chinese exodus of influence

In the early days of African discovery soldiers, missionaries, and explorers led the way towards the attempted understanding of and preceding conquest of Africa. This push came from the world powers of the day in Western Europe – now we see a new wave of settlers moving in on the African continent. However, this exodus should not be a surprise. Lured by the increase in wealth, property, and life style, Chinese migrants are starting new lives in Africa. Approved by the Beijing government, the migrants are involved in agriculture reform, construction (which is a huge Chinese business in Africa), and trade.

The Chinese relationship with Africa is strong and this new development should not come as a surprise. “To build a unified front against imperialism,” was the Chinese goal in the 1950s. This involved supporting the growing African decolonization, nationalist movements, and revolutions. There is a strong history of economic ties between China and Africa. We can see this in Chinese blue and white porcelain found at African gravesites from the expeditions of Zheng He. Zheng He left the Cape of Good Hope with the gift of a giraffe. Trade relations with China only increased from there.

China began its first bilateral agreements in 1956 with Egypt, Algeria, Morocco, Sudan, and Guinea. China had been in agreement with the Soviet Union in supporting African revolutions, but China became more interested in providing financial and military support for nationalist movements. In the 1960s there were nineteen African countries with official ties to Beijing. The recent wave of nearly 750,000 Chinese migrants are not the first. In the 1960s Mao Zedong sent people to forge political ties with the continent. This newest wave or Chinese people is to strengthen the Chinese claims over raw materials and markets. The head of the China Export-Import Bank has said that he will support this migration with “investment, project development, and help with the sale of products.” Mr. Li says,”There’s no harm in allowing [Chinese] farmers to leave the country to become farm owners [in Africa],” he added.

Mission of the China Export-Import Bank:

The main mandate of the Bank is to implement the state policies in industry, foreign trade and economy and finance to provide policy financial support so as to promote the export of Chinese mechanical and electronic products and high- and new-tech products, to support Chinese companies with comparative advantages to “go global” for offshore construction contracts and overseas investment projects, to develop and strengthen relations with foreign countries, and to enhance Sino-foreign economic and technological cooperation and exchanges.

Beyond the trade relations that are now ever growing, the political ties have been and remain strong. During the 1960s China provided military and financial to nationalist movements as well as increasing development dollars – $100 million. They also sent 150,000 technicians to implement projects in agriculture, transport, and infrastructure development. China was involved in numerous independence movements. In the build-up to democracy in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, China was providing financial support, but it wasn’t enough. After Lumumba was assassinated by the efforts of the CIA, the Chinese demonstrated en masse. Millions gathered in Peking, 400,000 in Shanghai which solidified the Chinese influence and support for further revolutionary movements. A new regime was supported in Tanzania (1964) until Nyerere took power. Nyerere even adopted the Mao-style uniform. Chinese engineers built a railroad from Zambia to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania showing the Chinese economic might and proving that China was serious in Africa. China supported many nationalist and revolutionary movements (see map) with arms, money, medical supplies, scholarships, and guerrilla trainings and camps.

In 1971 China received 76 votes for a permanent UN Security Council seat. Of those votes 26 were from African countries and by the 1980s fourty-four African countries had established diplomatic ties with Beijing. These ties soon faded out, but have recently been rekindled in the 1990s and more recently in 2006. In the third China-Africa forum 48 African countries were represented. China now represents the leading Asian developing giant, above India, Singapore, and Thailand. China now rivals OECD countries or the developed West in providing foreign aid (rogue aid). China now outbids the World Bank and in 2006-2008 provided over $10 billion in loans to African countries.

China has regained its strong influence in African countries. Their power is unmatched and their recent wave of settlement unprecedented. This is a point of contention for both Western powers who may be afraid of the growing Chinese power and the people of African countries who should be wary of another exploiter. The Chinese may have a history of support, development, and influence, but that does not justify current action.

Featured entry on The Issue: China in Africa

the continuous scramble for africa

From the so called great scramble to the new scramble, I believe that there never really is any difference or change in scrambling. The imperialist tendencies and actions towards Africa have been concentrated in one continuous scramble – for resources: land, people, minerals, diamonds, timber, markets, etc. A continuous scramble and a systematic exploitation and looting of the African continent. Globalization and the global political economy are generally not looked at through the African perspective. While I can hardly offer that perspective, I work to understand.

