“There is a Chinese-only supermarket in Abuja, and Nigerians are not allowed,” said my friend, Morenike*. My ears perked up, the hair at the back of my neck stood and my face registered all the thoughts traveling through my brain.
That was a little over a year ago.
Her statement, whether truth or rumor, laid the bridge for my exploration into the continent — country relationship called the Sino- African relations. The term defines the historical, political, economic, military, social and cultural connection between China and the African continent. In contemporary Sino-African relations, China has authorized billions of dollars in loans to many African countries, and Chinese government-owned companies are in turn given exclusive and long-term rights, sometimes century long, to extract natural resources from indigenous lands. It seems like a win-win, but these loans and investment with their lop-sided benefits create an imbalance that is stark across the African continent. In addition, this partnership has done little for critically needed infrastructure and little impact on unemployment or development of Africa’s labor force. Until recently, development and infrastructure work paid for by Chinese funds were typically open only to Chinese companies providing primarily Chinese labor.
Corruption, poverty, debt, bad leadership, effects of colonization, deficient manufacturing industries and the “our time to chop” mentality pervades many African countries and helps bolster these lop-sided contracts that many times don’t adequately take into account long term repercussions or the needs of the people.
So I started reading and researching, and I got familiar with the breadth and depth of the Sino-African relations and became aware of terms like Special Economic Zones (SEZs) and the One Belt, One Road (OBOR) project. I am by no means an expert or analyst, however, one thing many people including experts, analysts, stakeholders, and myself can agree on is, the Sino-African relations is more complex than colonization, but in many ways, it is as simple as contemporary looting — colonization. In its simplicity, there are trends that have surfaced — some great and beneficial, and others deeply troubling. But the complexity of the relationship and the vastness of the African continent with 54 vastly different countries, cultures, governments and issues can make it hard to analyze the Sino-African relations down to sound or text bites, however, it doesn’t mean we wouldn’t or shouldn’t try.
And that is what I hope to do next week Tuesday, August 15th, as part of the Forum on International Affairs. I will be co-leading a discussion to explore development and investment in Africa as it coincides with China’s pursuit of natural resources.
If you live and/or work in the Washington D.C. area, I’ll love for you to join us and to hear your thoughts. You can RSVP here.
*not real name