A hand is stretching onto Africa: China’s hand. After the fall of Berlin Wall, while USA were trying to put the pieces of East Europe together and to come to terms with old allies, China dedicated itself to Africa.
In this way, this eastern super-power became one of the biggest interlocutors of the continent, an ally for lots of African countries, trying to strategically affect different areas of interest: Sudan and its petroleum, Congo and Mozambique and their raw materials, Zambia and its copper… and the list is even longer.
In some countries, China plays a role of real power, in other ones it seals economic agreements building infrastructure and factories, extracting minerals and exploiting lands for agriculture. It buys lands and use them to produce food for its domestic market. Depending on how this phenomenon can be seen from a political point of view, this process can be considered as an exchange between two economic partners, or as a kind of land grabbing, which we’ve already talked about.
Some thinkers believe that China’s attitude is the only way to guarantee a future to Africa.
One of them, Dambisa Moyo, in her last book “Winner Takes All”, states that donations and helps to Africa from the rest of the world are «just handouts which, at best, force Africa to an everlasting economic youth, making it addicted to them as they were drugs. At worst, they help corruption and misappropriation to spread out, because of money injected directly into veins of countries which lack a solid and transparent governance and a middle class able to reinvent itself from an entrepreneurial point of view. The alternative is clear: following China, which in last years has developed an efficient and sophisticated partnership with lots of sub-Saharan countries. China must not come to terms with a criminal past of colonialism and enslavement and can see Africa as it really is: a huge land rich in raw materials and with enormous opportunities to invest in».
Moyo’s idea is the most valued at the moment, and China is becoming a real helps’ provider, in a new way. In facts, it interacts with Africa in three different ways: agreements between governments, direct interventions between private companies or between companies and local governments, and Chinese citizens leaving their country and migrating to Africa.
From a state point of view, China developed a “bartering” system, that is a kind of political exchange: from the one hand China commits itself to pay for construction of ports, railways and roads, while on the other hand it guarantees itself a continuous supply of materials which are necessary for its growth, from fuels to minerals. It is a win win system: Chinese export-import bank and other important financial institutions – always state-controlled ones – negotiate for common financial projects to build infrastructure at competitive prices, using mainly Chinese companies, Chinese materials and often Chinese workers, while government negotiates the purchase of raw materials.
Last but not least, when working in Africa, China can follow lower quality standards.
As Howard French – award-winning journalist of New York Times – writes in his book “China’s Second Continent: How A Million Migrants are Building a New Empire in Africa”, construction contracts sealed in Africa are worth one third of the total of Beijing’s businesses.
French writes: «Beijing saw the continent as a perfect proving ground for some Chinese companies to cut their teeth in the international business».
Anyway, everybody wins in this match: China wins, as a country gaining raw materials at a low price; Africa wins, gaining roads and ports it urgently needs at a low price and selling its raw materials, sometimes at a right price.
Recently journalists and politicians have expressed themselves about this self-interested way of China helping Africa: people have divided into opponents, considering this as a new kind of colonialism, and supporters – like Dambisa Moyo -, celebrating these non-random helps.
There is a third China arriving in Africa, which Howard French dedicated his book to: «farmers, entrepreneurs building small and medium-sized factories, and practitioners of the full range of trades, doctors, teachers, smugglers, prostitutes», millions Chinese citizens emigrating.
French tells us lots of stories concerning Chinese resourcefulness in a continent which is starting to oppose to other countries’ greed: lots of people living in China’s internal areas haven’t achieved wellness yet and are convincing themselves that Africa could be a new land for them to find riches and opportunities. The journalist tells us about difficulties and success, witnessing that Africa could be a land rewarding hard work, when somebody invests in it the right energy and the necessary bravery.