For a long while many people, non-Africans, Europeans and African alike have understood the systematic destruction of Africa. Quoted in an article in Alternatives: A book written by Walter Rodney in the 1970s was titled “how Europe underdeveloped Africa” and Karl Marx noted in his Critique of the Political Economy that the “hunt for black skins” signaled the dawn of capitalism. It seems the African continent may have been doomed from the birth of the capitalist dream.

The Scramble for Africa began long before the Berlin Conference of 1884-5, when the African cake was divided by European powers for land claims and resources (slave trade). The scramble, however, did not end after that conference. The European powers were not appeased with just staking claim to the land. Oppressive and brutal remained in control and increased their thirst for more, and more. The Alternatives article notes that there now exists NEPAD, the WTO, EU, AGOA, EPA, and I think you could place any international agreement that places the wants of those in power over the long exploited African people.

The article also notes the increase and spread of the Chinese influence in African markets seeking to gain access to fossil fuels and resources. There is now considerable critique into the effects and practices of the Chinese (I have been part of this). However, this makes the practices of the EU and the USA almost completely fall from the picture. Well the Chinese may be pursuing extremely detrimental practices in Africa they cannot be left as the scapegoat for why Africa is “under-developed,” exploited and robbed of resources to spur growth. The European powers and the USA need to be exposed and the ills of their actions need to be dissected and understood as well. These “historically-structurally disadvantaged societies” need leaders who will place the interests of their country-people above their own advancement. A lot needs to happen if the scramble is to end, but that requires a recognition to the problem and a plan to empower local communities. Resources do not have to be the downfall of a country. As long as the resources are used properly and agreements are in place so that the benefit reaches the people resource can be a positive. It is my opinion that African countries need to adopt a near protectionist policy in regards to socio-economic matters if the scramble and following exploit is to stop.

China is pouring money into Africa for “development” flooding markets and building infrastructure with money that will flow right back into China, the US is militarizing the continent at a frightening rate (nothing new) to “fight terrorism” and gain access to resources in their “triangle of interest,” Brazil, India, Russia, and countless other countries are positioning themselves to yet again eat from the African cake. This competition can work as a positive for Africa, but only as long as the minority of elites need to recognize the great need of their people.

the crouching tiger and the curse of black gold

Oil fouls everything in southern Nigeria. It spills from the pipelines, poisoning soil and water. It stains the hands of politicians and generals, who siphon off its profits. It taints the ambitions of the young, who will try anything to scoop up a share of the liquid riches—fire a gun, sabotage a pipeline, kidnap a foreigner.

What more can I say. The National Geographic article lays it all out in the first few lines. Nigeria represented a story of hope and promise, NG asks ‘What went so wrong?’ “Everything looked possible – but everything went wrong.” The NG article goes on to describe a trash heaped scene with black smoke filling the sky, streets with craters and ruts, peddlers and beggars crowd car windows, and vicious gangs rule the streets. This is a description given about Nigeria’s oil hub, Port Harcourt, right in the middle of oil reserves bigger than both the US’s and Mexico’s. But where does the oil money go?

Nigeria’s oil boom began back before their independence in 1960. Still a British colony, oil was discovered in a creekside village not far from Port Harcourt. Few people at the time ever thought that Nigeria would become a world oil giant from this seemingly small discovery. Decades later multinational oil companies moved in and turned the inaccessable wetlands into an industrial jungle of 4,500 miles (7,200 kilometers) of pipelines, 159 oil fields, and 275 flow stations, their gas flares visible day and night from miles away. This was an amazing technological achievement, but the physical environment was the easy hurdle as the social and cultural environments remained to high to jump. WIth over two dozen ethnic groups having a history of fighting over the riches of the delta, the oil companies had no idea what they had just jumped into for the idea of a sweet profit. Laying of pipelines and construction of oil infrastructure disrupted the fragile environment of fishing seasons, animal habitats, as well as splintering ethnic tensions.

Oil in the delta looked so promising and held so much potential, but Nigeria still failed to help its people. Addicted to oil money, the people grew increasingly corrupt, using sabotage and murder to get a fix of the wealth. The people who could have lived better lives are now left nearly hopeless and poorer than before the discovery. The world has reached its peak oil production so we will see prices rise from here on out, but every time there is a killed security guard, an attack on a pump station, kidnapped foreign oil worker, car bomb set off, or oil rig overrun the market price of oil shoots up. It is not difficult to see why these frightening occurances happen. This increased frustration among the people of the Nigerian delta is creating a worrisome environment teeming with militias ready to escalate violence. With little or none of the oil money reaching the people how can they remain satisfied? The oil money grows on trees and remains in the uppermost branches without getting to the roots (Micinski 2007).

