Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Mysterious Chinese Imports from Africa?


What is Africa exporting to China? A reader asked me: why are 26% of African exports to China reported as "unspecified"? This HS 98 "Special Classification Provisions, Not elsewhere specified" category has grown hugely over the past few years. I've pasted the top four imports in the trade data below (all in millions). In 2007, this category was about 1% of total imports. By 2013, it's up to 25%. What is in this category? Readers' insights welcome. (updated to include the Chinese definition for HS 98 -- each country can define their own contents for HS 98)
CHINESE IMPORTS FROM AFRICA
Description
2007  2008  2009  2010  2011  2012  2013 
All Commodies 36,229 55,883 43,184 66,896 93,140 113,087 116,993
Mineral Fuel, Oil Etc.;  25,997 39,489 27,828 41,475 49,073 56,084 54,013
Special Classification Provisions, Nesoi 578 1,551 902 3,401 15,926 28,941 30,275
Ores, Slag And Ash 3,298 7,254 6,049 8,864 12,620 11,320 13,810

UPDATE April 18, 2014:  China's definition of HS 98 from China Customs, below (thank you Bi Hanning). Still not clear why it has grown so large, but I suspect many importers are simply classifying imports as "other unclassified commodities"...


Thursday, April 3, 2014

Chinese Investment in African Agriculture: Conference

DB in Liberia, Kpatawee Farm, 1983
The Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) SAIS China Africa Research Initiative (SAIS-CARI) will hold an inaugural public conference:  Researching China’s Agricultural Investment in Africa:  ‘Land Grabs’ or ‘Friendship Farms’? May 16, 2014 and private research workshop on May 17, 2014, in Washington, DC at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies. The goal of the conference is a deeper, comparative understanding of the motives and experiences of Chinese investors; the network of relationships: investors, governments in China (national and provincial) and in Africa, intermediaries and brokers; and the impact of their investments.

We are pleased to welcome an international group of experts from China, Mali, Mozambique, the Netherlands, the UK, South Africa, Spain, Uganda, France, and the US, presenting on a number of cases: Philippe Asanzi, Centre for Chinese Studies, Stellenbosch University (DRC and Mozambique), Deborah Brautigam, Johns Hopkins-SAIS (various), Lila Buckley, International Institute for Environment and Development, London (Senegal tbc), Xiaochen Chen (Tanzania) Sérgio Chichava, Instituto de Estudos Sociais e Económicos, (Mozambique), Solange Guo Chatelard, Max Plank Institute (Zambia), Jiao Yang, University of Florida (Ghana, Nigeria tbc), Josh Maiyo, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (Uganda), Margaret Myers, Interamerican Dialogue (China in Latin America), Nama Ouattara, Université Paris-Sud (Mali), George Schoenveld, CIFOR (various), Xiaoyang Tang, Tsinghua University (Malawi), Henry Tugendhat, IDS-Sussex (various), Eckart Woertz, Barcelona Centre for International Affairs (Gulf States in Africa), Xiuli Xu, China Agriculture University (Tanzania), Jinyan Zhou, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (Angola), and others still to be confirmed.

Panels will include papers and presentations on:

  • Life histories and/or narratives of Chinese agricultural investors’ experience
  • Data and details: why did the land grab databases get it so wrong?
  • Business Borderlands: China's overseas state-owned agribusiness
  • The business model behind China’s agro-technology demonstration centers.
  • Environmental and social impact of Chinese agricultural investments
  • Subcontracting and the Chinese role in cotton value chains in Malawi
  • The challenges of Chinese Agricultural Investments in Africa: An Institutional Analysis
  • Comparisons with Chinese investment in Latin America and Gulf countries in Africa

The conference is free, and open to the public, although seats are limited. We will open Eventbrite for tickets one month before the conference date -- link will be at the website of the SAIS China Africa Research Initiative SAIS-CARI. To reserve a seat in advance, or to request an invitation to the private researchers workshop, please email: SAIS-CARI@jhu.edu.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Chinese-Built Angolan "Ghost Town" Wakes Up?

