Monday, January 30, 2012

Africa's New AU Building: How Many Chinese Workers?

A couple of days ago, Yoon Jung Park at Howard University forwarded a very thoughtful article by Howard University grad Chika Ezeanya, reacting to the just-opened $200 million African Union headquarters building in Addis Ababa, a "gift" from the dragon. Her mixture of frustration and disgust at the symbolism of the African Union accepting the donation of this building was almost tangible and very nicely phrased.

But one thing about her article caught my eye: the statement that 90% of the labor on the building was Chinese.

I was in Ethiopia in February and November, and both times, it was clear to me that there were a lot of Ethiopian workers on the site. Other construction projects I visited overwhelmingly conformed to the usual pattern of Chinese managers and Ethiopian workers. But if this figure was firm, I wanted to add it to my collection of anecdotes-into-data on Chinese workers in Africa.

So I asked Chika about her source. She had heard the figure on the radio, but she directed me to two other news reports.

One, from The Global Post, said "Construction began three years ago by the China State Construction Engineering Corporation, using building materials largely brought from China, and a mix of Chinese managers and Ethiopian laborers." That's what I would have expected.

The other, from Voice of America, said the exact opposite: "It was built by the China State Construction Engineering Corporation, largely with Chinese labor." (This article also made the comment that "Industry experts say 70 percent of the continent's oil exports go to China." Ahem. The real figure is closer to 13% of African oil going to China (2009), compared with the US and Europe, each about 33%.) This put a twinge of doubt into my mind about the VOA author's credibility.

Agence France Presse said "Construction began in January 2009 and involved 1,200 Chinese and Ethiopian workers." No break down.

An Al Jazeera story that said it was "all" Chinese labor. (hat tip to Michael Lee for that one).

So, next step. What do Chinese sources say? Tang Xiaoyang did a quick search for me, and found two articles in the Chinese press. A Xinhua story of July 2010 said that there were "nearly 200 Ethiopians and over 200 Chinese" in July 2010, and another report in December 2011 said that 900 workers were hired at the peak, and that "the Chinese trained Ethiopian construction workers in a 1:1 ratio (一比一)."

Back to Michael Lee, who unearthed a China Daily story, which includes an interview with Zeng Huacheng, the Chinese project manager. Zeng said at the peak there were 1500 workers, normally they had around 1100, and that it was 1/2 Chinese and 1/2 Ethiopian. You'll see a lot of each on the video.

Why are there more Chinese working here than the norm I've seen, of about 20 Chinese to 80 Africans, on average? I imagine it has something to do with the political importance of the project, and the fact that it was financed as a grant, not a loan. The Chinese wanted to be sure it was done on time, and that it reflected a high standard of quality. And as it was financed by the Chinese as a donation, the Ethiopians probably waived their normally strict work permit requirements. Finally, as an aid project, it has to reflect "mutual benefit". Using Chinese materials and labor (half) provides some benefit to China ... not to mention the longer benefit of having the AU members meet in a stunning modern building donated by Beijing.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

China and Conflict Minerals in the DRC

OK, it's not really all about China, but an excellent analysis, "What's Wrong with Dodd-Frank 1502?" commissioned by the Center for Global Development and written by Laura Sesay, Congo expert, professor, and aka blogger "Texas in Africa" uncovers the pitfalls of (ineptly) trying to legislate good things for the conflict torn eastern Congo. From the abstract:
Although its provisions have yet to be implemented, section 1502 of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act is already having a profound effect on the Congolese mining sector. Nicknamed “Obama’s Law” by the Congolese, section 1502 has created a de facto ban on Congolese mineral exports, put anywhere from tens of thousands up to 2 million Congolese miners out of work in the eastern Congo, and, despite ending most of the trade in Congolese conflict minerals, done little to improve the security situation or the daily lives of most Congolese.

