Saturday 23 April 2011

Africa: Surveying the ruins of Made in China

Let’s say Sino-reticence

I wrote a bit about China in Africa in December and January that I almost turned into a Sinophobe, I even was invited to share my views on a proposed podcast that did not get published for whatever reasons that the other party did not care to share with me.

However, I have not taken my eyes off the topic per se, it only seems others have done a better job of covering the issues from apologists to anthropologists and everything you stick between them.

I must state that I welcome in general the presence of China in Africa but my concern is with the kinds of deals, contracts and arrangements we build with the Chinese that appear not to benefit Africans as much as it should appear to.

The level of investment by China in Africa is watering sums of money that they seem to have excess of and at pains to know what to do with the stash.

Made in China

A recent report in the Economist [1] however brings to light a concern that has been a problem in China and Asia with regards recent reports of tainted milk [2] for instance, then the 2007 melamine pet food recalls [3] in Europe and the United States, the Chinese toys tainted with lead paint [4] that peaked in 2007 but was still an issue into 2010 and now the African version of houses of cards covered later in this blog.

The “Made in China” tag or maybe even the "Made by the Chinese" tag has people questioning whether they are getting value for money or being ripped off; a lingering suspicion about sharp practices and a number of projects built by the Chinese that seem to have lost their presumed durability and purpose like putting up a woollen umbrella in torrential rain.

Yes, rain apparently swept away a 130km (81 miles) road from Lusaka to Chirundu in Zambia and hospital built in Luanda, Angola soon became unsafe to inhabit because of cracks that appeared in the walls within months of its opening.

Fantastic fireworks

It gets worrisome if the seemingly gold-plated and fanciful turn-key projects majorly run and manned by the Chinese are edifices of papier-mâché awaiting the right conditions to reveal shoddy, sub-standard and slap-dash practices that adhere to no rules or standards.

The fantastic pyrotechnics and fireworks only last for the duration of the burning up of the active ingredient and then we are left with just a memory of the spectacle – God knows, Africa needs more than firework displays.

Some of my previous blogs talk about poor human resources management and labour protections such that the difference between the influx of the West and the Chinese was one trying to raise the bar and the other looking for the basement or lower that they can get away with.

Armies of terracotta

The Chinese are beginning to leave indelible footprints around Africa with Africa and Africans taking the brunt of the abuse and lack of care, whilst governments in need of the easy money abdicate their responsibility to the governed leaving the oppositions in many countries an opportunistic galvanising message of showing how the leadership has been derelict in their core responsibilities.

In another area, the Chinese have cornered local markets with better production facilities and cheaper goods that have literally put local traders and manufacturers out of business. For the African customer, this appears to be good news but it leaves Africa at the opposite intent of that age-old proverb about giving a man a fish to feed him a day and teaching him to fish to feed him his whole life.

The Chinese are doing all the fishy business and no one is learning how to fish to be about to compete on any terms. Armies of terracotta cannot fight real battles.

We need to play our friends

Africa is far becoming the Eldorado for the Chinese and they are coming to fulfil their dreams whilst Africans must begin to ensure they share in some dream rather than face a recurring nightmare.

Rather than allow the Chinese to play Africans against each other, it is important for Africa to man-up on their deal-making and gain the backbone to say like the President of Angola once said to his Chinese counterpart, “You are not our only friend.”


[1] The Chinese in Africa: Trying to pull together | The Economist

[2] Latest Tainted Milk Fatalities Rock China | East Asia and Pacific | English

[3] 2007 pet food recalls - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

[4] CHINA Chinese toys tainted by lead or made by child labour - Asia News

1 comment:

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