In July, the shining example for Africa, Ghana discovered oil deposits. Ghana has been in an energy crisis for a while now. While I studied there in May and June we expereinced frequent power outages. When we visited the Okosombo Dam, which provides all the power for the country as well as some for Togo, Benin, and Cote d’Ivoire, it was explained to us that with such low water levels at the dam, enough power could not be produced. President John Kufuor has said that this find will make Ghana the ‘crouching tiger’ of Africa since its discovery of oil. I only hope that Ghana does not become another Nigeria.

Index of blog post series on Ghana.

the chinese influence

The Chinese influence in Africa is a topic that I have been researching for a few years now. I have conducted most of my research by way of news sites and journals in the States and with the help of the internet, but now I have the opportunity to see firsthand the impact of the Chinese influence in an African country. This entry will follow my experiences and insights on how China is involved in Ghana.

The first thing that someone traveling in Ghana will notice is that there are so many Chinese restaurants. They are just about everywhere. Chinese food is almost as prevalent as Ghanaian food. Sadly, the Chinese food is not at all what you would find in America or for that matter China. The menus are often 15 pages long and with only minimally Chinese named dishes. Nevertheless, Chinese restaurants are everywhere. Also in the service industry there are a number Chinese themed hotels that host a number of Chinese tourists and business people. On our walks down East Legon we see them buying bread and other food stuffs at the market.

As some of you may know, China is currently one of the highest (maybe the number one) foreign aid provider. This is often called ‘rogue’ aid because it is not administered through an aid institution without any restrictions on aid usage. This aid is evident in Ghana with a number of projects sponsored by the Chinese government. One day on a tour of Accra, near the Kwame Nkrumah moselium a police escorted motorcade shot through the traffic with a handful of Chinese officials. The wonders of Chinese aid is prominently displayed in the construction of the National Theatre, it was completely funded by the Chinese government. I wonder if there is any linkage between Kwame Nkrumah’s administration and the remaining Chinese connection. During his rule Nkrumah often hosted Chinese officials and received help from China.

The people, the aid, the food, the history is all here. There is a deep worry, that I often agree with, China is seeking to gain natural resources from African countries. They make a number of aid packages for ‘development’ and sign bilateral trade agreements, but what does it all mean? Is China’s motive in Ghana to reach a growing market economy? Is it to cash in on the mineral wealth of Ghana? It cannot be just to build a National Theatre and assist the Ghanaian government with ‘development.’ I really wonder what the specific trade-off for China is.

China is not the only big aider that I have noticed while in Ghana. Iran is sponsoring a number of projects and many of the government ambulances are donated by the Republic of Iran. I will touch more on this in ‘A Snapshot of Health in Ghana.’

Index of blog post series on Ghana.

the quest for the west

Day 11
Applied lots of Aloe today. The sunburn is getting better. The bus arrived as we sat down to eat. Kyle and I always seem to be two steps behind. Breakfast was a large, thin, pancake thing with chicken sausage and some eggs, it was so good. At the seminar room today we got to bond with Ted (Prof. Tims). We talked about ourselves, majors, passions, and future plans. We then discussed the novel, The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born. The book was mostly about corruption, the attainment of wealth, poverty, the quest to be western, and one man’s journey to live and work honestly. In the end of the book all he is left with is an “aching emptiness” and that is all the rest of his life could offer him. Kind of a downer, but it is interesting since the day before we met a woman working with some anti-corruption group doing a study on Ghana’s judicial system.

It was then lunchtime and breaktime. We wandered campus and explored some. We ventured all over the campus. We saw the Library, the Center for African Studies, the dorms, and much more. The campus is much like any you would see anywhere in the world, obviously it has its differences, but nothing too out of the ordinary. The biggest difference, as on any college or university campus, was the dorms. These are huge structures of block squares where four people live. When school is in session you see the clotheslines of each student strung out with brightly colored clothing drying in the Ghanaian sun. Surprisingly on campus you see many people walking around with ipod or MP3 headphones in their ears. Higher education in Ghana is still very much a place for those with the money. It is interesting to see, since we have come to know Ghana as a place that favors and loves human interaction, instead of the secluded american, music in ears, head to the ground, walk right past you attitude. This happens to be few students however, and most will greet you cheerily. The West cannot taint the Ghanaian tradition of greeting.