In this working paper, sponsored by Todd Moss, Laura Seay traces the development of section 1502 with respect to the pursuit of a conflict minerals-based strategy by U.S. advocates, examines the effects of the legislation, and recommends new courses of action to move forward in a way that both promotes accountability and transparency and allows Congolese artisanal miners to earn a living.
H/T to Duncan Green, at Oxfam UK's "From Poverty to Power" blog. 

Sunday, January 22, 2012

China's Foreign Aid: The Economist still doesn't get it

credit: Derek Bacon for The Economist
The Economist still doesn't get it on China's foreign aid. They merrily mix apples and lychees in a new special report on state capitalism, writing:

"And government bodies such as Eximbank, China’s foreign-aid bank, have made no bones about their enthusiasm for tying foreign aid to commercial advantage. One of China’s favourite tools is oil for infrastructure. China offers to provide poor countries with schools, hospitals and the like (usually financed by soft loans and built by China’s infrastructure giants) in return for a guaranteed supply of oil or some other raw material. Eximbank supplied a $2 billion low-interest loan to help China’s oil companies build infrastructure in Angola."

What's wrong with this? Nearly all of it.

(1) "...Eximbank, China's foreign-aid bank..."

Eximbank is China's export credit agency, i.e. it finances trade deals like the 2009 deal where my old friend Mort Arntzen's American shipping company OSG bought a handful of Chinese tankers. Yes, China Eximbank also manages China's foreign aid concessional loan program, but this is a small part of Eximbank's total portfolio. Standard & Poor's credit rating review of China Eximbank in 2005 found that the concessional loan portfolio made up only 3% (three percent) of Eximbank's assets. 

(2) "...their enthusiasm for tying foreign aid to commercial advantage..."

Yes, China does tie its official foreign aid, while other countries have moved away from this (the UK led this move, but the US is a laggard here). However, tying export credits to your own country's exports is still the norm. Why else would countries have a government instrument to intervene in trade?

(3) "One of China's favorite tools is oil for infrastructure".

Not really. This kind of tool is relatively rare. If you consider all the transactions financed by Chinese banks in Africa, for example, oil-secured infrastructure loans that are unrelated to developing an oil asset (including refinery/pipeline) seem to be limited to Angola, the Congo-Brazzaville, and (in the works) Ghana.* Latin America has seen more deals like this: at very high interest rates. And coming right after a sentence about foreign aid implies that China's oil-secured infrastructure loans are "foreign aid" -- when they're not, by anyone's official definition.

(4) "China offers to provide poor countries with schools, hospitals and the like (usually financed by soft loans and built by China’s infrastructure giants) in return for a guaranteed supply of oil or some other raw material." 

This isn't quite how it works. This makes it sound as though the Chinese dangle a few hospitals in front of an African president and then say: you can have this if you guarantee us a supply of your oil!

Here's how it really works. The Chinese bank will offer to provide export-secured finance (these exports can be anything -- as I wrote recently in The Guardian, in Ethiopia, all of the country's exports to China were used to secure a loan). I'm not sure what a "soft loan" is technically, but all of these loans have been at market rates. The "guaranteed supply" of whatever export is already going to China is simply the mechanism for ensuring repayment of the loan (the proceeds are deposited into an escrow account). China doesn't dangle promises of schools, hospitals, etc. -- the proposals about what infrastructure to finance with the loan are made by the borrower. They might include schools, but they usually focus on productive infrastructure: roads, rail, electricity production.

(5) "Eximbank supplied a $2 billion low-interest loan to help China’s oil companies build infrastructure in Angola." 

No.  First, China's oil companies were not building infrastructure in Angola. The Chinese have world-class construction companies, and that's who got the business. Second, the loan was not "low-interest" but was made at LIBOR (London Interbank Offered Rate) plus a margin of 1.5% (this changed in later tranches). LIBOR is a market rate, and LIBOR plus 1.5% is actually a higher rate than some western commercial bank oil-secured loans given to Angola, as an excellent study by Global Witness makes clear.

