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China in Africa: The Real Story

China in Africa: What Can Western Donors Learn?

Deborah Brautigam

photo credit: Deborah Brautigam
A new report of mine: China in Africa: What Can Western Donors Learn? has just been published by Norfund, Oslo, August 2011. Some excerpts:
...Many Western donors think they know what China is doing in Africa. They’ve seen the headlines: the Chinese arrived a few years ago in a desperate search for oil. They set up a huge aid program, propping up governments in resource‐rich, pariah states that the West won’t touch. Their companies bring in all their own workers and refuse to hire Africans. They’re leading the “land grab” in Africa, growing food to ship back to China. It’s an alarming story … but, on closer inspection, none of it is true. (p. 3)
...Chinese companies do have low costs but construction firms in Zambia and Namibia have documented unfair Chinese business practices: collusive bidding, low wages, and a tendency to hire contract workers in order to get around mandated labor benefits (paid holidays, sick leave, etc.) for permanent staff. (p. 12)
...Speaking at the World Bank/IMF Annual Meeting in April 2011, Dr. Situmbeko Musokotwane, the Zambian minister of finance, compared China’s business and aid model with that of the West. China used aid and other tools vigorously to encourage its companies to invest in Africa, he said, but that did not seem to be the case for Europe and America, whose aid programs were more paternalistic, and seemed to be designed as charity: “at least help them not to suffer, we can’t do much more than that. They’re not ready for investment.”
...We need a better understanding of just how countries like China are engaging in Africa. And once we have that understanding, we may be better positioned to accept the recommendations of thoughtful African officials like newly (re)appointed Nigerian finance minister Ngozi Okonjo‐Iweala: “China should be left alone to forge its unique partnership with African countries and the West must simply learn to compete.” Implicit here is a warning: we in the West no longer have a monopoly over development ideas, practice, and finance. China is rising, and with them, India, Brazil and others. If we don’t learn how to have “a new conversation” as African Development Bank president Donald Kaberuka put it, we risk finding that Africans are no longer interested in listening. (p. 16).
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