The world is abuzz over a number of recent large-scale infrastructure-for-resources deals China has signed in Africa. While some observers see these agreements as a force for good in local economic development, others have gone so far as to call the activities part of a perfidious, neo-imperialistic resource grab. Beijing is accused of perpetuating corruption, of obstructing progress on human rights, and of propping up dictators like Omar al-Bashir of Sudan and Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe.

Where does the truth lie? How exactly are Chinese investors being received in Africa and how do their projects differ from previous Western-led efforts? Joining Kaiser to discuss these questions are Gady Epstein, Beijing Bureau Chief for Forbes magazine, our own South African correspondent Jeremy Goldkorn, and Shannon Van Sant, an American journalist whose reports about China in Africa have recently aired.

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 said on
August 7, 2010
Excellent - lots of good talking points.

Jeremy was typically upbeat about China's impact in Africa, and his argument about scrappy Fujian businessman and a culture of entrepreneurship was well made.

I was slightly disappointed that Shannon didn't talk about China's blatant threat to cut diplomatic ties and put investments on hold if Michael Sata had been elected in 2006. That tells you a lot about how much China interferes with - and disresprects - weaker nations' democratic processes. How Sata lost that election remains a mystery. Or does it? It would have been good to hear Shannon's take on the allegations related to Sata's defeat. Pity.

The bottom line however - a point also made in the podcast - is that China is in Africa for business. The Motherland is not there for the disingenuous so-called 'win-win' deal; nor is she there for the benefit of Africa and Africans. And China is certainly not in Africa with a view to pulling a desperately impoverished continent up by its bootstraps. The Chinese are in Africa strictly for what they can garner, either personally or in China's national interest.

At least the panel accepted that there is doubt about what China's presence in Africa will mean long term. That pleases me, because it means that the debate has to stay alive until such time as no doubt remains, one way or the other.

I have serious misgivings about the state of the Sino-African relationship 10/20 years down the line. All this positive talk of infrastructure building ignores the strategically self-serving nature and zero-sum mentality that still underpins Chinese dealings. Apologists for the China model fail to ask themselves who the real beneficiary of the infrastructure (transportation networks in particular) will be.

Let me help.

The road and rail networks will connect Chinese-controlled ports under construction on the coast with resource extraction locations in the interior. Their very own network of exploitation with a Chinatown every 100k along the road to really turn the screw on small African business. I was pleased to see this glaringly obvious strategy getting some coverage on a few blogs of late, including Brautigam’s (not that she would be a subscriber, of course).

Too pessimistic? Maybe. But it could happen this way, which is why we need to keep this discussion alive.

Africa really deserves a break; and they're not about to get one from China in my humble opinion.

 said on
August 7, 2010
Ehhh, main advantage of Chinese (and Indian) investment vs Western investment is that their businesses are geared to serve the "bottom billion", since they have so many of them in their own countries. They produce cheap crap, but poor people love cheap crap because otherwise they'd be stuck with no crap at all. They're labor-rich and money-poor, so their Made-in-China/India tool that breaks after 3 uses can be lovingly cared for to maximize its working life. Therefore, from their point of view, Africa can be a useful export market, and for Chinese (Indian?) companies that are capital flush but lack opportunities to expand overseas due to fear of Chinese influence Africa can potentially be a good destination for investment.

Mz. Van Sant:

I looked at your blog, and I'm struck by the large bellies of children. I read about a while ago, if you have any experience on the subject, does it look like Kwashiorkor? Or perhaps parasitic infestation?


Also, if one attempts to comment on this board, it kills the podcast by causing the browser page to browse away. For streaming content this is extremely deleterious as it kills a partial load or forces the user to reload the entire file. There is no way around it since the navigation is caused by the comment button; otherwise right-clicking on most common browsers could be a temporary workaround.
 said on
August 7, 2010

One tragedy is that at the end of the day, or rather decade, we'll only know if Chinese investment in Africa has been beneficial or not. Since the Chinese broke through the Western stranglehold on Africa development aid with large-scale investment, the policies of the Western development aid establishment cannot be implemented in a vacuum, and concepts like strangling economic aid to disliked leaders and making aid conditional on factors considered "good governance" are no longer viable. If Dambisa Moyo is right, and the very concept of humanitarian aid is a Nietzschean co-dependency, where the point of charity is to make the aid-giver feel better and the entire system requires a constant flow of unfortunates, we won't know because the Chinese have butted in.

Another thing that I think should be remembered is that Africa is not monolithic; imagine if the entire conversation was redefined as talk of the Orient (which one? Everything to the east of the Bosphorus? The specific Far East? Then again, the Orient is more defined in opposition to the Occident), or the Muslim world, both entities with massive diversity in their ranks.
 said on
August 8, 2010
At risk of coming across as too political, if China's foreign policy priorities amount to buying copper in Africa by contracting for it with local governments, that is at least a step better that the foreign policy priorities of my own country, which has been knee-deep killing foreigners in two countries for the last nine years.

The hypocrisy of the American media on this front is truly astounding.
 said on
September 22, 2010
Gady Epstein, JEREMY Goldcorn and Shannon Van Sant all gave their opinions about what the Chinese are up to in Africa. They ,some of them, expressed disbelief that African/Chinese working together could be for the benefit of each other.They may be correct, and probably are if the Africans sit back and take no notice of what the Chinese are doing there. I suspect, though, that the Westerner hopes that his negative predictions come true, and he is, I have no doubt, working day and night undercover to bring failure of Chinese and African efforts there. The Westerner will scream "Democracy Now!" and fair vote counts in

order to get their "yes" man elected so he can continue to grab millions of dollars in natural resources while leaving nothing but slavery and hunger for the Africans. Sour Grapes play a role here. Certainly a six year old child can see what 300 or 400 years of Westerners interfering there has earned the Africans, no matter what the Chinese do. Anyway, the Chinese have done more good in a decade than the Westerner has in hundreds of years. So I say to the Africans: be vigilant, be aware of what every one is taking out of your God-given resources.
Mark Lesson Studied