We settled down at an small cafe called ‘Tyme Out,’ got some cokes and played pool. This is where my mind recalled the idea of a hip hop planet. The walls of Tyme Out were adorned with posters of former great and popular rap artists and the music on the radio was their past hits. Even here this glorification and fascination of the gangsterism and commercialized hip hop culture exists. It is not surprising since West Africa is where hip hop was born. The radio often plays Ghanaian hits from the hip hop artists who brought the american style to Ghana. Why is the american style born from West Africa mirrored in the place of hip hop’s birth?

After lunch we learned more about Ted and his love and life of music. He was a music major turned music therapist. He has helped countless people recover from illness with music. He was trained as a concert pianist and this lecture brought us a drumming exercise. We first learned the history of drumming. The Europeans could not grasp the complex rhythms and beats of African drumming because it was like nothing they had heard before. Drumming was used to induce trances and was often used for social events. African drumming has many complex rhythms and patterns, but in the end they all come together to make one song. You cannot stop and listen to everything at once without being confused, you have to concentrate and focus from one beat to another. In this lecture we also discussed the aspects of health. The West decided to cut health to focus just on body. Where other cultures and societies looked at health as comprehensive in mind, body, and spirit. Music is a huge aspect of bringing together those aspects.

In the evening we went to a nearby Chinese restaurant. We ventured down our extremely busy road in Shiashie Accra to reach the restaurant. It was much bigger and fancier than we had thought. Sadly the food was also worse than we thought it would be. The menu was 20 pages long and didn’t really have much traditional Chinese foods. A let down at the least. I had the spring rolls, which just had cabbage and some random chunks of beef. A poor end to the evening, but tomorrow is another day.

Index of blog post series on Ghana.

the politics of genocide

Genocide continues, people continue to be murdered, lives continue to be lost. The next month will mark the anniversary of the Darfur Peace Agreement. The crisis in Sudan’s western region of Darfur is only getting worse. The Sudanese government claims to be making it easier for aid groups to provide humanitarian support, yet aid groups are at times allowed to work and later denied. Under-staffed and under-supported African Union troops are being threatened and killed. The US deputy secretary, John Negroponte, sees this as the last opportunity to bring in a hybrid UN-AU peacekeeping force as hope seems to be running out for a solution. As Negroponte travels to Sudan he will be bringing the message that Washington’s patience has run out. Ban Ki-moon says that he thinks a misunderstanding with the Sudanese government is holding up the peacekeeping force.

The Sudanese economy has boomed with the backing of China, but now China is knocking. China has strengthened military ties with Sudan and so far has been behind the blockage of a peacekeeping force in Sudan. As a permanent member on the Security Council, China has vetoed previous efforts to put peacekeepers in Darfur. Currently there is a 7000 troop AU force trying to secure an area the size of France with limited supplies and no mandate. However, China is now urging Sudan to accept a peacekeeping force. For the past two years China has vetoed sanctions and peacekeeping forces for Sudan. Now as the 2008 Bejing Olympics are fast approaching more pressure has been placed on China to resolve the Darfur crisis. From the New York Times article: “But in the past week, strange things have happened. A senior Chinese official, Zhai Jun, traveled to Sudan to push the Sudanese government to accept a United Nations peacekeeping force. Mr. Zhai even went all the way to Darfur and toured three refugee camps, a rare event for a high-ranking official from China, which has extensive business and oil ties to Sudan and generally avoids telling other countries how to conduct their internal affairs.”

