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January 22, 2007

China in Africa

China’s main contribution is building infrastructure, and their interest of course is economic. The debate, though, is this: is there a South-South relationship of support or is China exploiting Africa like other “industrialized” (industraializing?) countries? Here, we were told that while the relationship is similar to the colonialist/capitalist model from western countries, it’s a different context, with its own interesting nuances.

One person spoke about how China gives loans and not grants, so it perpetuates Africa’s debt. China also brings its own technical expertise, its own workforce so it’s not even creating jobs with their infrastructure projects. But when they say they’re going to get something done, like build a road, they certainly get right to it and get it done.

In Sudan, China is expropriating natural resources (OIL) and disrespecting human rights. Ali from Sudan said that China arrived with its dictatorship: “if they don’t take care of their human resources in their own country, how are they going to do that abroad.”

A Chinese woman then spoke about how NGOs are new to China, but that they do exist and that they need to work with African civil society too. She told a story about how the 1st NGO in China was formed *ten years ago* by a group of people telling the police that they were having a birthday party in the park, and then they organized events from there. Last year at a conference, there were 300 Chinese NGOs represented. She wanted us to understand that things are changing.

A Chinese man spoke about how African resources should be used by Africans (that got a lot of cheers). But instead, it’s the same story over again: industry leaders in one place are working with industry leaders in another and leaving out the bottom. He also spoke about how it’s not just a bilateral relationship between China and Africa – there are international banks funding the whole thing, too. He named CitiGroup and Merrill Lynch, who are working on behalf of the China Export/Import Bank.

A Kenyan man then got up and said that China is just like any other country coming here, but with them they are very direct and clear about their interests. He also said that there’s a new xenophobia here towards Chinese people.

p.s. This session was also the debut of the book, “African Perspectives on China in Africa,” edited by Firoze Manji and Stephen Marks, published in 2007 by Famahamu and Pambazuka. www.famahamu.org ; www.pambazuka.org . The book looked pretty good.

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