China applauded by Africa’s elite, but feared by the people – Loro Horta

7 December 2009

Macau, China, 7 Dec – China’s approach to Africa is met enthusiastically by the African elite, which is interested in “embracing the model” of governance of Beijing, but is feared by working people, according to a study carried out by researcher Loro Horta, to which Macauhub had access.

“China offers generous and high value loans to many African government, allowing them to build infrastructures that they are lacking, expand agriculture and strengthen their security. Perhaps the most attractive aspect of all is that Beijing does not impose conditions on these investments,” Horta said in the study, published by Yale Global.

“The policy of non-interference and non-conditional approach to aid has provided it with many friends and admirers amongst the African elite. (…) Frustrated with decades of instability and corruption, which many of the elite blame on the West and a liberal democratic model, the continent’s elite are rapidly embracing the Chinese model,” he said.

Of 67 higher officials interviewed by Horta in six countries, including Armed Forces officials and a former president, 63 gave “quite favourable” opinions about China.

Of the 163 interviews carried out over a decade, including in countries such as Angola, Mozambique and Cape Verde, “negative” opinions were given, amongst others, by street sellers, teachers and small-scale retailers (73 out of 98).

“It becomes clear that the African elite clearly have a positive view of the Chinese presence, whilst the people are increasingly ambivalent,” Horta said.

According to the researcher, the root of this resentment is mainly due to the fact that Chinese companies take their own staff to Africa, in large numbers, creating fewer jobs than other countries.

An example of this, he said, was Angola, where Chinese company take over 70 to 80 percent of the workforce from China, and sometimes even more, in the case of oil companies.

In Mozambique, he said, a Chinese construction company employed 78 Chinese and eight local workers close to a Portuguese counterpart which employed five Portuguese workers out of 120 employees.

Other negative factors pointed out in the interviews are competition from Chinese retailers and products, a lack of socialisation with Africans and a concern about the environment.
In order that these issues should not “undermine a relationship that could bring great potential benefits to both sides,” Horta recommends that measures be taken and notes that Beijing is already doing so.

Amongst the “positive steps” he said, is the restriction on exports of Chinese textiles to some African countries, in order to protect local industries, as well as the commitment to create more jobs in some projects in Africa.

“China has provided aid to Africa at a time when many in the West scorned it. The meteoric rise of the relationship has forced many western countries to approach the continent in a new way, reducing its marginalisation,” Horta said.

On the other hand, Africans should ensure the best conditions for their countries and the lead in this is being taken by Cape Verde, he said.

“When all is said and done, the responsibility perhaps rests with the African elite. Cape Verde and some others have shown that an honest and responsible approach to Chinese-African ties can be highly beneficial to both sides.”

The Cape Verdean case is noted by Horta as a success story, as it is “one of the most transparent and successful countries” on the continent which “imposed strict conditions on Chinese investment, such as requirements to hire local workers and environmental standards,” which is also the case of Botswana and Namibia.

Although it is still early to accurately assess the benefits of the Chinese-African relationship, for now Africa is benefitting from infrastructures brought by Beijing, such as dams, roads and telecommunications, which “no western nation was willing to fund.”

After working for many years in African on humanitarian and security issues, Horta now has a scholarship at the international studies school of Nanyang Technological University, in Singapore. (macauhub)