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Pambazuka News 282: African perspectives on China in Africa

The authoritative electronic weekly newsletter and platform for social justice in Africa

Pambazuka News is the authoritative pan African electronic weekly newsletter and platform for social justice in Africa providing cutting edge commentary and in-depth analysis on politics and current affairs, development, human rights, refugees, gender issues and culture in Africa.

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CONTENTS: 1. Highlights from this issue, 2. Features, 3. Comment & analysis, 4. Letters & Opinions, 5. Blogging Africa, 6. Podcasts & Videos

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Highlights from this issue

Featured This Week



- Firoze Manji explains why this special issue of China has been launched as a taster to a forthcoming book.

-Stephen Marks asks what is the true nature of Chinese involvement in Africa? Is it colonialism revisited?

- John Rocha examines some of the implications for Africa related to both positive and negative aspects and the meaning of China’s involvement for Nepad’s African Peer Review Mechanism.

- Anabela Lemos and Daniel Ribeiro write, after so many years of being colonised by the Portuguese, “are we now being colonised again, in the name of development but under the new flag of ‘economic partnerships with China’?”

- Ali Askouri argues that China's presence in Sudan ought to be challenged on all fronts. “China must be made aware that its opportunistic involvement with dictatorship carries a price for trade and investment inside China”

- John Karumbidza writes that the benefits that Zimbabwe has gained for trading with China include the political preservation of Mugabe reign and personal aggrandizement through corruption and kickbacks by his ZANU PF cronies.


- Moreblessings Chidaushe cautions that while China might assist Africa to a certain degree, it is not, will not and should not be expected to solve all of Africa’s problems.

- Michelle Chan-Fishel points out that the Chinese low-price development model comes at a very high cost. “The untold story of China’s rapid economic growth is one characterised by vast levels of income disparity, unfair treatment of workers and lost livelihoods, especially in the rural areas.”

- The question of whether China can ‘prosper where others have failed’ could be inverted: “can Africa benefit in longer term, more sustainable and more representative ways from China’s enhanced attention and links with Africa in ways that departure from established patterns with external powers?,” writes Daniel Large.

- Ndubisi Obiorah points out that while China's rapidly expanding engagement in Africa is enthusiastically welcomed by African governments and some African intellectuals, “China's relations with Africa's governments is often perceived among human rights NGOs and Western commentators as increasingly problematic for governance and human rights in Africa.”

- Kwesi Kwaa Prah speaks to Pambazuka News about the history of Chinese engagement in Africa. You can also hear the interview in a special Pambazuka News Podcast.

- BLOGGING AFRICA: Sokari Ekine reports that the South African Chinese community is going to court to demand that they be racially reclassified as either as a so-called “coloured” or black.


African Perspectives on China in Africa

Firoze Manji


Chinese engagement with Africa has become the topic of serious analysis and debate. In the field of governance, natural resources and markets, China’s presence is everywhere. Suddenly, Chinese influence in Africa has begun to top the foreign policy agenda of African governments. Chinese involvement in Africa has raised concerns about China's commitment to human rights issues and its policy on arms sales to African governments, while in the areas of textiles and natural resource exploitation, Chinese competition has generated some adverse consequences for African industry and the environment. China has been pronounced the new imperial power in Africa, usurping the influence of Western governments. However, a more nuanced approach and understanding of China–Africa relations might be more helpful.

The summit in Beijing

Stephen Marks


Stephen Marks introduces the articles in this publication by reviewing the billion-dollar glamour on display in Beijing during a summit between African and Chinese leaders in early November. But behind the glitz, what does it all mean for Africa? Is it colonialism revisited, a mad dash for African oil and minerals? Is there a Chinese model of development that can be followed? And what is the true nature of Chinese involvement in Africa?

Comment & analysis

A new frontier in the exploitation of Africa’s natural resources

John Rocha


John Rocha sets out to answer two questions related to China’s role in Africa: To what extent would China’s growing influence in Africa either advance or undermine the African agenda? And what are the challenges and implications that these hold for African governments, the private sector and the international community?

Taking ownership or just changing owners?

Anabela Lemos & Daniel Ribeiro


From the stripping of forest resources in Zambezia province to concerns about the effects a multi-billion dollar dam will have on surrounding communities, Anabela Lemos and Daniel Ribeiro ask whether, after a long history under Portugese colonialism, Mozambique is not at risk of being colonised again under the flag of ‘economic partnerships with China’. They write that concerns in Mozambique centre around China’s weak social and environmental requirements, disregard for human rights protections, lack of transparency and policy of non-interference.

