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China in Africa: The Real Story

How Many Chinese Workers?

Deborah Brautigam

Senegalese & Chinese. AFP for the BBC

Since the late 1970s, the Chinese government has promoted labor exports to earn foreign exchange and provide employment opportunities. Yes, there are thousands of Chinese working overseas today, over 700,000 by official count -- mainly not in Africa, but in Hong Kong, Asia and the Middle East. Yet the popular idea that Chinese companies bring in all their own workers and refuse to hire Africans is not true. The photo to the right could be duplicated in dozens of African countries.

But what is the ratio of Africans to Chinese workers on Chinese projects in Africa? What cases, if any, do we find of Africans being hired in management positions on a Chinese investment or project? Are Chinese-speaking Africans breaking into this area?

I will be maintaining a page on this blog, Chinese Workers in Africa, in which I will collect anecdotes on the ratio of Chinese to African workers on projects and investments. If you work on, or visit a Chinese project in Africa, post here with a line with the ratio, verified, if possible, with local officials, particularly trade unions. I'll update the page regularly. While I wouldn't want to do multiple regressions using these anecdotes, they may help to shed some light on this not well understood issue. Many thanks.