Africa has become the new economic playground of the Chinese government. In its quest to secure an abundant source of energy and minerals to sustain its growing industrial and economic demands, the Chinese government is using the unstable and corrupt political environment in some African countries to court some of the continent’s ruthless dictators in an attempt to gain access to their rich mineral deposits. The Chinese who do not have a good human rights record themselves, are keen to show that they are the emerging big economic player in Africa. In Angola, a country that has had its share of conflicts in the past, the Chinese have invested over $2.4 billion dollars and will embark on re-building Angola’s infrastructure. It will build new hospitals and irrigation canals for agriculture all aimed at improving the lives of the Angolan people.
Angola is second only to Nigeria for oil production in the region. In Guinea, the Chinese have signed a mining and oil deal – A Chinese firm would invest more than $7bn (£4.5bn) in infrastructure. According to the Guinean authorities, the company would be a “strategic partner” in all mining projects in the mineral-rich nation. The timing of this deal is likely to stir controversy, as the legitimacy of the Guinean government is under question. The government is reported to have said the firm would help build ports, railway lines, power plants, low-cost housing and even a new administrative centre in the capital, Conakry.
A government spokesman is quoted as saying “All the government’s stakes in various mining projects will be put in that mining company. Future mining permits or concessions that the government decided to develop on its own will be put in that company,” China’s growing presence is also manifest in less obvious spots. In Sierra Leone, Chinese companies have built and renovated hotels and restaurants. In Mozambique, Chinese companies are investing in soybean processing and prawn production. While the west is more keen on helping Africa through AID, the Chinese are bent on having a hands-on approach as this will ensure their stake in an untapped resource potential that Africa has to offer. African leaders are receptive to the Chinese approach as this ensures infrastructural development in some of Africa’s least developed countries.
The Chinese not only offer the money but the manpower and skills to help rebuild the damaged infrastructure that was inflicted as a result of the quest to retain power unlawfully by some of these dictators. By accepting the Chinese as partners in business the corrupt leaders would have a rare opportunity to present a new kind of image to their people; that with all the oppression and human rights abuses meted out on them they are the only true alternative to a prosperous future.
China seems to be offering Africa something new, a straightforward business relationship between equals based on mutual interest and noninterference in the internal affairs of its allies. The question is: is China’s interest in Africa truly different from that of the earlier powers? Or as some are beginning to say, peddling the same exploitative formula in an attractive dressing of Third World solidarity? China sees itself as offering something superior to the standard Western prescription. Something that caters for the immediate needs of their new found business partners. Something that cannot be easily rejected because of the current world economic climate.
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