China’s investment in Sudan: destroying communities

Ali Askouri


Ali Askouri charts the high cost of China’s rising involvement in Sudan, placing emphasis on the lives lost and communities displaced in the Southern Sudan and Darfur. He explains the rapidly growing Chinese demand for oil and the involvement of Chinese companies in huge infrastructure projects. ‘The sad truth is, both the Chinese and their elite partners in the Sudan government want to conceal some terrible facts about their partnership,’ writes Askouri. ‘They are joining hands to uproot poor people, expropriate their land and appropriate their naturaul resources.’

Can China Save Zimbabwe’s Economy?

John Blessing Karumbidza


The ‘look east’ policy of Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe is well documented. But the deeper implications of Zimbabwe’s relationship with China are less well understood. Whether the relationship turns out to be a win-win one will depend much on how effectively Zimbabwe can build institutional and bureaucratic capacity to harness Chinese funds and investment for the benefit of the country, writes John Blessing Karumbidza, who doubts whether this will be the case, raising questions as to whether Mugabe is simply replacing Western colonialism with Chinese imperialism.

China’s grand re-entrance into Africa

Moreblessings Chidaushe


Moreblessings Chidaushe tackles the issue of development aid to Africa, comparing the approach of the West and the new player, China. What is significantly different, she states, is that instead of the top-down language used by the West, China has instead used language that speaks of partnership and friendship. The West should not see China as a threat to its hold over Africa. Africa should be left to decide who it wants to engage with, she concludes.

Environmental impact: More of the same?

Michelle Chan-Fishel


Is China a friend or foe to the African continent? Michelle Chan-Fishel writes that while China’s investments do involve socio-economic development, environmental and social problems are emerging ‘with a new face’. Chan-Fishel looks at Chinese interests in Sudan, Angola, Nigeria, Zambia, Zimababwe, Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, Cameroon and Liberia. ‘Chinese companies are quickly generating the same kinds of environmental damage and community opposition that Western companies have spawned around the world.’

As the beginning ends: China’s return to Africa

Daniel Large


China-Africa relations received unprecedented attention during 2006, both in terms of visibility and attention, writes Daniel Large. China’s involvement is important to consider, he says, because China will continue to need African resources, because of the increased trade and investment in Africa as a result of the relationship and because of an emerging Chinese development agenda on the continent. Unlike early Chinese explorers dating back to 1433, the current Chinese involvement in Africa is here to stay.

'Who’s Afraid of China in Africa?'

Ndubisi Obiorah


Economic, political and security cooperation between China and Africa has grown exponentially in the last decade, presenting new opportunities and challenges for Africa. The need for Africans to understand China, and its motives for the enhanced engagement with Africa over the last decade, is now greater than ever before, writes Ndubisi Obiorah.

Africa and China: Then and now

Kwesi Kwaa Prah


It is hypocritical of Western states to be concerned about how China is approaching Africa given their history of exploitative relations with Africa, says Prof. Kwesi Kwaa Prah in this interview with Pambazuka News. Kwaa Prah also argues that its futile for Africans to be pointing fingers at the West or at China. “Africans have to organise their side of the story as best as they can in their own interests,” he says.

Useful links and resources

Pambazuka News Editors



Peoples Daily online in English

Official website of China-Africa summit

Xinhua News Agency website in English
chinese embassy in South Africa


‘ the African community in Shanghai and China’
Shanghai-based website anbd blog for African and Afro-American expats in China.
‘a collaborative news website covering China's social and political transition and its emerging role in the world. ...Our goal is to harness the distributive power of the Internet to advance the world's understanding of China...China's democratic transition, sustainable development and peaceful emergence in the global community’. Run by the Berkeley China Internet Project in the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley.

China Dialogue: China and the world discuss the environment’
Edited by Isabel Hilton and based in London and Beijing it describes itself as ‘the world’s first fully bilingual website devoted to the environment’. With a joint British-Chinese board. it is part-financed by the UK Government as part a series of ‘sustainable development dialogues’[see ]]


‘China Business’ - the special China section of the Hong Kong-based Asia Times Online

Business Report - South Africa.


African Geopolitics; ‘world leaders and international experts express their views on African affairs’
‘the first bilingual quarterly on African affairs’

The Jamestown Foundation. ‘mission is to inform and educate policy makers and the broader policy community about events and trends in those societies which are strategically or tactically important to the United States and which frequently restrict access to such information’.

