Tuesday, August 23, 2011

China in Africa: What Can Western Donors Learn?

photo credit: Deborah Brautigam
A new report of mine: China in Africa: What Can Western Donors Learn? has just been published by Norfund, Oslo, August 2011. Some excerpts:
...Many Western donors think they know what China is doing in Africa. They’ve seen the headlines: the Chinese arrived a few years ago in a desperate search for oil. They set up a huge aid program, propping up governments in resource‐rich, pariah states that the West won’t touch. Their companies bring in all their own workers and refuse to hire Africans. They’re leading the “land grab” in Africa, growing food to ship back to China. It’s an alarming story … but, on closer inspection, none of it is true. (p. 3)
...Chinese companies do have low costs but construction firms in Zambia and Namibia have documented unfair Chinese business practices: collusive bidding, low wages, and a tendency to hire contract workers in order to get around mandated labor benefits (paid holidays, sick leave, etc.) for permanent staff. (p. 12)
...Speaking at the World Bank/IMF Annual Meeting in April 2011, Dr. Situmbeko Musokotwane, the Zambian minister of finance, compared China’s business and aid model with that of the West. China used aid and other tools vigorously to encourage its companies to invest in Africa, he said, but that did not seem to be the case for Europe and America, whose aid programs were more paternalistic, and seemed to be designed as charity: “at least help them not to suffer, we can’t do much more than that. They’re not ready for investment.”
...We need a better understanding of just how countries like China are engaging in Africa. And once we have that understanding, we may be better positioned to accept the recommendations of thoughtful African officials like newly (re)appointed Nigerian finance minister Ngozi Okonjo‐Iweala: “China should be left alone to forge its unique partnership with African countries and the West must simply learn to compete.” Implicit here is a warning: we in the West no longer have a monopoly over development ideas, practice, and finance. China is rising, and with them, India, Brazil and others. If we don’t learn how to have “a new conversation” as African Development Bank president Donald Kaberuka put it, we risk finding that Africans are no longer interested in listening. (p. 16).
Continue reading here >>


Chike said...

This is unrelated.

Please are you aware of this? If you are, please what do you think the significance is?

China Africa plan first NGO forum: http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2011-08/23/content_13175228.htm

Deborah Brautigam said...

Chike, this is the first I've heard of it. Sounds a bit imbalanced, with 100 NGOs from Kenya, and 50 from the rest of Africa. And the last two lines seemed to belong to a different forum: "During the forum, Chinese entrepreneurs will sit together with African entrepreneurs to discuss business opportunities. They will also make various donations to the local people, including medicine, clothes and computers." ?!?

Peter Konijn said...

Dear professor Brautigam,

It is a very interesting report with very relevant questions. I have made a reference and a link to the report on our website: www.emergingpowers.org I hope that is okay.

Carlos Oya said...

This is very useful, Deborah. It prompts me again to call for some serious comparative research so that some claims are put in perspective, in particular:

1. Cost-effectiveness of large-scale infrastructure projects (comparing whatever project qualifies as Chinese aid with relevant comparator in Western aid projects, i.e. World Bank and EU, two other important infrastructure financiers)

2. "unfair Chinese business practices": many of the issues mentioned are common practices in labour markets in most SSA countries, for both domestic and foreign companies, especially the use of contract labour and so on. Highlighting this as "Chinese" practice is bogus. It is a wider labour market problem. Despite WB indices (ding business etc.) the reality and practice of labour markets in much of Africa is far from what is written in labour laws. Ask South African investors too. So, in order to make these claims effectively some serious comparative labour conditions research across projects and investments is much needed. Who is doing this kind of research? Any ideas?

Deborah Brautigam said...

Peter, Links are welcome, thanks. Carlos, I agree with you on the need for comparative research. I know that Human Rights Watch has done a case study of Chinese labor practices in Zambian mining and I think it is comparative. The labor unions in Namibia sponsored a pretty good (if uneven) study of Chinese labor relations, with comparisons.

Anonymous said...

I think that "Chinese Investments in Africa: A labour Perspective"
African Labor Research network Anthony Yaw Baah and Herbert Jauch Accdra and Windhoek May 2009 can help.
It offers an overview from 10 African countries and is comparative by country and by industry sector.


Deborah Brautigam said...

Yes, that's the study I wss referring to. Thanks for the link, dan.

Anonymous said...

Feels like china is copying America's cheap out sourced labour from made in china. Now china has cheap out source labour from made in africa. XD ....lol

Anonymous said...

With investment such as these do you Deborah, think Africa has benefited, or has it continued to provide the worlds riches to the powerful states?