Kilamba, c. 2012
Anyone who has been to Luanda knows that the city lacks housing. The hotels are extremely expensive, and researchers have been known to rent a room in someone's house for $100 a day. Angolan president Jose dos Santos pledged to build a million new homes, between 2008 and 2012. Kilamba City was part of that promise. The idea of constructing a new town, Kilamba City, 20 km outside Luanda, where flats would be available for purchase, seemed like a good one.

A Frenchman, Pierre Falcon, the famous architect of the "Angola-gate" arms trade and corruption scandal, owns the company that oversaw the project: Pierson Capital GroupThe complex was financed by ICBC, Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, allegedly backed by oil-revenues. CITIC built the flats. The state-owned oil Angola was in charge of marketing the apartments (they would use those revenues to repay the loan). Chinese firms built Kilamba. And then the apartments seemed to stand empty. Visiting Western journalists photographed the long, lonely expanses of buildings. Kilamba City was filled, it seemed, by ghosts.
Kilamba: credit Voice of America

Until recently. Or so it seems. According to the official Angolan news agency, some 40,000 people moved into Kilamba after their families took advantage of long-term, low-cost mortgages to buy flats with prices ranging from US$70,000 to US$140,000. One account said people are standing in line for days to buy one (photo left).
The news stories on Kilamba, the "ghost town" mainly date from 2012. If it is actually now becoming a thriving town, why hasn't anyone gone back to report on it?

Readers: have you seen Kilamba? Your comments and stories are very welcome.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Is China Looking at Africa for Greener Pastures?

The LA Times has just published an article on Chinese land investments: “China Looks Abroad for Greener Pastures,” that quotes me. As in so many of these cases, a long interview turns into a tiny sound bite. I wish the sound bite had been extended to capture my warning that websites like Land Matrix are highly unreliable, that there is actually very little new Chinese investment in agriculture in Africa, and that the investment that does exist, so far at least, is not about growing food to send back to China. Alas, I don’t think any of those points came out in the article.

a h/t to Bob Thompson

Friday, March 28, 2014

Why I Blog on China in Africa

Just read a great opinion piece by Patrick Dunleavy and Chris Gilson, bloggers at the London School of Economics, on why blogging is one of the most important things an academic can do today. Their focus is on the quick dissemination -- for public consumption -- of academic research (and I quote):
... a new paradigm of research communications has grown up – one that de-emphasizes the traditional journals route, and re-prioritizes faster, real-time academic communication in which blogs play a critical intermediate role. They link to research reports and articles on the one hand, and they are linked to from Twitter, Facebook and Google+ news-streams and communities.  So in research terms blogging is quite simply, one of the most important things that an academic should be doing right now.
But in addition, social scientists have an obligation to society to contribute their observations to the wider world – and at the moment that’s often being done in ramshackle and impoverished ways, in pointlessly obscure or charged-for forums, in language where you need to look up every second word in Wikipedia, with acres of ‘dead-on-arrival’ data in unreadable tables, and all delivered over bizarrely long-winded timescales. So the public pay for all our research, and then we shunt back to them a few press releases and a lot of out-of-date academic junk.
Blogging (supported by academic tweeting) helps academics break out of all these loops. It’s quick to do in real time. It taps academic expertise when it’s relevant, and so lets academics look forward and speculate in evidence-based ways. It communicates bottom-line results and ‘take aways’ in clear language, yet with due regard to methods issues and quality of evidence. 
When I started the China in Africa: the Real Story in 2010, I simply wanted to keep doing what I had done in writing The Dragon's Gift:  report on, and analyze, the realities of Chinese engagement in Africa. I didn't guess then that this blog would have over thirty thousand readers a month (we are coming up to a land mark: a million hits). I do continue with all the dry social science writing and publishing (and am trying to have the timescale be less "bizarrely long-winded"). But one thing the LSE academics left out: blogging is far and away the most fun part of my professional life! 

