HomeOpinion & AnalysisColumnistsConundrum of Sino-Africa development relations

Conundrum of Sino-Africa development relations


The boom of the Chinese economy has undeniably taken global centre stage.

Both big and small economies are forced by the nature of economic forces to face East. Sanctions or no sanctions, Zimbabwe is among many African countries lured to face East by the Chinese economic package.

The miraculous renaissance of the Chinese capitalist economic system which gave to this ever-growing economy is surely the envy for many economic pundits.

The West is envious with ambivalence.

China has become stronger in the global geopolitical arena much to the vexation of the Western egos, while cutting ties with China simply stifles the lifelines of the Western economies.

Africa features prominently in this gluttonous and intricate quest for economic and political supremacy by the East and the West for one obvious reason — the continent is a key provider of raw materials from its rich natural resources.

Over a million Chinese experts have been deployed in 40 of African countries to facilitate the exploration of resources.

This is backed by an investment package of over $100 billion by 2009, with trade between Africa and China surpassing $100 billion by 2010.

China means business in Africa.

While this is viewed by the Chinese as a “new development partnership”, the Western block sees an emergency of neo-colonisation of Africa by China.

This scramble for Africa by China is far less driven by ideological innuendos, but by the quest to satiate the appetite of its ravenous economy. This, in its pure state, is not a bad thing.

Some African countries such as Angola have benefited immensely through the construction of hospitals, roads, railways, airports and other logistics hubs to facilitate the exploration of resources.

Each of these creates secondary employment and business opportunities for the local people and firms.

The presence of China in the raw materials market is also gradually giving African countries the pricing power of their natural resources.

Raw materials sold to China by an African country are priced in accordance with the international market price unlike the Western multinational companies who short-changed Africa by determining the selling price.

Africa needs growth, prosperity and development and China seemingly is providing that in exchange for raw materials without preconditions and ideological propulsion such as democracy, human rights and regime change agendas.

But the Sino-African development relations come at a huge price for the poor African majority.

Firstly, the Chinese economic models are self-serving. Chinese entrepreneurs believe in getting what they want at whatever cost, which explains why China tops the bribery list of the Transparency International report 2006.

They bribe the elite at the expense of the poor.
China supports its people and companies to exploit African resources and rarely engages African companies to supply them, relegating locals to providers of labour.

Secondly the Chinese model pays little attention to the abuse of the poor, hence the egregious human rights and child labour record within its border.

This may sound remote and insignificant to an African leader hungry for Chinese money, but the poor quality materials found in Chinese shops across Africa is evidence of lack of respect for the poor.

A Chinese product imported by a local African trader is of higher quality than that sold in a Chinese in an African country. Poor quality and cheap products destroy local industry and make poor people even poorer.

Thirdly, the African Labour Research Network (ALRN) rates Chinese employers as the worst on the continent as they have no regard for local labour laws or workers’ rights, the same way poor people are treated in their home country.

Surely, this cannot be a good foundation for a good development model in a continent where over three quarters of the population lives below the poverty datum line.

The ALRN study cautions that operating at lower costs, Chinese companies undercut African firms and push them out of business, meaning even fewer benefits to local economies.

For an honest and yet financially and politically vulnerable African leader whose country is faced with a huge debt, economic distress, high unemployment rate, collapsing infrastructure and public service, and high poverty levels, the Chinese package surely presents a quagmire on whether to leave untapped wealth to remain deep within the ground just for the protection of human rights, the poor and local businesses.

This may be time for Africa to emerge as a key player and control the balance of power in the global economic matrix by taking over the control, distribution and pricing of its natural resources in a world where two global economic fronts are not only clamouring but hungry for its resources than expose its people to impoverishing Eastern or Western practices.

Tapiwa Gomo is a development consultant based in SA

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