Africa Confidential is one of the longest-established specialist publications on Africa, with a considerable reputation for being first with the in depth news on significant political, economic and security developments across the continent.

...all our contributors write for us on the basis of strict anonymity, a principle that was established from the outset in 1960 to ensure writers’ personal safety in the turbulent, early years of post-colonial African independence. Hence the newsletter’s title’.

Open Democracy: ‘openDemocracy is the leading independent website on global current affairs...offering stimulating, critical analysis, promoting dialogue and debate on issues of global importance and linking citizens from around the world...openDemocracy is committed to human rights and democracy’.


‘Global Witness campaigns to achieve real change by challenging established thinking on seemingly intractable global issues. We work to highlight the link between the exploitation of natural resources and human rights abuses, particularly where the resources such as timber, diamonds and oil are used to fund and perpetuate conflict and corruption’.

Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative [EITI]
The EITI supports improved governance in resource-rich countries through the full publication and verification of company payments and government revenues from oil, gas and mining.

Human Rights Watch is dedicated to protecting the human rights of people around the world.
We stand with victims and activists to prevent discrimination, to uphold political freedom, to protect people from inhumane conduct in wartime, and to bring offenders to justice.

Friends of the Earth defends the planet and champions a healthy and just world. Active in 70 countries, Friends of the Earth has the world's largest network of environmental groups.

Global Timber.‘Provides information and statistics on the global trade in wood-based products, especially that from Africa and East Asia [and] insights into trade in Illegal Timber particularly in relation to importing countries such as Japan, the UK, and the USA’.

Reuters Foundation - alerting humanitarians to emergencies.


‘China in Africa’
Special issue of South African Journal of International Affairs Vol 13 No.1 Summer-Autumn 2006
ISSN: 1022-0461
see also the Institute’s website at

‘The New Sinosphere - China in Africa’
ed Leni Wild and David Mepham
Institute for Public Policy Research
London 2006 £9.95
ISBN 1 86030 302 1
see also the IPPR website at

Letters & Opinions

Mobile phones for social justice: Calls for expressions of interest


Mobile phone technologies have taken Africa by storm. The technology has raised new possibilities for activism by human rights and social justice organisations and for service delivery in fields such as health care, banking and agricultural information.

In 2007, Fahamu and Tactical Tech will hold a conference in Nairobi, Kenya, that will aim to enable those using mobile phone technologies in activism or service delivery work to exchange their experiences of using the technology in the African context and plan strategies to support their work. The conference will explore areas related to the use of mobile technology in the African context, future trends, best practice and available tools and resources.

If you have used mobile phones in your work or are planning to use mobile phones, Fahamu would like to hear from you. Please click on the link for more details.

The Niger Delta

Jacques Depelchin


I want to thank Joel Bisina for the article, ‘Environmental Degradation in the Niger Delta’ which helped deepen our knowledge and understanding of all the processes going on in the Niger Delta. As we learned from Ike Okonta in previous articles published on Pambazuka News, we are witness to a socio-economic and political tsunami whose proportions are difficult to describe, let alone measure.

As a way forward, I would plea for us not to forget that processes such as those described by Joel,have a history which goes as far back as the process of stealing the land from the Native Americans, killing off the Arawaks in the Caribbean, and then stealing people in Africa, enslaving them in order to replace the most sought after resource of those times: labour, hunting it, maintaining it as cheap as possible has been going on ever since.

Native Americans are speaking up after, as some of them say, keeping silent for five centuries.

What is going on in the Niger Delta is just a microcosm of what James Lovelock has been describing in all his books about Gaia. Now, we hear from Al Gore in “Inconvenient Truth” (book and film) that the destruction of Earth cannot go on. He argues that the way of thinking which has led to this state of affairs has to stop, but I have yet to hear Al Gore say something like this: "Long before my great great grand father was born there were people in North America, who did see that this way of thinking advocated and propagated by European discoverers was not only killing people, but it was also killing Earth/Gaia. I suggest that we, the discoverers/destroyers atone for what our ancestors did, by taking those voices and today's, seriously." Would Al Gore, be willing to discuss with the people of the Niger Delta, with the Native Americans, with the Haitians, in short with all of the people and their descendants who have been screaming NO to a system which was born and continues to reproduce itself by way of a mind set which says it is ok for poor people to die?

Thank you Joel for letting us know about the kind of world your mother lived in, one we urgently need to hold on to.