For more detail than you probably want on how China's foreign aid really works, see some of my published papers here.
* Nigerians proposed using this model, but it apparently never happened. Although there is some evidenced that an early suppliers credit to finance two power plants was secured by oil exports, the loans were never repaid. If this system was used, it broke down. In Sudan, this model was apparently used very early on in the mid-1990s, but I believe it was limited to the construction of a joint-venture oil refinery. In Niger and Chad oil-related construction (refinery /pipeline) is also being financed this way.

Friday, January 20, 2012

What do Africans Think About China?

Aubrey Matshiqi/CPS
Today I spoke with a reporter from Al Jazeera who asked me, as many do, what "Africans" think about "China". It's always hard to even begin to give an answer to a broad question like that. I tried to break down "Africans" and "China" into subcategories. I spoke about public opinion polls from the BBC and elsewhere. The truth is, there are many, many different views. Where you stand depends on where you sit, as they say.

Right after we hung up, I received an email from Yoon Jung Park with a link to an interview with Aubrey Matshiqi, a senior research associate at the South African Centre for Policy Studies - an independent policy research institution that produces original studies on South Africa's and the rest of Africa's policies, governance and democratisation challenges.

He spoke about China, and this is what he had to say:

In December, I was part of a discussion during which an American warned that developing countries such as South Africa should be wary of China. He argued that China is a hegemon and that its narrow political and economic interests are the centre of its universe. Well, he did not put it this well, but I am certain you get my drift.

There is nothing original about these warnings. People warn us dim-witted Africans about China all the time.

What I find amusing – I no longer have the energy for anger – is the fact that these words of wisdom always come from Europeans and Americans and South Africans who are part of the Western sphere of influence. There are many ironies that are lost on these people. Because they are too numerous to mention, I will share just a few.

Firstly, it is extremely problematic that, as a man who has spent almost half a cen-tury on this planet, I thought, for most of that time, that the English-speaking parts of the West were the philosophical, cultural and economic centre of the universe. This is a product of centuries of cultural and economic domination which, in many cases, was imposed violently.

Secondly, I did not experience China as a hegemon. It is America and Europe that imposed themselves and their ways on us.

Thirdly, my experience of the hegemony of the West has largely been that of a gap between its liberal democratic aesthetic and the moral content of its relations with the ‘Third World’.

That said, as a democrat, I recognise the gap between China’s economic resurgence and its very deep democratic deficits. This article is, therefore, not about waving the Chinese flag in your face. As I have said before, the global economic crisis and shifts in the global system from West to East constitute an opportunity for us to reconfigure the content of global economic relations and work towards a less unethical or more ethical global cultural, environmental and economic order. If this does not happen, it is highly unlikely that sub- stantive democracy will become a reality for most people on this planet.
To continue reading, or to see the video interview, click here. H/T to Yoon Jung Park.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Making Sense of China's Development Finance and Aid

Below is a short article of mine published on Christmas Day when a lot of people were actively reading online, no doubt. It appeared in East Asia Forum (Crawford School, Australia National University), December 25th, 2011. Thanks to Denis Chainey for summarizing this out of a longer chapter.

Chinese Development Finance in Africa

Author: Deborah Brautigam, American University

Chinese development finance in Africa is unusual in that much of the financial flows from China do not constitute official development aid (ODA).

Instead, much of it comes in the form of export credits and strategic lines of credit to Chinese-related companies, among other mechanisms. In this sense, it is very similar to Japanese financial flows to China several decades ago, when Japan began its outward march with a large line of credit to China, which, at the time, was not credit-worthy either. Looking at the nature of Chinese development aid — and non-aid — to Africa provides insights into China’s strategic approach to outward investment and economic diplomacy, even if exact figures and strategies are not easily ascertained.

