Wednesday, May 28, 2008

China in Africa by Richard Behar

China is leveraging its Communist political legacy and 3rd world status, as well as its surging financial muscle, to compete head-to-head with the Western neo-colonials in Africa. Specifically China has gotten in on the resource grab for oil, timber, copper and other minerals which the US and European powers have been engaged in for well nigh a century.

There are signs, depending always on the quality of the local leadership, that the overall model may have longer lasting positive effects such as infrastructure and hospital projects, there are signs that China is even more exploitative of the African workers than the Westerners.

This is the most disturbing aspects, that China is using its credentials as a nation exploited by Western colonizers to gain leverage with African nations sharing a similar history. However, based on this article, it is not applying socialist principles to those efforts but instead applying the most brutal capitalist exploitive model possible on the ground against local workers. Behar even suggests that there are reports that Chinese workers imported to Africa are convicts, essentially slave labor.

This is especially sad in the case of countries like Zambia where during the 70s workers enjoyed cradle-to-grave security based on an extensive welfare state funded by nationalized mineral wealth, a model the western powers could not abide for long and one that the Chinese government, at least for now, seems uninterested in resurrecting.

Below is an excerpt from an incredible article by the tenacious journalist Richard Behar which appeared in, of all places, Fast Company magazine. I highly recommend you take the time to read the article:

An unfathomably vast terrain comprising 49 nations, the sub-Sahara represents nearly one-fifth of the earth's landmass. Yet its total economy is tinier than Florida's. Here, 300 million people get by on less than $1 a day. Until they don't: It is the planet's biggest tomb, where compared to the 1960s, twice as many children under the age of 5 are now dying each day from disease; a bottomless badland where $500 billion of Western aid since World War II (more than four Marshall Plans) has barely made a dent in the poverty; a region whose market share of world trade is shrinking by the hour as it gets left behind, perhaps permanently, in the dust of globalization; a place so desperate for everything -- cash, trade, investment, infrastructure -- and so powerless to negotiate strategically, that it's pretty much up for sale to the highest bidder.


In describing China's exploits, it's tempting to evoke the image of a benign, postcolonial West being outfoxed by a ruthless and unscrupulous neo-communist power. Don't bother. The American track record in modern Africa has been deplorable -- a half-century of backing strongmen, turning a blind eye, and taking what we can get with little or no regard for the health or welfare of the locals. So no, this is not an update about the Yellow Peril, although no shortage of U.S. officials see China's safari as precisely that. Instead, this is a story about an economic model of exploitation that is at once formidably efficient and tragically flawed, about a planet that's being consumed by those who live on its surface. Today's global economy has an insatiable need for raw materials. That's as true for China's rise as it is true for the maintenance of America's economy. With China exporting some 40% of its GDP, Americans need to understand that behind that Made in China tag at Wal-Mart is a mutually reinforcing death spiral. We are beginning to overwhelm our host.


Equatorial Guinea is less a country than a corrupt, extended-family business that cooked up its own national anthem. And the American oil industry has been singing along for years, cuddling up as much as necessary (and with barely any competition) to Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, the 66-year-old despot who has ruled this backwater since 1979. Smaller than El Paso, Texas, E.G. has nevertheless managed to get itself at or near the top of just about every shameful list in the world -- from the most-censored countries (according to the Committee to Protect Journalists) to the most corrupt (Transparency International) to the worst places to do business (the World Bank). Geoffrey Wood, a business professor at the U.K.'s University of Sheffield and coauthor of The Ethical Business, concluded in his own 2004 study of E.G. that the country is a "criminal state" that matches or exceeds the "rapacity and brutality" of the Duvaliers' Haiti, Somoza's Nicaragua, and Batista's Cuba. Despite an economy with the highest average annual growth rate in the world (21%) since 2001, more than half of the population lacks access to potable water and electricity. The UN says E.G. shows the greatest disparity on earth between per capita income ($50,000, surpassed only by Luxembourg) and human welfare (most of E.G.'s citizens live on less than $1 a day).

Behar, Richard. June-2008. China in Africa: Part I. Fast Company.

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