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China in Africa: The Real Story

Chinese and Belgian Aid in the Congo

Deborah Brautigam

Chinese doctors in the DRC. photo: Global Times
Ignace Pollet, et al, Neither Conflict Nor Comfort: The Co-Habitation of Chinese and Belgian Aid in the Congo. (Leuven, 2011). Somehow I missed this Belgian-Chinese comparative study when it was first published in 2011. A systematic, comparative look at Belgian and Chinese aid in the DRC, with a historical flavor. Done by a team of Belgian, Congolese and Chinese researchers who used a common framework to evaluate pairs of projects. Some points that struck me (all excerpts from the study):

  • Chinese Aid to the DRC is not new, but the study finds that, contrary to the general perception amongst the Western and Congolese public, it is small in terms of volume and scope (only few individual projects in the sectors of road building, health, school building). In contrast, Belgian Aid to the DRC is sizeable, consisting of rather complex projects in the sectors of road infrastructure, agriculture and education.

  • Belgian projects generally achieve a strong local involvement because of the participatory nature of the projects and the way they are institutionalised. Chinese projects generate a similar level of involvement by their focus on visible output-oriented projects that are often of direct use to the local population. 

  • Chinese projects that are part of commercial contracts, are often wrongly perceived as Aid by the local population.

  • Chinese Aid lacks the attention for capacity building and institutional integration (of Belgian aid), but still achieves similar levels of sustainability as the Belgian projects, because it focuses mainly on economical infrastructure and tends to follow up the projects for long periods.

  • Although medical cooperation will be continued as a part of China’s diplomacy, China is now actively exploring how it can be fitted into its new cooperation model, featuring the mutual benefit component. This means that Chinese enterprises will be stimulated to enter the recipient country’s market, as a first step in the outward-looking strategy of the Chinese medical industry.