There has been an influx of Chinese into African countries over the past few years to a point that Africa is been referred to as the Chinese second continent, according to a book by Howard French.
There is little information known about ancient trade relations between Africa and China, although there is evidence of Chinese traders travelling to Africa through Somalia, Mozambique and North Africa. Fast forward to 21st century and China has increasingly shown serious interest in Africa with an estimated 1 million Chinese citizens currently residing in the continent. China surpassed the United States as Africa’s largest trading partner in 2009.
Howard French, a veteran American reporter who has worked in both Africa and China as a correspondent, tells stories of Chinese migrants and how their presence has affected the indigenous people in his new book “China’s Second Continent,”.
China gives Africa handy investment lesson
The story began in the 1990s when the then president, Jiang Zemin, challenged Chinese enterprises to seek opportunities outside their native land. The companies then found their way in Africa seeking available opportunities and ultimately found areas such a natural resources and related infrastructure development being under-exploited. In 2011, China imported $93.2 billion worth of products from Africa and 80% of this consisted of crude oil and raw materials.
China’s largest companies are finding a foothold in the continent, although most of them came to work on big projects, they also brought along their fellow compatriots to work in menial jobs. They are joined by small scale entrepreneurs who open shops, pharmacies and buy land for farming. French says the interest has gone a notch higher and in 2011, the China’s parliament debated a proposal to deploy as many as 100m people in Africa.
Chinese portray an ability to live and work in rough, remote and inhospitable places in the continent with some even opting to settle down in these environments. And French says these citizens will ultimately have a bigger impact on China’s future relationship with Africa than Beijing’s broader policies.
African governments welcoming Chinese with open arms
African governments are welcoming them with open arms, with massive resources-for-infrastructure deals coming along with Beijing’s policy of non-intervention in sovereign affairs making it more welcome. This has seen some African leaders even threaten Western donors and investors for laying down conditions on matters such as transparency and human rights, saying they will “go east” for funding.
Are Chinese involved in illegal activities in Africa?
On the other side, many Africans complained to French about rampant corruption, poor working conditions and safety standards in Chinese operations. There is also the dumping of cheap and shoddy goods into the African market. The issues of illegal activities like ivory-smuggling, logging and illegal fishing has become rampant with Chinese, and Africans are worried such activities are gaining ground across the continent.
French does not come to a conclusion on the intention of China’s natural-resource empire-building in Africa on whether it is closer to a mutually beneficial model that lifts Africans out of poverty or it is aimed at plundering African resources just like the European colonizers of old.
For Africans, as the book suggests, the Chinese investment blueprint is good news and it provides governments and businesses with another option different from Western countries who may now be waking up to Africa’s potential.