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Emerging powers in Africa Watch

Nairobi workshop gives civil society dimension on FOCAC

Stephen Marks

2009-12-10, Issue 461

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In this week's emerging powers watch, Stephen Marks reports back on the proceedings of Fahamu's two-day CSO FOCAC workshop in Nairobi on 26 and 27 November, 2009.

How should Chinese and African civil society respond to the challenge of FOCAC
2009? That was the question addressed by some 30 activists, researchers and
academics at Fahamu's two-day CSO FOCAC workshop in Nairobi on 26th and 27 November

Africa's non-state actors have long played a vital role as a shadow ‘peer review
agency’ in relation to the continent's old development partners. But theystill have a long way to go to develop the same capacity and awareness where China-Africa relations are concerned. Fahamu’s Emerging Powers in Africa programme believes that to achieve this African civil society activists and organisations will need to build alliances and establish a dialogue with their Chinese civil society and social movement partners.

The two-day workshop was intended to aid that process by providing a crucial platform for African Chinese and Northern CSO actors, researchers and scholars to debate and discuss the outcomes from the 4th FOCAC Summit hosted in Egypt on 8-9 November 2009.

It was also the occasion for Fahamu's China in Africa Programm to launch its six policy research reports, originally commissioned in April 2009 [though visa problems prevented one of the papers from being presented]..

As Sanusha Naidu, research director of the Fahamu programme, pointed out in welcoming participants, the FOCAC meeting showed that Beijing is aware of the importance of the civil society dimension to the China-Africa engagement, and realises that a truly 'win-win' relationship must be people-centred. This meshes with the emphasis of Fahamu's China-Africa project and AU Monitor project.

Professor Horace Campbell (Professor of Political Science, Syracuse University) set the scene with a Panafrican perspective on China-Africa partnership. There were lessons to learn from the transformation of China in the past 40 years. Chinese investment in infrastructure demonstrates that transformation is possible. But China, he urged, should not repeat its past mistake in supporting such leaders as Savimbi in Angola. It should realise that most existing leaders will not be there in 10 years time.

Dr. Enyu Ma, from the Institute of African Studies, Zhejiang Normal University, outlined the work of official organisations such as the Chinese Peoples Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries, the All-China Womens Federation, and the All-China Youth Federation in sending technical training teams and organising exchange visits by volunteers specialists and scholars.

Five of the six commissioned research papers were presented and discussed. Anna Chen [Standard Bank, South Africa] presented the paper on ‘Chinese enclave communities in Africa’ which studied the 350,000-strong South African Chinese community - over half the Chinese on the continent. Dr Liu Haifang [IWAAS, Beijing] was the Discussant.

Joseph Onjala, [Institute of Development Studies, University of Nairobi, Kenya] presented the paper on 'China's comparative trade, aid and investment behaviour in Kenya vis-a- viz India and the European Union ', which looked at specific sectors in Kenya, and asked how China's role differed in trade and aid, from others. Brian Kagoro of ActionAid Kenya, was the Discussant.

Tsidiso Disenyana, [South African Institute of International Affairs, Johannesburg, South Africa] presented the paper on 'China's Manufacturing Exports and Africa's De-industrialisation' which looked principally at the impact on the clothing and textles; furniture; iron and steel; and leather and footware sectors. Paul Kumau [IDS Nairobi] was the discussant.

Prof. KK Matthews, [University of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia] presented the paper on ‘Assessment of Chinese companies in Ethiopia', an empirical study involving over 50 companies at all levels. Professor Alemayehu Geda [Addis Ababa University ] was the discussant.

Jean Pierre Okenda, [Action Contre l'Impunite pour les Droits Humains (ACIDH) (DRC)] presented the paper on 'Public and Private Investments in Katanga Province , DRC: Good Governance and Human Rights' which looked particularly at the mining sector, but also at the China-DRC joint venture agreement. Johanna Jansson [Independent Analyst, Cape Town] was the Discussant.

Unfortunately colleagues from FOCARFE [Cameroun] were unable to attend to present their paper on 'Impact of Chinese investment on the Environment in Cameroon' due to visa difficulties.

The first of four panel discussions looked at ‘International Development Cooperation and Strategies for Poverty Reduction outcomes from FOCAC 2009’. Dr. Alex Vines [Head of Africa Programme, Chatham House, UK] felt the most important outcome of the FOCAC meeting was the commitment to infrastructure spending, as well as the emphasis on 'peoples wellbeing' as a major theme. Chinese infrastructure development aid was allocated to all countries without regard to natural resources. But the same was not true of Eximbank loans.

Dr. Li Pengtao, [Institute of African Studies, Zhejiang Normal University] analysed the Premier’s speech to identify which measures were new. He also referred to recent dicussions on the limitations of the Western aid-based approach.

Professor Alemayehu Geda [Addis Ababa University] introduced the second panel discussion on ‘the Chinese firm in Africa: What impact on the ground?’. He drew on a 26-country case study which he had just concluded. He found that apart from South Africa and Kenya, African countries appeared to lack the capacity to adapt to the displacement effect of Cbinese competition in thrid country markets. But there were positive effects including lower-cost machinery imports, and increased competitiveness from Chinese-provided infrastructure.

Wang Donying, [Global Environment Institute (GEI), Beijing] gave a powerpoint presentation on the work of the Institute. She also outlined some of the findings of a GEI research survey on the environmental behaviour of Chinese overseas businesses to be released early in 2010. It found a low level of environmental awareness and performance, which GEI was working to correct through guidelines and draft legislation.

Anthony Yaw Baah [Labour Research Resource Institute (LARRI) Namibia], described the findings of the report ‘Chinese Investment in Africa - Opportunity or threat to workers?’ recently published by the African Labour Research Network (ALRN) to which LARRI is affiliated.

It found a consistent pattern of poor labour relations and practices. He advised trade unionists , as had been done in Ghana, to engage with Chinese companies and the Chinese embassy as well as pursuing traditional methods of trade union action.

Reg Rumney, [Director, Centre for Economics Journalism in Africa, School of Journalism and Media Studies, Rhodes University, South Africa] introduced the third panel discussion on ‘the role of the media in reporting on China-African engagements’. He outlined the diversity of the media and the distortions of presentation that can arise from different corporate structures and levels of professionalism.

Dr Karambu Ringera, [School of Journalism, Nairobi University] said that her students at the school of journalism often wonder about the motives of Chinese involvement in Africa and especially in Kenya. She urged the need for cultural exchanges between China and Africa to be two-way, and for African people, especially in rural areas, to be better informed about China’s role.

Robert Watkinson, [Portland, Nairobi, Kenya] described the research programme on China in Africa which Portland, a communications consultant with a specialism in African issues, had been conducting, including the regular weekly review of media coverage which it produces. One of the imbalances he found was a comparative lack of African coverage of China and China-Africa relations compared to Chinese coverage of Africa.

As Stephen Marks [Co-ordinator and Research Associate, Fahamu Emerging Powers in Africa Programme] concluded in a final overview, the discussion had marked a step forward from the previous China-Africa civil society dialogue workshop in Nairobi in April 2008. Instead of the presentation of opposed and entrenched positions, there had been a genuine exchange of experience and opinion, and there was real enthusiasm for continued cooperation and exchange.

In particular, there was active interest in the next steps evisaged for the programme, including journalist exchanges, and further seminars, exchanges and workshops, including programmes for activists on environmental and labour issues.

The research papers will be revised to take account of the points raised in the discusssions, and will be published on Pambazuka News, as will a fuller conference report.

* Stephen Marks is research associate and project coordinator with Fahamu's China in Africa Project.
* Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at Pambazuka News.

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