Gay Rights

Keith Goddard


It is perfectly understandable that South Africa should take the important step of recognising same-sex marriage: it is perhaps the last stage in the dismantling of all forms of legal oppression and discrimination against South African lesbian and gay people and the recognition of their right to full equality. The Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ) congratulate all those who have worked tirelessly over the past twelve or so years to ensure that the sexual orientation clause in the country’s constitution is translated fully into law.

But, for those of us in Zimbabwe, same-sex marriage is not on the agenda and not even something we are considering, at least at this stage. Our relationships are not recognised and we still suffer from basic humiliations such as the criminalisation of sexual acts between men and vitriolic verbal attacks and ridicule from our national leaders. We also share all the major problems faced by the majority of Zimbabweans when it comes to the curtailment of fundamental rights and freedoms including the right to receive and impart information, the right to work and the rights to health and freedom from fear and poverty.

It is time for the Zimbabwean government to reflect seriously on its thinking around human rights including those of its lesbian and gay citizens and to follow the South African example by implementing measures which proactively encourage a culture of meaningful human rights protection in this country. Activists in Zimbabwe are not puppets of foreign imperialists, as government would have everyone believe: we want a responsible government that is responsive to the needs of all Zimbabweans and we are fighting for our own good and for our own benefit.

Cape Town & Blacks

Dumisani Wambi


I am an African and I live in eKhayelitsha "the city's poor people dump site". The views expressed in the article ‘Our Mothercity is Motherless’ true. Ever since Hellen Zille took over, Cape Town is becoming more and more like it was in 1652.

For me 1652 says an African is a foreigner, a worker for the white man, a slave, a stupid animal. When I walk the street of Cape Town I see the city of Van Riebeek and friends. I still see his statue and some white womens’ statues. Where is Saartjie's, Mandela's, Winnie's, Desmond Tutu's, and Boesak's statues?

When will I see the statue of Steve Biko somewhere in South Africa? We want to see statues of people who have offered this land of JAH peace among all walks of life. People who have fought for the good, respect and justice.

I would like to ask for Pambazuka News to concentrate on Cape Town more aggressively. Write more about Cape Town's evil because its the truth that will set us free.




I was appalled at reading the letter from Rev Mmoja Ajabu The fact that the Reverend is resident in America is the only one that is relevant. He is not here to know what happens on the ground. Never before in the world's history has a nation been so oppressed by its Government. The majority of people that have wealth are those in ZANU-PF. Corruption has never been worse and it is only those on the gravy train that are getting richer. It is in their interests to see this ZANU-PF Government stay in power. The few MDC elected officials were allowed there by ZANU-PF to mislead people like the Reverend into thinking that there is democracy in this nation. If democracy were a fact here then why is there no freedom of the press, or an unaltered Constitution as the nation is crying for? I could go on for hours but that can do to start with...

Blogging Africa

Review of African blogs

Sokari Ekine


Burundi blog, ‘Agathon Rwasa’ introduces a new blog called ‘Breaking the Cycle Youth Council

“In 1988, I was only 10 years old, there were massacres in Ntega and Marangara, in Burundi. At that time, my Brother then told me about what had happened and I was puzzled, as I recall, because I could not understand how People could kill one another for tribal differences…It was in that year that I discovered I was of the tribe of Tutsi. At that time, I still could not tell the difference from Hutu and Tutsi tribe, by looking at a person…There are different things that occurred, that caused me to be determined to lead another generation, not to follow what other generations had followed.”

The blog’s main focus is on the youth of Burundi. The blogger uses videocasts to emphasise the plight of the youth and their hopes for the future.

There are two posts this week on the subject of telecoms provision in Africa. The first comes from Ghana. ‘Ramblings of an African Geek’ explains why the state owned “Ghana Telecom sucks”:

“In order to use GT broadband, I must give up my right as a consumer to purchase bandwidth from any other ISP. They are in effect telling their consumers, who are overpaying them for service, how they can spend their money.

“I’m curious about the identity of the person who came up with this clause. I’m also curious about its legality and the competence of the lawyer who advised them on its inclusion. I mean, if this is legal then what stops my local pineapple vendor from banning me from occasionally buying fruit from her cheaper competitor? Or Sony from telling me I have to get rid of all Samsung TV’s before I can buy one of theirs.”

The second story comes from ‘Timbuktu Chronicles’ who points to a more positive piece in the Economist on the rise of African cellphone companies:

“Following a flurry of deals over the past 18 months, five African and Middle Eastern operators are now vying for supremacy. These regional powerhouses have worked out how to earn princely sums in the world's poorest places. So far they have mostly been too busy signing up new subscribers to compete vigorously with each other. But that is now starting to change, and the industry is preparing for a round of consolidation as the operators start to attack each other's markets…The arrival of Middle Eastern and African operators, with their innovative, low-cost business models, could put pressure on European operators. Celtel's One Network, for example, eliminates roaming charges for customers travelling between the adjacent countries of Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda.”