Chinese development finance in Africa involves two distinct types of financial flow: ODA and ‘other official flows’ (OOF). ODA as defined by the OECD refers to concessionary funding given to developing countries and multilateral institutions primarily for the purpose of promoting welfare and economic development in the recipient country. Funding must be ‘concessional in character’ (i.e. involving government subsidies) and loans must have a grant element of at least 25 per cent, using a 10 per cent discount rate.

While only concessional loans and grants qualify as ODA, governments also offer other official flows: funds for the donor country’s firms to subsidise or guarantee their private investment in recipient countries, military aid and export credits. These funds are reported as OOF. This category includes loans that are not concessionary in character, and official bilateral transactions — whatever their grant element — that are primarily export-facilitating in purpose.

China provides the equivalent of ODA through three instruments: grants, zero-interest loans and concessional (you hui dai kuan, or fixed-rate, low-interest) loans. These instruments finance Chinese government scholarships for African students; Chinese medical teams; ‘turn-key’ construction of stadiums, government buildings, telecommunications networks and other infrastructure; technical assistance teams in agriculture and other sectors; short-term training programs; youth volunteers; and material aid (the export of Chinese goods).

Grants and zero-interest loans were the primary instruments of China’s ODA until 1995, when concessional loans were introduced. According to the Chinese white paper on aid released in April this year, approximately 40 per cent of China’s aid is financed through grants. Zero-interest loans are also a mainstay of China’s aid. The debt-relief program launched by Beijing in 2000 targeted overdue zero-interest loans for cancellation, with RMB25.58 billion worth (US$3.76 billion) cancelled, and of this, RMB18.96 billion (US$2.79 billion) was cancelled in Africa.

Only large projects with a value of at least US$2.4 million, and that make a minimum 50 per cent use of Chinese goods and services, may be funded with concessional loans. China’s concessional-loan program in Africa has grown rapidly. At the end of 2005, China Export-Import Bank had cumulatively funded only about US$800 million in concessional loans in Africa, for 55 projects. Two years later, the number of African projects had risen to 87, and the cumulative value was about US$1.5 billion. And the government recently pledged US$10 billion in concessional /preferential credits for Africa, to be committed by 2012.

China also supplies other official funds that do not qualify as ODA. Three categories of loans are relevant here: export buyers’ credits, including preferential buyers’ credits (you hui mai fan xin dai) and commercial-rate, export commodity-secured or ‘mutual-benefit’ credits (hu hui dai kuan); official loans at commercial rates; and strategic lines of credit to Chinese companies.

For Africa, the OOF category provided by OECD members has normally been well below the level of funds provided on ODA terms. But this is not the case for China. China’s government-provided finance to Africa falls primarily into the OOF category, rather than ODA. As noted above, China’s official finance in Africa consists of grants, zero-interest loans, debt relief and concessional loans (which would all qualify as ODA), as well as preferential export credits, market-rate export buyers’ credits and commercial loans from Chinese banks (none of which would qualify as ODA).

In Africa, as elsewhere, Chinese aid agreements seem to follow diplomatic ties. China’s ODA does not appear to be given in larger amounts to resource-rich countries, as can be seen in flows to Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Grants and zero-interest loans are distributed fairly evenly around the continent, while concessional loans fit a country’s ability to pay, either because it is middle income or because it will finance an income-generating project.

China’s economic push to ‘go global’ is coordinated by many policy instruments, including development aid. In this way, China’s strategy resembles Japan’s outward march more than it resembles the experience of other OECD countries. Chinese banks have developed instruments they believe can link Africa’s riches — its natural resources — to its development. Because they regard these resources as a source of wealth, they generally do not offer mutual-benefit loans (hu hui dai kuan) at concessional rates. And to the Chinese, even resource-poor countries like Ethiopia — whose balance sheets might not look good — sometimes have untapped capacity to service a future debt, if borrowed funds go toward productive projects. It remains to be seen whether fears about the sustainability of this debt are borne out.

