the lion and the panda: still working on the relationship

The ambiguities in China’s relationship with Africa have created fertile ground for politicians. Opposition parties, especially in southern Africa, frequently campaign on anti-China platforms. Every country south of Rwanda has had acrimonious debates about Chinese “exploitation”. Even in normally calm places like Namibia, antipathy is stirring. Workers on Chinese building sites in Windhoek, the capital, are said to get a “raw deal”. In Zambia the opposition leader, Michael Sata, has made Sino-scepticism his trademark.

Much of this is wide of the mark. Critics claim that China has acquired ownership of natural resources, although service contracts and other concessions are the norm. China is also often accused of bringing prison labour to Africa—locals assume the highly disciplined Chinese workers in identical boiler suits they see toiling day and night must be doing so under duress.

Even so, the backlash is perhaps unsurprising. Africans say they feel under siege. Tens of thousands of entrepreneurs from one of the most successful modern economies have fanned out across the continent. Sanou Mbaye, a former senior official at the African Development Bank, says more Chinese have come to Africa in the past ten years than Europeans in the past 400. First came Chinese from state-owned companies, but more and more arrive solo or stay behind after finishing contract work.

Many dream of a new life. Miners and builders see business opportunities in Africa, and greater freedom (to be their own bosses and speak their minds, but also to pollute). A Chinese government survey of 1,600 companies shows the growing use of Africa as an industrial base. Manufacturing’s share of total Chinese investment (22%) is catching up fast with mining (29%).

That is the Economist reporting on the ever-growing Sino-African relationship. The main takeaway point is that Africa is increasingly becoming a manufacturing base for Chinese companies. With that comes transfer of technology, development of local expertise, increased competition and exposure to what’s happening outside the continent. In a few decades Chinese labor will get too expensive to support a robust export-oriented economy. That, coupled with increased domestic consumption in China will provide a good chance for African countries to finally begin their own move towards export-oriented industrialization and service provision.

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2 thoughts on “the lion and the panda: still working on the relationship

  1. From my point of view, chinese technology transfer is indirectly Japanese technology transfer. that bodes well for Africa. in Asia, Japan adopted a flying-geese strategy when developing supply-chain relationships across South-east Asia including China. The result is a probably the world`s biggest technology and export hub.
    If the same ripple effects can be adopted in Africa, the returns are immense. Difference is perception of political instability and national discipline. Years of foreign aid dependencies have eroded the national work ethic, and a rework is necessary.

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  2. I agree with you. The work environment and beliefs about it need some rework. But just as much as a bustling economy requires proper work ethic, growth can promote the requisite work ethic — we have a chicken and egg issue here. I say after African economies pick up competition for jobs will increase and therefore will given even more people incentives to invest in skills and compete for each other. Africa has a labor shortage as far as skills go, development of a local manufacturing sector might provide the impetus needed for investment in skills.

    I am no labor economist but as it is, it makes no sense for a Chadian to spend up to ten of their most productive life in school. This has implications for work ethic and the general levels of skills in the economy.

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