My recent experience in South Africa of cell phones is that despite the exorbitant costs, cell phone usage is expanding at a rapid rate. Clearly there is room for more companies to enter the market and through competition bring down the price.

Staying with cell phones, ‘This is Zimbabwe’ "From Friday 8th December we will begin sending news headlines via SMS to mobile phones...If you have a friend or relative in Zimbabwe who would like to receive this service please email their mobile phone number to: [email protected] This initiative follows recent reports that Mugabe’s security agents are now confiscating radios in an effort to clamp down even further on access to information and objective news reporting."

An excellent example of activism at work, and an excellent example of the use of SMS to circumvent repressive actions by governments such as in Zimbabwe.

Kenyan blogger, ‘Thinkers Room’ takes issue with criticisms from the “Ivory Tower” crowd on his choice of reading, such as Stephen King which they say is not literature:

“The post I did, On Reading, drew a variety of interesting feedback, most of it offline. Apparently my choice of eclectic reading material wasn’t ‘literary enough’. Someone actually put it precisely like that…It reminded me again why I view critics, and people who purport to critique literature, with a highly jaundiced eye. Why? Because if no two people are alike why on earth would two people derive the same enjoyment and grasp from a poem, or a song, or a novel? ‘I’m quite surprised at your choice of books,’ a resident of the Ivory Tower told me. ‘Stephen King,’ the resident confided in the next line, ‘doesn’t do real writing. Not true literature.’ Well!

The overall response to Thinkers Room’s post was that there is a lot of snobbery around books and film and that there is no reason why Stephen King cannot sit next to Ngugi wa Thiong'o on the same bookshelf!

Sotho’ remembers Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe who was born on 5 December 1924. Sobukwe, the founder of the Pan Africanist Congress, was jailed in Number 4 prison by the apartheid government for 9 years.’ points to a story in the Mail & Guardian (SA) about the Chinese community going to court to insist on racial reclassification to either so-called “coloured” or black. This apparently will enable them to benefit from the Employment Equity Act and the Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment Act. Another blogger responds that if one was to use the ‘one drop’rule, a large section of the white population could use this as a precedent to have themselves reclassified as black or ‘coloured’ and thereby also benefit. Absurd situation.

Scribbles from the Den’ comments on the return of Cameroonian musician, the ‘Tribal Monk’, who has returned and released his first album in 6 years:

“After a six-year break, US-based Cameroonian artist, Wanaku a.k.a The Tribal Monk has released his third album, Afrikan Guitarstrophy, in collaboration with his band, Sunplug’d. In this album, Wanaku shuns the ‘World Music’ genre with its over-reliance on technology and heavy (in)fusion of Western pop sounds. Instead, he unapologetically uses the acoustic guitar as the main conduit for what he calls ‘Sweet Afrikan Kontry Muziki’. This is not ‘afro-pop’ by any stretch of the imagination; it is afro beat in its pure and unadulterated state.” Sounds worth waiting for.

Black Looks’ comments on the impact of impact of global warming on, and the consequences of recycling of waste products across the continent.

“The continent is having to pay the price of US consumption i.e. 5% of the worlds population are in the US yet they contribute to 25% of the worlds greenhouse gas pollution. Africa’s 14% population contributes a mere 3%.One of the consequences of global warming is desertification and one of the worst hit countries in Africa is Somalia (also recently a dumping ground for nuclear waste). But many other countries, particular those bordering the Sahara savannah regions in West Africa and the Horn of Africa will suffer from severe drought, failed crops and floods. Access to water is a major issue through out Africa where privatisation of water supplies is adding to the lack of water availability on very basic levels in countries such as Nigeria, Kenya, Niger and South Africa to name just a few.”

• Sokari Ekine produces the blog Black Looks,

• Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at

Podcasts & Videos

Africa's relationship with China

Kwesi Kwaa Prah


Professor Kwesi Kwaa Prah speaks to Pambazuka News about the history of Chinese engagement in Africa and theorises about what is to come. This accompanies our special issue exploring China's relationship with Africa. Professor Kwaa Prah is about to release a book entitled: "Afro-Chinese relations: Past, Present and the Future". He is based at the Centre for Advanced Studies of African Society. The music in this podcast is by Freddy Macha

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