Deborah Brautigam is Professor at the School of International Service, American University, and Adjunct Professor at the Department of Comparative Politics, University of Bergen. Professor Brautigam’s research was presented at China Update 2011. The annual China Update conference is hosted by the China Economy Program, in collaboration with the East Asia Forum, at the ANU in July. This article is a digest of a Professor Brautigam’s chapter ‘Chinese Development Aid in Africa’, in Jane Golley and Ligang Song (eds.) Rising China: Global Challenges and Opportunities. This book is the latest publication in the China Update Book Series, launched at the China Update conference every year.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

"The Zambezi Valley: China's First Agricultural Colony?" Fiction or Fact?

More than four years ago, Loro Horta, then a Ph.D. candidate at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) in Singapore, posted a series of stories including "The Zambezi Valley: China's First Agricultural Colony?" (1) on the website of the Center for Strategic International Studies (CSIS), repeated in "Food Security in Africa: China's New Rice Bowl," at the Jamestown Foundation China Brief (2) making strong claims about Chinese interests in Mozambique agriculture: "China" wanted to grow rice in Mozambique to ship back to China, use Chinese farmers to do it, and had pledged $800 million toward this goal.

I read that commentary, as did many other people. It is regularly cited as a key example of Chinese interest in "land grabbing". It appears in an oft-cited review of land-grabbing published by the International Food Policy Research Institute (3) and was cited by an authoritative study of land-grabbing in Africa by a joint FAO-IFAD-IIED (4) team and a new study by two Standard Bank researchers (5). It is a major contributor to the belief that "China" wants to grow food in Africa to ship back home.

The problem: very little of what was written in this sensational commentary appears to be real.

Intrigued by the story, I made sure to include Mozambique in my field research for The Dragon's Gift. I went to Mozambique in the summer of 2009. Apparently, Horta did no fieldwork for this research (and mentions none in his references). None of the Mozambique experts I interviewed had been contacted by him. Horta provided no references to interviews in Mozambique or any news stories supporting these claims. I later wrote to Horta and asked him if he could provide any actual evidence for his claims. He replied that he couldn't find his source material or notes.

After I returned from Mozambique, I wrote about the lack of evidence for Horta's claims in a 2009 article for China Quarterly, and in The Dragon's Gift (6) Sigrid Ekman, a Norwegian researcher, later went to Mozambique to research this story for her master's thesis (7). She came up with the same conclusions: a lot of this story appears to have been fabricated -- or to put it more kindly, woven together out of rumors, mistakes, and a grain of interest.

Yet myths created in the internet age have a life of their own. Today, I received peer review comments on a small piece I wrote for IFPRI on China's agricultural engagement in Africa. One reviewer wanted me to be sure to take account of "Horta's research" in my piece. I only wish I had enough space to do so adequately in an IFPRI publication.

It's embarassing to take apart a student's paper in public. Usually we have the chance to do peer review in a more professional and discrete way before something makes its way to print. CSIS never had the Horta paper peer-reviewed. Nevertheless, this blog posting is way overdue.

First, Horta comments on China's "growing demand for food stuffs from Africa," providing as evidence China's increased general consumption of "seafood, rice, soybeans, sugar, cereals and other crops." However, between 2000 and 2009, no African country exported rice, soybeans, sugar or cereals to China (some did export seafood and sesame seeds). This doesn't seem to be very robust evidence of China's demand for food from Africa.

"China’s search for new land has led Beijing to aggressively seek large land leases in Mozambique over the past two years, particularly in its most fertile areas, such as the Zambezi valley in the north and the Limpopo valley in the south."

Did this really happen? Sigrid Ekman's study, summarized in a recent Mozambique political bulletin by Joseph Hanlon (8), "notes that the now abolished Zambeze valley office (Gabinete de Promoção do Vale de Zambêze, GPZ) tried hard to get Chinese investment and failed." So rather than China "aggressively" seeking large land leases, the Zambeze valley investment promotion office was aggressively courting Chinese investment.

