Tuesday 11 January 2011

Africa: How to make China good for Africa


This is my third blog on why China is bad for Africa, it could be counted as the fourth but my last posting showcased comments that were posted with regards to the second blog I wrote.

Now, I would hate for any of these views to be misconstrued as a hatred of China and their activities in Africa, far from inciting Sino-phobia my intention is highlight areas in which Africa should improve their negotiating stances with China leading to lasting progress derived from the ready and attractive solutions the Chinese bring to Africa without caveats or requirements.

Ndubuisi Ekekwe wrote a blog for the Harvard Business Review starts with the headline Before Your Next African Investment [1] to which I contributed the following re-tweet.

RT @HarvardBiz Before Your Next African Investment http://s.hbr.org/gxykbE The Chinese have come for the mines and nothing for our minds.

Take it all in context

This blog must be read in the context of all the blogs listed below that I have written on this topic, or else it would be difficult to appreciate the issues raised in this blog.

Nigeria: NaijaLeaks and why China is bad for Africa

South Africa: Why again China is bad for Africa

Comments: Why China is bad for Africa

They speak English there

This time it is Sierra Leone where an English speaking country has taken on a Chinese makeover with its hotel sporting television remote controllers with Chinese labels.

In my last blog, referenced the issue that the Chinese create isolated enclaves for themselves meaning they fail to integrate with the host countries they have emigrated to.

The fact that television remote controllers are in Chinese begins to illustrate the glaring divide that is between the Sierra Leoneans or even Africans and the Chinese, very few of the locals would have any knowledge of Mandarin or Cantonese and it creates a barrier in communication and the generation of relationships which I highlighted in my first blog where Chinese managers who spoke no English could not be engaged when it came to industrial disputes.

Working Chinese and worked Africans

With a million Chinese in Africa, they are in no way helping create an African elite through the transfer of knowledge or skills, what the writer saw was young Chinese men getting ready for work, one can only wonder how many local people were getting ready to work in these Chinese operations who were of similar or higher cadre than their guests.

History seems to be repeating itself in Africa; though this is anecdotal, the Europeans of old that came to Africa cannot be said to have been the cream of the crop of their societies, though they did eventually make big names for themselves and probably a lot of money, gaining status and recognition back at home whilst sometimes doing commendable things for the Africans.

In the same vein, these Chinese young ones cannot have been sent out to Africa if they were the brains, the innovators, the thinkers and the geniuses, obviously, this assumption can be challenged but it is a valid premise to have.

These people who were hardly relevant at home come to Africa to become chiefs with “Indians” at their beck and call to be shot at like vermin as was the case in Zambia – one risks the accusation of wiping up a form of xenophobia but the facts are becoming evident on the ground.

Communication is key to knowledge transfer

The underlying problem is this, at best, the communication between many Chinese and Africans would be Pidgin English, poor French, or passable Portuguese depending on if you are in Anglophone, Francophone or Lusophone Africa; in the extreme it would be barking monosyllables with frantic gesticulations; hardly the means for technology or knowledge transfer – Africans will then be left none the wiser as the young ones build their profile to return to their home societies hopefully with the respect and authority they once did not have, having earned their stripes and medals from faraway Africa.

This is the crux of the problem, the Chinese are buying up access to resources, building infrastructure peopled and managed by themselves with Africans doing the graft work in miserable working conditions without adequate safety, human resource relations or developed management structures – there might be the token African face somewhere to offer the pretence of partnership but we should see through that.

When Africa runs out of the opportunities the Chinese are so ready to exploit, one does wonder what Africans would be left with as the Chinese leave to seek other lands to rape, albeit with consent and compensation.

Kill two birds with a Chinese funding

Indeed, we need infrastructure development and it is the failure of our African governments that has led to needing the Chinese to build our roads, our power installations, our railways, our stadiums, our critical infrastructure for economic progress and other aspects of real estate that seem cater to foreigners rather than the locals.

However, where our governments have failed us most is in healthcare and education, the headlines of disease and famine can become something of Africa’s past with good hospitals and good schools; this is where our governments should begin to direct their negotiating prowess with more finesse.

Take the money if you must but add conditions that would make for a lasting legacy for Africa and Africans, link the number of Chinese being brought in with numbers of Africans who need to have jobs, link infrastructure projects with community development for primary healthcare and good primary and secondary education along with scholarships to good Chinese universities.

Get tough with the immigrants

More so, use a percentage of the deals to endow impoverished local universities making them centres of excellence on African soil and finally require that no more than a certain percentage of Chinese immigrants are allowed to stay in African for more than a stipulated period without learning the official language of the country.

Short-term the visa requirement that at renewal a test of language proficiency is passed before their stay is extended.

It is not enough to receive Chinese funds, Africa should make good use of the influx of Chinese investment with radical changes to the lot of Africans in general – and then we can begin to see reasons beyond why China is bad for Africa to a longer term benefit for Africa.


[1] Before Your Next African Investment - Ndubuisi Ekekwe - The Conversation - Harvard Business Review

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