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Voice of China in Africa

An interesting conference on China and Africa (mainly Mozambique) in Maputo hosted by the Institute for Social and Economic Studies (IESE). Their website has links to some of the presentations and papers. Several are in Portuguese and the others are in English. I haven't read any, but I note that the impressive Sergio Chichava did a presentation on representations of China in the Mozambican press, and there is also a paper by the father of African studies in China, Li Anshan. Well done IESE.
h/t to Lynn Salinger, reporting from Maputo.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Four DC Events for China-Africa Watchers


Four exciting events on the schedule for China-Africa watchers who will be in Washington, DC in the next two months:

1. On Friday, March 28, 9:00 am – 11:00 am at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 1779 Massachusetts Ave. NW, the Sister Cities program will report on their China-Africa Initiative, with Lula Chen from Sister Cities, adviser Prof. Tang Xiaoyang from Tsinghua University, and others.

2. Friday evening, 28 March, 4th China-Africa researchers happy hour at Teaism, 400 8th St. NW hosted by Winslow Robertson, who publishes the blog Cowries and Rice, and a newsletter on China-Africa issuesFor more information click here.

3. Prof. Graeme Smith from Australia National University will speak on China's Growing Aid Program in the Pacific: Cooperation or Competition with Australia? April 8, 2014 at 12:30 pm – 2:00 pm Johns Hopkins SAIS, Bernstein-Offit Building, Room 736, 1717 Massachusetts Ave. NW. Graeme has been doing fantastic research on China in the South Pacific. Many parallels with Africa.

4. Save the date for the SAIS China Africa Research Initiative conference on China's Agricultural Investment in Africa: 'Land grabs' or 'Friendship farms'? at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, Rome Auditorium, 1618 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Friday May 16, 2014, 9:00 to 5:30.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Guest Post: China, Business, & Human Rights: "Inside Out"

Guiding PrinciplesThe following is a guest post by Motoko Aizawa:* 

“Inside out, and outside in, but not inside in.”  According to John Ruggie, now the Berthold Beitz Professor of International Affairs at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, this was the mantra that the Chinese offered as a way to steer Ruggie’s mandate as the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises.  Cryptic?  Here’s the translation:  It would be OK for Ruggie’s business and human rights mandate to address the behavior of Chinese companies doing business outside China (“inside out”), and it’s OK for foreign companies operating inside China (“outside in”), but it’s not OK for the Chinese companies operating in China, or “inside in,” as that is the exclusive domain of Chinese law and sovereignty.

The output of Ruggie’s mandate (2005 to 2011) was none other than the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (the GPs), an influential soft law instrument endorsed unanimously by the Human Rights Council, including China.  As a soft law instrument, the GPs are not binding international agreements.  On the other hand, they address all business activities, domestic and international.  So how does the Chinese mantra on international and domestic trade and investment measure up against the GPs?

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

China's Trillions in Aid to Africa

Photo credit: Feng Lei, China Foto Press Gamma
Is China providing trillions in aid to Africa? Apparently Mugabe's government in Zimbabwe thought so, and they were disappointed when their effort to reap a mere $30 billion in budget support fizzled in the face of the reality: Chinese finance is far more modest than this. Official aid is especially limited. And unlike the West, China rarely gives direct budget support. When it does, the amount is generally tiny:  $5 million.

Give us bankable projects to finance, the Chinese told Mugabe's government. This is how Chinese finance operates: project finance, generally for infrastructure, or export credits, which can finance imports from China. Mugabe's government ought to know this. They've taken out Chinese loans for tractors and farming inputs. Our China-Africa loan database shows that the biggest loan from China to Zimbabwe was in 2007:  $200 million for agricultural equipment.

So what about those stories about a "trillion in Chinese finance for Africa" by 2025? Don't believe it. This would entail some $85 billion a year, up from current levels of about $10 billion. The absorptive capacity isn't there, nor are the "bankable projects" of that magnitude. 

Friday, March 7, 2014

Bonanza: Open Access to Articles on China-Africa Issues

The publishing house Taylor & Francis is giving open access to dozens of journal articles on China-Africa issues (including one of mine, with Zhang Haisen). For people outside of universities, which can access these for free, this could be very useful.  One warning: some of these are fairly dated and the research has moved on considerably since then. And the quality of these articles also varies quite a bit, with some based on very solid empirical foundations and others relying more on news media and secondary sources. Caveat readers.