"Chinese interest in the Zambezi valley started in mid-2006, when the Chinese state owned Exibank [sic] granted $2 billion in soft loans to the Mozambican government to build the Mpanda Nkua mega-dam on the stretch of the Zambezi in Tete province."

In fact, although discussions were underway on Chinese financing (China Eximbank) for the Mpanda Nkua dam, this project did not go forward. No Chinese bank has ever granted a loan for Mpanda Nkua.

"Since then, China has been requesting large land leases to establish Chinese-run mega-farms and cattle ranches. A memorandum of understanding was reported to have been signed in June 2007, allowing an initial 3,000 Chinese settlers to move to Zambezia and Tete provinces to run farms along the valley. A Mozambican official said the number could eventually grow to up to 10,000. However, the reports of this deal caused such an uproar that the Mozambique government was forced to dismiss the whole story as false."

Maybe it was false. In a 2007 story, Horta put the figure at 20,000. I tried to find out more about this in Mozambique. However, no one I interviewed in Mozambique recalled such an uproar. I could find no reports on the alleged memorandum of understanding or an "uproar" in the press (I hired a university student to go through four years of newspapers looking for any stories on Chinese engagement in land or agriculture) or in the memories of the dozens of people I interviewed across civil society, think tanks, journalists, the donors, and academia. The whole story began to sound fishy to me.

If Chinese investors wanted large land leases, they clearly could have signed some. After all, as a 2012 Oakland Institute study (9) showed, "Mozambique granted concessions to investors for more than 2.5 million hectares (ha) of land between 2004 and the end of 2009" almost entirely to European and South African investors -- there were no Chinese investors in their list.

"One thing seems to be certain: China is committed to transforming Mozambique into one of its main food suppliers, particularly for rice, the basic element of Chinese diet. An analysis of China’s activities in the valley in the past two years provides some strong indication of China’s long term intentions.

Following this statement, Horta has put together real facts about China's aid program and interest in building dams, roads, and modernizing harbors, and surmises that this interest "is clearly designed to maximize production and facilitate the rapid export of foodstuffs to China".

That's quite a leap. Chinese are interested in building infrastructure all around the continent, but I don't think one can conclude that this is evidence of a masterplan to feed China!

Horta then makes what I believe to be his most egregious claim:

"In early 2008, the Chinese government pledged to invest $800 million in modernizing Mozambican agriculture ..."

I have seen no evidence, anywhere, in Mozambique or outside, of this pledge. People were baffled when I asked about it. No one knew anything about it, even as a rumor. While I can often find the source of big mistakes, I haven't been able to track this down (11). The trail starts with Horta.

"...with the goal of boosting rice production from 100 000 tons to 500 000 tons a year in the next five years."

The goal of boosting rice production was Mozambique's goal, not China's. The amount mentioned here represents the gap between local demand and local production, at the time filled by imports. Which makes Horta's next statement all the more surprising:

"Mozambique’s increased rice production is clearly destined for export to the Chinese market, since the staple accounts for just a tiny fraction of the Mozambican diet."

Clearly, Horta didn't look up consumption and import statistics for rice in Mozambique (12).

"With this objective in mind, China is funding the establishment of an Advanced Crop Research Institute and several other small agricultural schools throughout the country."

Horta here uses as "evidence" for Chinese plans to make Mozambique into its rice bowl a real project -- the Umbeluzi/Boane agro-technology research and demonstration center, one of 20 China is building across Africa as part of its aid program.

"Over 100 Chinese agricultural specialists are currently in Mozambique, including teams from the Hunan Hybrid Rice Institute, China’s top institution in the field."

There is no evidence that I could find that China ever sent 100 agricultural specialists to Mozambique. I suspect Horta was mixing up China's pledge to send 100 agricultural specialists to Africa. It’s true that the Hunan Hybrid Rice Institute did send a team to Mozambique (13). They later decided to bid to run China's foreign-aid funded agro-technology demonstration center in Liberia, not Mozambique (14). I suspect their visit was connected to a decision about which project to bid on.

