The relationship between many African countries and China is one that should be mutually beneficial. But recent turn of events has spelled the contrary.
For a continent with 54 countries and about one billion people, Africa should be commanding a better economic stand than it currently is.
This is a continent with abundant natural resources, rich labor force, and a vast market with great potential for development. However, Africa has continued to languish in poverty and underdevelopment long after the days of colonization and exploitation by other countries.
The continent has remained backward, lacking the required capital, technology and experience for economic development. On the contrary, China has witnessed remarkable growth in its economic scale, growing from strength to strength.
Since China’s arrival into Africa in the 1800s, the trading relationship between the continent and the Asian country has evolved and intensified in many ways that China has quickly become the continent’s biggest trading partners, with a trade volume of $166 billion in 2014.
The above figure is expected to increase to an estimated $1.7 trillion by 2030. Today, China calls itself a great friend of Africa, offering economic aid, win-win co-operation for development and mutual respect. However, looking at the current situations of countries like Gambia, Nigeria, South Africa, Zambia, Sierra Leone and Ghana who are in ties with China, the relationship remains questionable.
The aforementioned countries have all failed to see significant skill developments, adequate technological transfer or any measurable upgrade to their productivity levels despite the Chinese presence. It makes one wonder if this relationship has been as good for Africa as it has been for China. This is supposed to be a symbiotic relationship, but the evidences so far show that the benefits are one-sided.
Chinese companies come to Africa and flout local rules and regulations. Local worker are disrespected and their rights curtailed, never mind they not being paid well. These hapless workers are treated anyhow, with their safeties thrown to the dogs. At Chinese-run mines in Zambia’s copper belt, for instance, employees must work for two years before they get safety helmets. More frequently, jobs are lost to Chinese employees, who are ferried in project. That is how bad the situation is.
In Ghana, mining on small plots of 25 acres or less is restricted to only Ghanaian nationals. However, the Chinese continue to explore for gold by conniving with some local landowners, even though the regulations state clearly that such practice is illegal. China mainly buys natural resources such as minerals and metals from Africa, while African countries also normally import the finished products, ranging from machinery, electrical goods, plastics and rubber.
Such an arrangement could benefit both parties, but in truth, it only benefits China while Africa is left with nothing. China tends to exploit Africa’s natural resources to feed its need for industrial output. At the same time, by exporting cheap and often shoddy manufactured goods to African countries, local companies not only become less competitive but they also grow increasingly dependent on China.
In 2007 there were protests in South Africa against the invasion of Chinese textile companies. In Zambia, miners took to the streets against Chinese companies complaining about low wages and the violation of their rights.
The lack of concern for Africa’s environmental shortfalls has become alarming due to practises such as illegal mining by the Chinese. In Ghana, most water bodies have been contaminated, depriving certain communities of portable drinking water. The indiscriminate cutting down of trees in Sierra Leone has also underdeveloped local communities. And in Gambia, the smiling coast with its beautiful tropical beaches has been destroyed after the construction of two Chinese fish processing plants in Gunjur and Kartong. Currently, thousands of dead fishes are washed to the shores of the beaches at Kartong and Gunjur as a result of the waste from the plant, thus impeding tourist presence.
The so-called symbiotic relationship between China and Africa is a mirage as it has cost more harm to Africa than good.
By Umar Danbaba Josiah,
Pan African Centre for Climate Policy
Phone: +2348031846771, +2348129552458
Edited by Emmanuel Ayamga