Here's the publisher's description of this bonanza:
China is increasingly becoming involved in all aspects of development within Africa. From infrastructure building to the investment in aid on the continent. The following articles explore this growing relationship, looking at the impact on US – African relations, the media view on the partnership and China’s aid policies within the region. You can now explore over 35 leading papers on China in Africa entirely for free below.

Monday, February 17, 2014

China, Africa, and "Land-Grabs" Redux

Chinese farm est. in 1992, Zambia
At last, the realities of the lack of evidence on Chinese "land grabs" in Africa seems to be penetrating the world of scholarship. A new article in the French journal Futuribles by Jean-Jacques Gabas uses updated "databases" to make the argument  for a re-think on this issue. My own view is that the databases are still deeply flawed. I am familiar with a number of Chinese investment activities that have not made it into the databases, and several that remain in, although they have never happened. Ah well.

Futuribles n° 398, janvier/février 2014.
La Chine est-elle un accapareur de terres en Afrique ? Retour sur une réalité mal acceptée

With sustained economic and demographic growth, a rising standard of living among its inhabitants and a growing demand for food, China has considerable efforts to make to meet the growing needs of its population. In this context, it has often been criticized by observers who take the view that it is evincing a form of neo-colonialism towards the African continent, not only with regard to mineral resources, but also in the areas of land ownership and agriculture. What is the actual situation? Can China perhaps be seen as a country that is making a massive land-grab in Africa?

In the view of Jean-Jacques Gabas, drawing here on the two most reliable databases on land acquisition across the world, the actual picture is more mixed than it seems. Gabas first re-situates China within world agricultural trade, then provides an insight into global land transactions and a league table of the biggest investors in land, in which China comes sixth, far behind the USA. He then details where these investments have mostly been made and, with regard to the main African countries concerned, indicates the (small) proportion represented by Chinese investment. Lastly, he shows that Africa is not a geographical priority so far as Chinese investment in land is concerned, specifies the nature of Chinese projects on African soil and stresses China’s increasing tendency to focus its activity in Africa on development aid.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Who is San Mao, the romantic chronicler of China-Africa relations?

File:Sanmao (sakka).jpg
San Mao (photo: Wikipedia)

Not long ago, I received an email from Tom Devriendt, an editor of Africa is a Country, "a blog that engages with reporting on Africa". He asked me if I knew of San Mao (三毛):

I recently came across the name of Chinese/Taiwanese writer San Mao. To be honest, I had never heard of her before. She turns out to have been a prolific writer, and -- some claim -- her work remains important (for better or for worse) in shaping a popular image of Africa in China.
Some references I've found on the web include:
- a trailer for a documentary (which never seems to have been finished): http://vimeo.com/8005426

- and a couple of blog features:
  h
ttp://www.idealshanghai.com/features/1717/

http://thelostseasons.wordpress.com/2010/02/16/the-life-of-san-mao%E3%80%8A%E5%9B%9E%E5%A3%B0%E3%80%8B/

Africa is a Country is interested in finding out more about San Mao, and so am I. Do any readers know more? Has anyone heard of her?

Update, February 18: We find, thanks to a tweet from Winslow Robertson @Winslow_R and another from Paul Farrelly @paul_farrelly a fascinating article about San Mao in the journal of East Asian History: "San Mao Makes History" and "San Mao Goes Shopping."  Wow. Twitter as a research tool? 