"Other major projects include the construction of numerous irrigation and canal networks in the valley."

I’m not sure what Horta was referring to here, but possibly it is the modest project in Gaza province operated by Hubei province (15), which also provided the company associated with China’s foreign aid-funded agro-technology demonstration center (see below). Hubei province has a twinning arrangement with Gaza province to develop 300 hectares to demonstrate the potential of irrigated rice to Mozambicans. As of 2009/2010 they had developed 35-40 hectares, and in 2010 they applied for more land (16).

"The lifting by the Chinese government of import tariffs for 400 Mozambican agricultural products, including rice, will further facilitate food exports to China."

China has lifted import tariffs on 400 products not for Mozambique alone but for all of Africa's low income countries. Rice is not on the list (17).

"The idea of moving thousands of Chinese settlers into the valley has caused great outrage locally, with many fearing the repetition of the dias negros (black days of oppression)."

Again, my research assistant and I could not find any Mozambican news reports on this "great outrage" nor did people I interviewed during my fieldwork recall any.

"The Chinese are now linking the implementation of major projects such as dam construction and the funding for the Catembe Bridge – an important project that will link the capital, Maputo, to the district of Catembe across the bay – to concessions on the land lease issue ... Instead of thousands of Chinese settlers, it’s now more probable that a few hundred or perhaps 1,000 Chinese will move into the valley in coming years. The Chinese will manage the large farms, operate and maintain the advanced agricultural equipment, and maintain the canals, while Mozambican labor will do most of the manual work."

These appear to be pure conjecture. No evidence is provided or references to interviews or new stories that would support these claims. And so on.

My point in writing this is not to argue that there has been no Chinese interest in Mozambican agricultural investment. There has been. In March 2006 a delegation from China did tour agricultural areas of Mozambique, although it’s not clear whether this was to look for investment or to find a suitable site for a promised agro-technology demonstration center (18). Maybe both.

The authors of the 2009 FAO/IIED/IFAD report (4) interviewed Chinese state-owned grain and oilseed trading company, COFCO, who told them they were "involved in discussions for a major land concession to grow rice and soybeans in Mozambique, though at present this deal has not progressed." This interest was real, if far more modest and ordinary than it appears in Horta’s writings. Another Mozambican researcher, Sergio Chichava, showed that between 2000 and 2009, five Chinese agricultural investment projects received approval from the Mozambique authorities (19). Among these was the aborted COFCO project, approved in 2005 at $6 million. The average size of the other four approved projects was only $615,000, and one of these was Hubei Lianfeng’s approved project, for just over $1 million (20).

None of this, however, supports the idea that “China” was intending to create an agricultural colony in Mozambique, or make the Zambezi Valley into China’s rice bowl. My take on this is that Horta, who was then a student, wove his paper out of bits of real things on the internet, spiced up by rumors and gossip. But if anyone has another take on this, or evidence (either way), please post. I'm interested in seeing it.

update: This blog post has been translated into Flemish on the website and appears also at the Flemish site Mondiaal Nieuws.  H/T to Frank Willems.

Horta has published a response to this story at the same CSIS website. For a deconstruction and critique of that response, see this posting by Sigrid Ekman, a Norwegian researcher who did months of fieldwork in Mozambique for her master's thesis.

Rather than respond point by point to Horta, I'll just note one thing. Horto begins by saying that he was not the first to circulate a report that "China" wanted to acquire land in the Zambezi Valley, but rather that a Chinese paper made this claim in May 2008. In fact, as I wrote above, it was Horta who first made this claim, writing in August 2007:  "In 2006, Beijing and Maputo signed a memorandum of understanding concerning the creation of a massive agricultural project in the Zambezi river valley area. Under this agreement, as many as 20,000 Chinese settlers may move into the valley to run large- to medium-scale farms destined to supply the ever more affluent Chinese market."

