And then starts laying into African governments themselves - also fair enough.

My take: the more China gets into Africa, the more it enmeshes its interests with the locals, who, in turn, become more demanding of better deals - just like Chinese labor back home.  

Will it be a nice process?  Hardly ever is, judging by history.

But an unsurmountable process?  Not if China is as highly incentivized regarding back-home stability as Moyo argues here (and I agree).

After ripping African leaders a new one, Moyo ends powerfully with this:

With approximately 60 percent of Africa’s population under age 24, foreign investment and job creation are the only forces that can reduce poverty and stave off the sort of political upheaval that has swept the Arab world. And China’s rush for resources has spawned much-needed trade and investment and created a large market for African exports — a huge benefit for a continent seeking rapid economic growth.

No argument from me on that.  China is creating connectivity and opportunity - more so than the West right now.  The West is still a far bigger player in Africa, but China is the most dynamic agent right now.

In the end, this is a very good thing, and it certainly beats the alternative of weak South-South connectivity.

As I've stated before: Asia in general and China in particular has been the center of global savings for a while now.  That means we all need Chinese investment to work globally and for Chinese companies to improve in their behaviors as a result of all this connectivity-begetting-better-rules.  Needs to happen in Africa.  Needs to happen everywhere.

So all we need to do in the West is realize that this is a good "problem" or "challenge" - the best we've faced in Africa  . . . ever, actually. 

And then we need to ditch the hyperbolic finger-pointing, which serves no purpose.

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Reader Comments (2)

Excellent article.

We've known this for quite awhile. The problem with the West isn't that they aren't a big influence, the problem is that they are no new ideas. Obama's latest "Africa strategy" was heavy on rhetoric and cliches, but extremely light on specifics.

So what, exactly, does the US intend to do with Africa? (More military presence doesn't count).

June 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMaduka

A lot of those Chinese going to Africa are from Wenzhou, Zhejiang Province. China's entrepreneurs are not evenly distributed. Wenzhou people are just 9M ouf of 1200M in China but are a very high percentage of the entrepreneurs of China. I went to church in Golmud, Qinghai Province as isolated as you can get in China, and the church was mostly Wenzhou people.Church was held at 8 PM on Sunday night because so many of the congregants work in the their businesses all day Sunday. Wenzhou people seem to go anywhere for opportunity and these are among the most rapid converts to Christianity in China.

July 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDavid Dunn

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