I include a story this week regarding an investment of up to $10bn in Zimbabwe. This enormous figure is unlikely ever to be realised, but the article raises some interesting questions. Often deals announced by or on behalf of China in Africa, never materialise. The reasons for these are many and varied. This media attention on the announcement of multi-million or billion dollar deals has certainly contributed to a level of hype around China’s engagement with Africa.
The article highlighted suggests that the motivation for this type of announcement could be motivated by the intention of government to scare the West into investment. As political and social concerns over Chinese dominance are brought into sharp releif in Zambia, its an interesting observation that even countries with inclement Western relations, are likely to recognize the benefits of diversification.
Even in Zambia Chinese state entities seem to be working hard to repair damaged reputations, demonstrated by news this week of a 12% salary hike and imporved safety conditions at the Luanshya copper mine. Here Mine Workers Union general secretary Oswell Munyenyembe, highlighted the deleterious effects of political intervention in negotiations between Chinese management and workers. In these markets Beijing cannot have helped but realise that political interference is a reality of economic investment. A lack of management of workers rights in the past has been responsible for a vicious political environment which severely restricts Chinese business in the country.
Meanwhile China seems intent to pursue continual change in its policies in Africa. Although non-interference has been a frequent refrain, China has increasingly recognized the inevitability of political interference in countries in which it has invested large amounts. This is not a new phenomena, reflected in Chinese policy in Sudan for a number of years, but the increasing role in military and peacekeeping intervention is again tied in.
While China and the West’s competition in Africa is often depicted in Cold War terms, the realities of China and the US’s mutual reliance makes the story a very different one. Saferworld have produced an interesting report highlighting the extent of China’s increased cooperation in conflict resolution in Africa.
Increasingly the riskier African markets have proved insufficient in China’s Africa policy, and an article in Business Report highlights China’s increasing soft power attempts to imporve its standing in Africa. While a decade ago China was content to make contracts in pariah states, increasingly China competes in the prize African markets such as South Africa and Ghana. South-South cooperation has been made official in China’s extension of BRIC membership to South Africa.
Chinese interests in Nigeria are also growing at a pace while Western multinationals like Shell group pull out in favour of other markets. Pambazuka News this week publish an interesting article on a Chinese bid to refurbish and run Nigeria’s failing refineries.