Sunday, January 26, 2014

The China-Comoros malaria eradication experiment

Artemisinin    photo credit: Action Medeor/Brigitte Betzelt
The Economist of January 25, 2014, carried an article by Shannon van Sant -- Malaria eradication: cure all? that analyzes the fascinating and controversial effort by Chinese researchers, a Chinese drug company, and the Government of the Comoros to eradicate malaria across their three islands, and 700,000 people, using several rounds of an malaria treatment: artemisinin, developed from a Chinese herb, for the entire population, one by one. The questions she raises are good ones. Being myself in the middle of an intensive, months-long IRB (Institutional Review Board) process at Johns Hopkins to allow me to move forward on grant-funded research on Chinese agricultural investment, I can say that (no surprise) it appears that China lags behind in imposing rigorous safeguards for ethical research practice.
  • are side-effects being monitored in a systematic way?
  • are people who participate doing so with adequately informed consent?
  • how commercial is the motivation, given the involvement of China's Ministry of Commerce and the Chinese drug company? 
Van Sant concludes with two interesting comments. First, she notes the point made by the Minister of Health in the Comoros, Dr Mhadji, that Western criticism may not be unbiased: "Not that the West is a disinterested party, for Western firms, too, manufacture artemisinin-based malaria therapies. On that point Dr Mhadji has strong views. He dismisses criticism of the experiment as fuelled by competition between Western and Chinese pharmaceutical companies." And she concludes with two great quotes from Nick White and Oscar Wilde:
As Nick White, a malaria researcher at Oxford University’s School of Tropical Medicine who has been working for years on eradicating malaria, says, “This research is radical. It is controversial. It is led by a very famous Chinese physician and investigator. There are lots of very serious questions here and a lot of unknowns.” Or, as Oscar Wilde more succinctly put it, “The truth is rarely pure and never simple.”
A lot of reporting went into this story. It is very well-balanced and insightful, and pulls in informed voices from different sides of the debate. Other islands (Mauritius, for example) eradicated malaria by compulsory spraying of DDT inside people's houses. This option is no longer available and obviously contained its own risks. I'm not a public health expert -- but I'm interested in comments from readers who are: what is your take on this experiment? What is the WHO position on it?

Friday, January 17, 2014

Chinese and Belgian Aid in the Congo

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.
  • Monday, January 6, 2014

    Call for Papers: Conference on China, Africa, and Agricutural Investment

    DB in Liberia, Kpatawee Farm, 1983
    The Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) SAIS China Africa Research Initiative (SAIS-CARI) announces a call for papers for a Conference on China, Africa, and Agricultural Investment, May 16 and 17, 2014.

    Call for Papers

    The SAIS China Africa Research Initiative (SAIS-CARI) will hold an inaugural public conference on May 16, 2014 and private research workshop on May 17, 2014, in Washington, DC at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS). The theme will be Researching China’s Agricultural Investment in Africa:  ‘Land Grabs’ or ‘Friendship Farms’? The goal will be a deeper, comparative understanding of the motives and experiences of Chinese investors; the network of relationships: investors, governments in China (national and provincial) and in Africa, intermediaries and brokers; and the impact of their investments.

    We are pleased to announce a Call for Papers for this conference and workshop and a Small Grant competition, with funding from the Smith Richardson Foundation. Proposals can be submitted at any time but are due by February 14, 2014.

    Papers are welcome on the following topics:

    • Life histories and/or narratives of Chinese agricultural investors’ experience
    • Studies of the business model behind China’s agro-technology demonstration centers.
    • Environmental and social impact of Chinese agricultural investments
    • Economic and/or financial analysis of specific investments
    • Studies of failed investments that specify what happened and why
    • Comparisons between Chinese investments and those by other investors
    • Comparisons between Chinese investments in Africa and in other regions

    The list is for suggestion only; other topics are also welcome. All papers must be based on fieldwork and focus on case studies of specific investments or projects. Applicants are welcome to discuss their proposed research with the conference organizers before making a proposal. Comparisons between Chinese and other investors would be particularly welcome, or comparisons between Chinese agricultural investments in Africa and in other regions (including China). 

    Prospective authors should submit a two page proposal to SAIS-CARI@jhu.edu by February 14, 2014. Proposals should include a 300 word abstract of the paper, a brief description of the research project and methodology, and a short biography of the author. A limited amount of travel support will be available for selected researchers to attend the conference. Authors should indicate whether they need travel support in order to participate.

    Small research grants

    In addition, approximately five small grants of $3000 will be awarded for researchers (including advanced masters and Ph.D. students) to (a) conduct an initial, scoping visit to a Chinese agricultural investment project in Africa, or (b) pay a return visit to such a project in order to update research carried out previously. Visits should be concluded prior to the conference, although exceptions may be made. Applicants should apply separately for the small grant, providing a one page statement of the specific purpose for which it will be used, and any prior research conducted on this topic. Researchers will be expected to report their findings at the conference.