Pressure from the Olympics has been the tipping point for Chinese authorities. There are efforts to call the 2008 Olympics the ‘Genocide Olympics’ from prominent advisors to the Chinese goverment dealing with the Olympics. The Olympics are a great source of pride for the Chinese people. The growing pressure over Darfur has made the Chinese worry that the crisis is hurting their image. This large push is coming from the activist community and hollywood, where people are saying that China needs to be a responsible partner in the Olympic Games. There is still plenty of time before the 2008 Olympics for China to persuade Sudan or accept sanctions.

african economic growth and oil

The UN has reported that Africa’s economic growth is increasing, slow and steady, but frail. They are predicting that the continent’s economies will grow almost 6% in 2007. However the report states that if African countries are to continue to grow they will need to diversify their economic output and invest more in infrastructure. The top growing econmies include: Mauritania (19.8%), Angola (17.6%), and Mozambique (7.6%). The report points out that the economic growth rests on a very fragile base and there are still conflicts to face. The HIV/AIDS crisis has killed much of Africa’s workforce. Countries need to open their borders to trade, invest in their infrastructure, and insulate themselves against external shocks. If these predicted growth percentage’s come true in 2007 this will be the continent’s fourth year of growth. Zimbabwe was the only economy to contract in the last year by 4.4%.

The Foreign Policy blog notes that the landlocked Rwanda will be the prime spot for multinational corporations to invest. The article states: ‘Kagame, who has been president since 2000, is viewed as an honest, business-savvy man opposed to corruption, unlike many other African leaders. Consequently, American businessman Dan Cooper, who has been pitching Rwanda to U.S. corporations, describes the Maryland-sized country as “the most undervalued ‘stock’ on the continent and maybe in the world’.” However Freedom House listed as not free, the hope is that this economic upswing will benefit the citizens.

Africa is gaining economically even as Zimbabwe’s inflation reaches 1,600% and Angola calls off talks with the IMF. China continues to invest in countries regardless of political or human rights standings. Africa’s countries have a lot to deal with if they are to continue their strong economic upswing. The recent signing of many bilateral trade agreements will hurt these economically developing countries. Many countries still have conflicts to clean up before more growth can happen. Rwanda is recovering from genocide, but seems to be gaining a foorhold in the economic system. Oil, don’t forget about oil. It is my belief that oil will be the greatest hope for African countries to become economically stable and advanced, as long as the resource is used wisely. Africa’s hope is growing, but so is the resource lust of emerging economic giants.

no more foreign aid institutions. . . it’s china

Foreign aid; development assistance; foreign investment; these terms are now gaining another synonym: rogue aid. In an excerpt from the Foreign Policy Blog, rouge aiders are defined as such, “Because their goal is not to help other countries develop. Rather, they are motivated by a desire to further their own national interests, advance an ideological agenda, or sometimes line their own pockets. Rogue aid providers couldn’t care less about the long-term well-being of the population of the countries they ‘aid’.”

China is now the largest rogue aid competitor. The author of the blog entry says, “My friend was visibly shaken. He had just learned that he had lost one of his clients to Chinese competitors. ‘It’s amazing,” he told me. “The Chinese have completely priced us out of the market. We can’t compete with what they are able to offer’.” China can outbid the World Bank in aid lending power! What does this say for the future of the aid community? What does this say for the future of development? When economically powerful, wealthy, nondemocratic countries can circumvent the aid policies of the established lending institutions what can we really expect for development and aid programs? China can outbid the World Bank for a railroad project in Nigeria and sets no stipulation for combatting corruption, it can sign environmentally harmful agreements, it can provide funding without regard to the transparency of governments.

The Foreign Policy article gives three simple answers as to why China and other countries are stepping up their aid game. “[…] money, access to raw materials, and international politics.” These countries are not so concerned to create development or provide aid and help as many people as they can. There are obvious underlying motives to China’s upswing in development aid. This is not to say that China is the first to use rouge aid as a international relations tool. The United States and the Soviet Union used rogue aid to gain the allegiance of dictators. Our world is not in the position now to allow such initiatives to continue. The World Bank and other large aid agencies are monitored closely by watchdog groups, but these ‘rogue’ countries can lend and corrupt and ignore as much as they want.

The greatest threat that I see, and which I wrote about in an earlier post, is the obvious – China is set on getting all that it can from Africa. China has a great lust for Africa’s resources and their thirst is becoming unquenchable. Will Africa be drained and left with people living without basic infrastructure, left empty handed, left to die in ‘under-development.’ There is a quote from the FP article that sums up my thoughts, “Worse, they are effectively pricing responsible and well-meaning aid organizations out of the market in the very places where they are needed most. If they continue to succeed in pushing their alternative development model, they will succeed in underwriting a world that is more corrupt, chaotic, and authoritarian. That is in no one’s interests, except the rogues.”