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  • China in Africa

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on October 19th, 2009 (All posts by )

    I don’t know if it is true or not but I was told once that the writers at “The Onion” start with the headline and then write the story. If that is true, this is an example of an absolutely perfect headline that summarizes China’s role in Africa today:

    Don’t Worry About Killing People

    This article from The Economist describes how a large Chinese company is signing an agreement with Guinea’s dictator, a man who brutally put down a rally and killed at least 150 protesters who were calling for an end to military rule. While this type of activity horrifies the West (Guinea is a former French colony and they made strong condemnation of this activity), it doesn’t bother the Chinese in the least, who seem to be willing to cut a deal with anyone to obtain raw materials and resources.

    While rules and regulations such as the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act limit US participation in Africa, there are obviously no such constraints on the Chinese, and they are going great guns in Africa. Many of these types of mineral agreements plow the money right back into the corrupt leadership that took power, usually through illegal means; the Chinese don’t seem to care.

    One item that makes the Chinese substantively different than the West is that they typically build infrastructure; various sources (I can’t seem to find a solid one) say that over 1 million Chinese are working today in Africa, mostly on these types of projects. It is simply amazing that the Chinese are importing labor into Africa; surplus labor is about all that Africa has in abundance.

    In many ways this shows the folly of the West’s policies and is almost an exact mirror of our plans for global warming; whether the threat is real or not, the Chinese are throwing up coal plants as fast as they can and making a mockery of any attempt to reduce carbon emissions world wide, since we all have one big atmosphere. In the same manner, the West is just writing themselves out of having a say at all in Africa by upholding high(er) standards while the Chinese just scoop up all the contracts.

    The final irony is that at the back of this article Kagame in Rwanda, whom I profiled in this article about the War in Africa, is now thinking of throwing his lot in with the Chinese. After all, as the Economist points out, he is an autocrat.

    Cross posted at LITGM


    12 Responses to “China in Africa”

    1. chuck Says:

      but I was told once that the writers at “The Onion” start with the headline and then write the story.

      Could well be. I knew a woman who wrote stories for one of the supermarket tabloids. Her employer would send her a picture and then she would write the story. Except her stories were so outlandish they had to move her to a “lower” quality publication ;) OTOH, it is unlikely that her stories were any more outlandish than those of, say, Walter Duranty.

    2. Robert Schwartz Says:

      Along the same lines read Michael Totten’s interview with Robert Kaplan about the Chinese role in Sri Lanka’s roll up of the Tamil Tigers.

      BTW: Carl could you give us the URL for the Economist article.

    3. Jose Angel de Monterrey Says:

      China is also at the center of the Darfur tragedy, supporting the genocide regime of Sudan with weapons and military training.

    4. tehag Says:

      Does China treat its own subjects better or worse than Africans? Compare and contrast 1950s, 1960s, 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s treatment with contemporary treatment of Africans by Chinese.

      If China can bring prosperity to Africa by using the methods which have–so far–worked in China, then all its sins will be forgotten. A thousand years from now, the West will be denounced for its colonialism because it didn’t work.

    5. Carl from Chicago Says:

      Here is the URL for the economist story

      The point overall of this story is that by not realizing that the Chinese are acting unilaterally all of our Western plans are for naught… we wreck our economies to curb carbon while they slap up new coal burning plants every day… we try to sanction African countries and tell our companies they can’t do business there (the way it is actually conducted) and then China just swoops in and takes all the contracts.

    6. onparkstreet Says:

      Are any of you familiar with Dambisa Moyo’s book Dead Aid, which supposedly (I haven’t read it, it’s on the long, long, long list of ‘to reads) which argues that the Western Aid regimes to Africa are not working, hold Africa back, and solidify corrupt regimes? She says, to some shocking effect, that Chinese development may be more helpful! It shocked me because of the kinds of stories in this post!

      “Moyo argues for more innovative ways for Africa to finance development including trade with China, accessing the capital markets, micro financing, and job creation.”

      I don’t know the answer to helping Africa, and I don’t know about Chinese development and business, but I don’t think our open-ended Western aid is really helping, overall. What do others think?

    7. onparkstreet Says:

      Oops, I read too quickly and didn’t get to the last part of the post, sorry. I am worried the US is taking itself out of the game, and, in doing so, is actually hurting, not helping the poor of Asia and Africa. India and China are open for business, whatever we do, you know?

    8. Marty Says:

      Robert Schwartz bringing up Totten on Sri Lanka is very apt, because one of Totten’s major points re Sri Lanka applies here, as well: because of the West’s moral scruples, it simply cannot do what the Chinese are willing to do in dealing with autocrats or situations where brutality is “called for.”

      We are warned not to gain the world at the expense of losing our soul, but what about losing the world as we (try to) save our souls? When do morals become just moralistic? Do we help Africa, Africans, or ourselves by refusing to get our hands (and souls) a little bit dirty, when there are others, much dirtier, ready to fill the gap?

    9. Shannon Love Says:


      If China can bring prosperity to Africa by using the methods which have–so far–worked in China, then all its sins will be forgotten

      But they’re not. They’re just building stuff for their own enrichment and when they leave anything they built will crumble. We forget that colonialism left Africa with substantial infrastructure like roads, railroads, harbors, electrical grids etc. The problem was that post-colonial Africa simply lacked the political/social/cultural mechanisms to maintain and extended that infrastructure.

      Even if they attempted to impose Chinese solutions on Africa, they would fail. China has a literally thousands of years of experience with large scale, centrally managed organization. The communist simply ruthlessly exploited deep seated cultural behaviors. No such culture exist in Africa. Any attempt to mimic Chinese behaviors will fail just as the attempts to mimic western socialism failed.

    10. Paul Milenkovic Says:

      All I could think about was

      “The horror . . . the horror . . .”

    11. tehag Says:

      “They’re just building stuff for their own enrichment and when they leave anything they built will crumble.”

      No doubt you’re right, but I think I’ll wait a decade or four before I agree.

      For whose benefit were the farm boards, judicial systems, and telegraphs built? If it was for the benefit of Africans, it failed on every level. We know the effects of the centuries of “White Man’s burden” and the decades of uplift by the World Bank: disaster. Wouldn’t it be amusing and bemusing if an unintended side effect of the rapacious exploitation of the Chinese actually resulted in a prosperous Africa?

      If, as is likely, the Chinese leave behind misery, poverty, oppression and another century of lost opportunity, I will enjoy the work of thousands of theorists condemning them, just as the West has been condemned.

    12. kurt9 Says:

      If, as is likely, the Chinese leave behind misery, poverty, oppression and another century of lost opportunity, I will enjoy the work of thousands of theorists condemning them, just as the West has been condemned.

      Perhaps the Africans get their act together this time around? Or do you think the fundamentals of HBD make this impossible?

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