If you have been travelling around Africa, you must have seen what I have been seeing. Chinese people everywhere. They are taking flights all around Africa, taking refuge in big cities, small towns and villages. Yoon Jung Park at Howard University forwarded a very thoughtful article by Howard University grad Chika Ezeanya, reacting to the just-opened $200 million African Union headquarters building in Addis Ababa, a “gift” from the dragon. Her mixture of frustration and disgust at the symbolism of the African Union accepting the donation of this building was almost tangible and very nicely phrased.
But one thing about her article caught my eye: the statement that 90% of the labor on the building was Chinese. This might be the case for all the projects that Chinese people are doing all around Africa, a continent with the highest unemployment rate. China invests more in Africa than any other country, with Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania and Angola among the biggest recipients of Chinese funds. Infrastructure development, for example highways and railways, is the main area of business for the Chinese in Africa. They also invest in smaller enterprises and food outlets, according to the report.
China has been a disruptor of the world, from the United States which is now the biggest consumer of China products to now Africa. A while back, we resisted everything China, the quality of their products then was not good. We went for products from the US and EU, all went well but then most of American companies were shipped to China. Today, my favorite iphone is assembled in China. Globally, the attitude towards China is somewhat positive, according to a 2014 study by Pew Global. Across the 43 nations surveyed by Pew, a median of 49% expressed a favorable view of China, compared to 32% thinking of them unfavorably. However, China’s overall image in Europe and the U.S. was mostly negative. Only 35% of Americans had a positive view of China, whereas 55% were negative.
Today, the U.S. and China are competing fiercely over African business. I think the Chinese do everything they possibly can to become number one, they want to become the number one superpower. However, an increased Chinese influence over Africa may cause trouble in the future, and perhaps stifle the development of democracy. As we speak, many African countries are already heavey laden with the burden of debt from People’s republic of China. Young Chinese have taken jobs in Africa, own small business across Africa and our institutions want us to learn Chinese. “Is China the savior for developing nations, the only world power investing in their future — or is this the dawn of a new colonial era”? that is the question most people are asking.
In hitching itself to China’s rising star, Africa has developed a relationship in which aspiration is no longer the pipe-dream it once seemed. With Chinese investment offering significant promises for developing African nations, cooperation with China is proving to be a significant stepping stone on the road to development. However, with the negative long term social and environmental impact that this cooperation potentially threatens – regarding bauxite mining, gold mining, or any other venture – it would be wise of African governments to tread cautiously before committing to a course of action which might have entirely the opposite effect to that intended. China’s rise on the African continent might indeed provide an opportunity not to be missed, but denied the proper checks and balances it could prove less a win-win relationship.
As we look forward to the coming general elections, the government seeking re-election has ridden on the projects delivered by the Chinese people, the railway connecting Nairobi and Mombasa, 472 KM costing sh327 billion. The pros and cons of this projects are not addressed in equal measure, and so not now but in future is when we will start to reap the real fruits of Chinese relation with Africa. Time, will always tell.