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Hot Topic: China and Africa

February 17, 2010  »  BusinessNo Comment
{Source: http://www.editions-harmattan.fr}

Pure fiction? {Source: http://www.editions-harmattan.fr}

(A must read is this weeks ‘Economist Debate’ on the theme of Africa and China. So far it’s a split decision whether China’s growing involvement in Africa is to be welcomed. Link)

As mentioned in countless articles and roundtables, China is investing more heavily than ever in Africa. A Southern African News Features article from last November mentions that in 2008, China-Africa trade exceeded the US$100 billion target set for 2010. By mid-2009, more than 1,600 Chinese enterprises had also started business in Africa with a direct investment stock of US$7.8 billion. Back in October 2007 an ITU official was quoted saying that cooperation between Africa and China will be a win-win situation. In the sphere of information technology, this may very well be true. China will undoubtedly finance many infrastructure building projects that will create a more solid communications network. Something about the entire situation seems too perfect, however. It is great that China can contribute to the growth of Africa’s infrastructure when Western nations hesitate, but Africa needs to know when to loosen ties when the time comes. After all, great infrastructure is nothing if the political, social, and economic systems aren’t in line to keep it running.

The main risks of Chinese involvement in the ICT field are fairly typical for such an endeavor, but the following apply more to China than Europe, per se:

  1. Environmental impact: China is very arguably an authority on environmentally friendly practices Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao recently said that China and Africa would discuss views and experiences on climate change and learn from one another. An article in The China Post further states, “…Beijing says it also plans to help Africa develop clean energy generation and cope with climate change.” Neither Africa or China may be considered a top authority on the subject of “green” projects, but together they can work toward a higher state of knowledge. Does China makes these statements to spite the West and advance its own image? One would hope that China is interested in more than money and isn’t just paying Africa lip service.
  2. Censorship: Many fear that China will encourage online censorship, although such fears are mostly speculation. China’s intention with its censorship is to stay focused on its goals and resist an entire cultural breakdown by Western ideology. Accordingly, China would not feel the need to have Africa censor its Web.
  3. Human rights violations: Although every type of large-scale project faces these risks (just like at Dubai), African governments still need to be cognizant of China’s reputation.

In the end it is highly unlikely that Africa will emerge as a miniature China, a puppet of China, or some type of Chinese colony. African nations are learning how to stand up for themselves on the global scene and will not allow economic gain to shadow social or political stability. Also, we cannot forget that China, for one, has its own internal challenges.

For more, consider reading this 2008 paper on Chinese ICT investment in Africa.