    Application Deadline:       February 14, 2014
    Notification:                      February 21, 2014
    Deadline for Papers:          April 15, 2014
    Conference:                       May 16-17, 2014

    Papers can be in English, French, Portuguese or Chinese, but applications and presentations must be made in English.

    For further information, please email: SAIS-CARI@jhu.edu

    Thursday, January 2, 2014

    Irene Sun: Chinese Businesses and Corruption in Nigeria

    Irene Yuan Sun's analysis of Chinese Businesses and Corruption in Nigeria as published in The Guardian (Lagos), September 21, 2013. Here, Irene finds herself in a Lagos market, unexpectedly translating the negotiations between Chinese and Nigerian businessmen over the cost of importing a container of contraband blue jeans. She concludes this provocative article with this summary:

    Many Nigerians have the impression that the Chinese are incredibly corrupt. I would make a slight modification: the Chinese in Nigeria are incredibly corrupt, because the Nigerians in Nigeria are incredibly corrupt.
    What I mean is this: on their own, the Chinese are neither devils nor angels. They simply amplify the characteristics of the existing business environment in Nigeria. For now, this means that they aid and abet corrupt practices, because that is what individual Nigerians demand as the price to play in the Nigerian market. Unlike Western businesses or development institutions, the Chinese generally do not speak English fluently, so they cannot read the laws for themselves. Moreover, they are here to make money, not to take a stand for law and order. All of this means that the Chinese have the effect of reinforcing the status quo, and today, that status quo is the corrupt diversion of public monies into private hands.

    As this textile importation example shows, for Nigeria’s business environment to improve, it will require not only passing thoughtful legislation, but also honoring those laws in everyday practice. But the power is in Nigeria’s hands. The Chinese will go to great lengths to do business in Nigeria; today, they brave murky laws, shady characters, and underhanded practices to play in this market.
    Imagine what they would do if Nigeria cleaned up its act.

    Monday, December 30, 2013

    Nigeria: Labour Practices in Chinese Factories

    A Chinese biscuit factory in Nigeria. photo credit: Paolo Woods
    I've been snowed under (so to speak) with work and travel for the last six weeks or so. I hope to blog more in the new year, since it's one of the most fun parts of my professional life. Meanwhile, I'll be posting some links to other interesting material on China's "going global", particularly in Africa.

    Irene Yuan Sun, author of the popular post on this blog, "A Blind Date in Namibia," spent some of last summer in Nigeria, where she wrote up her keen observations in two articles for the Guardian (Lagos). In her first article, "Labour Practices in Chinese Factories," (October 19, 2013), Irene notes that investors from Hong Kong have been running factories in Nigeria for several decades. One factory is one of the world's largest makers of flip-flops, another, just opened, will be one of the world's largest producers of rolled-steel. An earlier Guardian article by Okechukwu Onwuka, "No power, no infrastructure, Yet Chinese factories are flourishing in Nigeria," also comments on this phenomenon.

    Chinese employers have been criticized by NGOs and others in Nigeria for operating factories where workers are treated "more or less like slaves" -- yet most critics have not themselves actually been inside a Chinese (or Hong Kong) factory in Nigeria. Irene, who is bilingual, visited eight factories to observe their work conditions. She observed large variations in lighting, cleanliness, whether workers had protective clothing and safety equipment, yet, she says, the gates at "several of the factories I visited were crowded with Nigerians who were hoping to find work."

    Labor relations are one of the most commonly cited issues in the China-Africa engagement. Irene's suggestions for bilingual labor mediators at each factory and random safety inspections are good ones -- but hard to put into practice. Safety inspections with bite require a government that cares about workers. However, with the rapid expansion of Chinese language courses in Africa, the language of advocacy, labor relations, and mediation might shift from being exclusively English/French/Portuguese to include a focus on communication with the continent's newly significant investors from China.