Horta promised to elaborate on his rebuttal of this critique in a longer article to be published by the South African Institute of International Affairs. No article has yet appeared, as of October 2014. Sigrid Ekman and I published a more elaborate version of our findings in May 2012 in African Affairs: Rumours and Realities of Chinese Agricultural Engagement in Mozambique.


(1) May 2008. Horta first made some of these claims in 2007: Then, he said that "up to 20,000 Chinese" might move to the Zambezi Valley.

(2) May 2009.

(3) April 2009.

(4) 2009.

(5) November 2010.

(6) December 2009.

(7) Sigrid-Marianella Stensrud Ekman, “Leasing Land Overseas: A Viable Strategy for Chinese Food Security?” unpublished master’s thesis, Department of Economics, Fudan University, Shanghai, 2010.

(8) February 11, 2011.

(9) December 2011.

(10) I’ve often seen a figure of $55 million associated with the Chinese agrotechnology demonstration center in Mozambique. According to a copy of the contract given to me by the Ministry of Agriculture in Mozambique in June 2009, China's agricultural center in Mozambique would cost 55 million RMB (about US$6 - 9 million depending on the exchange rate), not dollars. Such a typical mistake, but an important one. China is building 20 centers around Africa, all at the request of local governments that will be using them for their own agricultural purposes. Mozambique’s was the first built. All the centers I've seen have a big agricultural training component (labs and dormitories, for example). All the centers appear to have been budgeted at around 40-55 million RMB. They follow in the footsteps of China’s failed projects in the past. See December 2009.

(11) Could it be related to a request the Mozambicans made for China to help fund the Moambe Science and Technology Park, a pet project of the Minister of Science and Technology? Together with the agricultural research center in Umbeluzi/Boane, the two projects would have cost $700 million (the Chinese agricultural center itself was projected to cost 55 million RMB, about US$9 million) (10). The Chinese did say they would help out with Moambe, but not fund the entire thing. Mozambique later received a mixed grant/credit of $15.8 million from China to support distance education and "science and technology" See: secao=social_development&id=22558&tipo=one



(14) December 2009.






(20) I haven’t been to Mozambique since 2009, but in 2010, I interviewed a Chinese agricultural specialist who knew about Chinese engagement in Mozambique. She told me that Hubei Liangfeng, the company from Hubei province that is managing China's foreign aid research station in Umbeluzi, Boane, Mozambique experimented with growing hybrid rice and soybeans for profit. "They experimented first on a small scale, but found many problems. The land was too dry. They needed to water two or three times a day. It was very costly. Also, mice destroyed the plants."

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Ethiopia's Partnership with China: Feedback

Chinese-built Ring Road, Addis: Flicker-Pougala
On December 30, The Guardian's Global Development, Poverty Matters blog published a short article they had requested from me on China and Africa as part of their end of the year wrap up of development news. I decided to write on China and Ethiopia. Having just spent several weeks there looking into Chinese engagement for an IFPRI study, I was fascinated by how many different instruments shape the activities in this cooperation. And how different it is from the West's engagement in Ethiopia, most of which is based on aid and NGOs. To read the article, click here.

In my article I noted that Chinese state-owned oil companies had explored for oil but left empty-handed. I'd concluded this, as "everyone knows" that "China" was exploring for oil in the Ogaden in 2007 when they were attacked by the ONLF. Here's a comment I received from the Ethiopian chairman & CEO of a Hong Kong-registered company, Southwest Energy (HK) Ltd.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading your blog in the Guardian about Ethiopia’s Partnership with China. I have also purchased your book and I am looking forward to reading it.
Regarding your comment on China exploring for oil in Ethiopia and leaving empty handed, that is not entirely accurate. Until recently, no Chinese companies have actually acquired exploration licenses in Ethiopia. They have only worked as sub-contractors for other oil companies. I know because we were one of the companies which hired them. 
In general, I very much agree with your thesis.
It's great to have first-hand feedback on the real story from participants.