China, new threat to African youth dreams

This week Africa commemorates the 22nd Day of the African Child under the theme, The Rights of Children with Disabilities.

The Day of the African Child is commemorated every year on June 16 by member states of the African Union (AU), and its partners involved in activities that promote interests of children and youths across the continent.

This occasion is a commemoration to recall the 1976 uprising in Soweto, when a protest by schoolchildren in South Africa against apartheid-inspired education, resulted in the public killing of unarmed young protesters by police officials.

It was one of the few occasions where youths led by other youths demanded their space in the liberation struggles until the recent Arab Spring.
While this years theme is very close to my heart, it is not the main focus of my discussion this week. I have preferred to discuss the future of African youth in the emergence of China.

What is the place of youth in the political and development policy in Africa? To what extent do the current Sino-Africa relations benefit or destroy African prospects? These questions invite profound answers as the situation does not look so bright for African youths.

According to recent statistics, about 65% of the total population of Africa are below the age of 35 years, and over 35% are between the ages of 15 and 35 years making Africa the most youthfull continent. About 10 million young African youth are churned onto the job market each year against a regressing labour market.

According to a recent report, Africa is faced with jobless growth. About 60% of Africas unemployed are aged 15 to 24 and more than half of these, many women, have given up on finding work, the report found.

The greater proportion of this percentage does not have the opportunity to fully develop its potential and contribute effectively to the realisation of their personal ambitions.

The situation is quite confusing. Africa as a whole is showing signs of economic growth projected between 4,5% to 4,8% by next year.

A World Bank report published in February this year elaborates this paradox by stating that at macro levels Africa looks set to meet the Millennium Development Goals of halving poverty by 50% by 2015.

This is good for public relations and propaganda, but surely macro figures do not feed the family neither do they assure jobs for the African youth. Perhaps the question that needs to be addressed by African youth today is how an economy can grow and not benefit its people.

The World Bank report (2012) attributes this gloss picture to the huge Chinese investment in Africa especially in infrastructure development and minerals and other raw materials exploitation. What is shown on the economic dashboard as progress is actually Chinese money exploiting African resources and giving less to African youth.

This presents another episode of challenges which the youth have to face head on as the current African leadership seems blinded by the lure of the Chinese yuan. Youth look forward to a life in their countries of birth and those hopes should be based on todays investment and the countrys natural resources.

Dancing for Chinese aid because of its soft approach to governance issues in Africa, is surely not a panacea to teething problems facing the youth. A study by African Labour Research Network carried out between in 2008-2009 shows that Chinese investment in Africa does not and will not create employment for African countries.

In fact the Chinese approach is more corrosive than that of the colonial era. Despite some notable differences between the nature of Chinese economic involvement and that of Western foreign direct investment on the continent Chinese business mostly adheres to a familiar, neo-colonial pattern of resource extraction, labour exploitation and infrastructure projects that fail to emphasise the development of local capacity.

The report cautions of the dangers of the Africa-China economic relationship following the colonial pattern of relegating Africa to the role of a raw materials supplier.

Raw materials industries tend to create less job opportunities and pay less for local labour compared to the processing industries. A combined raw material and processing industry is what Africa needs to sustain its economy lest the youth are pressured to stage another Arab Spring or skip borders in pursuit of job opportunities created by raw materials from their countries.

African youth must realise that both Europe and China do not consider Africa as their developmental priority. Chinas presence in Africa is driven by the desire to secure enough energy, resources and minerals to feed its own industrialisation programme.

Any benefits from the Africa-China relationships are nothing but a carrot to lure African governments into opening raw materials markets. Otherwise they could still do that without compensating anyone especially judging by Africa gullibility. Lets take an example; Chinese construction projects in Africa are often carried out by Chinese workers.

In some countries the awarding of government tenders to Chinese construction companies had an adverse effect on the local industry and was widely seen as unfair competition, especially when Chinese companies paid their workers well below the required minimum wage.

Chinese investments in small retail outlets usually known as China shops have been very corrosive to local economies, threatening prospects of retaining even existing job opportunities.

Cheap consumer goods from China have negatively affected local traders, as well as local manufacturers who cannot withstand Chinese competition. As a result, thousands of jobs are lost.

The major challenge facing African countries is how to configure this China-Africa relationship and ensure that Chinese investments result in job creation and economic development.

This has hardly happened, thus far as African governments tend to bask so much in the euphoria of finding a new trading partner. It is upon the African youth to push for policy change on the current trade relationship if Africa is to substantially benefit from trade with China.

Tapiwa Gomo is a development consultant based in Pretoria, South Africa

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