The Chinese in Africa: The Economist Gets Some Things Right, Some Wrong
Publish Date：2011-05-25 03:46:55
Times Read：1236 reads
The Economist's April 20, 2011, report on China and Africa (with the catchy subtitle "Africans are asking whether China is making their lunch or eating it") gets a lot of things right, but some big things wrong. As I noted in an earlier post, it is also prone to exaggeration.
What the reporter, Oliver August (he emailed me while he was working on the article but I was in Ethiopia and we never managed to talk), got right was a generalized sense that lower standards, lack of "corporate social responsibility" (social and environmental) in business practices, poor labor relations, competition with import substitution industries (especially textiles), and not enough hiring of local labor are the downside of China's increasingly prominent presence in Africa. These are serious issues and rightly tarnish the general reputation of China in Africa. I've written about them all in The Dragon's Gift.
Here's my take on what they got wrong and/or exaggerated:
1. The Economist: "For investment in African farming, China has earmarked $5 billion. A lot of Africans view this anxiously."
Wrong: Sigh. This myth is a hard dragon to slay (so to speak). I wrote about the legend of the (non-existent) $5 billion fund for agriculture here in April 2010 after reading Howard French'sAtlantic article that made this surprising and erroneous claim. Yes, China Africa Development Fund plans to raise $5 billion for Chinese equity investment in Africa (they've raised only $1 billion so far), but this is going into all sectors: infrastructure, manufacturing, energy, mining, and agriculture. The mistake that this fund is devoted to agriculture has become one of the urban legends circulating around the internet, a "rural legend" we could call it.
2. The Economist: Chinese construction work can be slapdash and buildings erected by mainland firms have on occasion fallen apart. A hospital in Luanda, the capital of Angola, was opened with great fanfare but cracks appeared in the walls within a few months and it soon closed. The Chinese-built road from Lusaka, Zambia’s capital, to Chirundu, 130km (81 miles) to the south-east, was quickly swept away by rains.
Exaggerated: I've analyzed stories about the Luanda hospital and the Lusaka-Chirundu roadbefore in this blog. True, both had problems (the hospital was opened in February 2006 but rather than "falling apart" in a few months, it developed significant cracks over the first four years, and closed for repairs in June 2010). The Economist implies that the entire Lusaka-Chirundu road was "quickly swept away by rains". This did not happen but the road did develop a cave-in along what appears to be a 20 foot section. For more on this from several Chinese, Africans, and others see the comments on my post.
3. The Economist: At Chinese-run mines in Zambia’s copper belt they must work for two years before they get safety helmets. Ventilation below ground is poor and deadly accidents occur almost daily. To avoid censure, Chinese managers bribe union bosses and take them on “study tours” to massage parlours in China. Obstructionist shop stewards are sacked and workers who assemble in groups are violently dispersed. When cases end up in court, witnesses are intimidated.
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