Why African Governments should Strongly Condemn the Xenophobic attacks against Africans in China

The last couple of days have brought depressing headlines that show Africans living in China being persecuted, in some instances at the hands of the police, as a new wave of the Coronavirus pandemic hits parts of the country.

This is unfortunate news because China seems to have been trying to build economic partnerships with several African countries based on mutual respect and a win-win cooperation.

There’s also an irony here because not too long ago, Chinese nationals and other Asians were complaining of suffering physical attacks and hate speech amid xenophobic calls by some political pundits in several countries for Asian migrants to be denied access to medical services.

Indeed the hashtag #IAmNotAVirus trended on twitter a few weeks ago.

Thus, at a time when there has been calls against calling the Coronavirus the ‘Wuhan Virus’, or the ‘Chinese virus’ as some have been doing, with people across the world standing in solidarity with Asians who were experiencing this hate speech, it’s disheartening to see Chinese people attacking Africans in this demeaning and insensitive manner:

In the weeks since COVID-19 has been circulating, Asian-Americans and Asians around the world have noted a spike in discrimination and xenophobic attacks. Public transit riders have encountered hostile interactions and people simply walking down the street have experienced microaggressions — which I prefer to call veiled aggressions, because there is nothing “micro” about them for the person on the receiving end.

Dr. Marietta Vazquez, Professor of Pediatrics in the Division of Infectious Diseases & General Pediatrics at the Yale School of Medicine; Vice Chair of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Over the last few decades China has worked hard to court African countries by presenting itself as their alternative economic partner in a global competition against western countries. Using loans and infrastructural development assistance promises among other measures, bilateral agreements have been signed and investment into various sectors across African countries has followed.

China even hosts a summit for Africa (called Forum on China–Africa Cooperation) every three years.

Indeed such has been the level of Chinese incursion into Africa that in some places even obscure villages have Chinese communities numbering several hundred people.

Generally, Chinese investment into Africa works as follows: China gives African countries cheap loans (and or buyer’s credit), access to relatively cheap equipment and technology, help in infrastructure development such as building roads, railways, factories, hospitals and stadia, but without the IMF-type conditionalities, and without any paternalistic intervention in the recipient country’s domestic politics. In return African countries give China raw materials (of which minerals remain a significant part) and a growing market where Chinese companies can flog their wares, or offer their services. What is often left unsaid (but is perfectly understood) in these transactions is that African leaders should not criticise China in public.

Thus, with such strategic investment and presence on the African continent, a presence which China is keen to emphasize as not interfering in the internal state affairs of African countries, and which is not colonialist, you’d think the Chinese government would be at least careful about how it handles matters regarding African people.

However, looking at some of the videos coming out of China in recent days, it’s disappointing that the authorities, including the Chinese police seem to be partaking in the actual harassment of citizens of African countries.

And unfortunately, it’s not the first time that foreigners in China have been viewed as a threat to public safety. In 2016, local officials in Beijing ran an awareness campaign cautioning Chinese citizens against dating foreigners, who they said could be spies.

While the police in China may struggle to understand that human rights of all people must be protected, given the repressive nature of the Chinese State, and given China’s well-documented intolerance of freedom of speech, but surely they must know that repression of foreigners is out of bounds.

It’s one thing to be fast and loose with your own citizens, quite another to do it to someone else’s people.

This is why African countries must stand together in being firm against China to explain what exactly is going on. It’s not good enough to merely express “extreme concern”, when your country’s nationals are being attacked and harassed in this way. Not in a world where Africans the world over suffer demeaning insults and discrimination on a daily basis for all manner of things.

Thus, Foreign Offices across the African continent who have knowledge that their citizens have been affected should summon Chinese Ambassadors in their countries to explain what is going on, and why the police are not clamping down on the xenophobic attacks?!? They should also request an explanation of what will be done in terms of restitution to those who have been affected, and within what timeline. This should be handled as a matter of urgency.

Usually China is quick (some will say ‘harsh’) at dealing with civil disobedience and clamping down on unrest. Indeed there are many examples throughout China’s history one can pick from. So why are we not seeing Chinese police officers protecting Africans in the Chinese city of Guangzhou for example?

Further, over the last 40 or so years China has been accused of many things, mainly by politicians and companies in western countries. Among the accusations is the allegation that China is lax on infringement of intellectual property rights by its citizens. But in recent times, the country has been trying hard to clean up this reputation, however unfair the perceptions that remain may be. In particular, there have been promising strides against counterfeiting and strengthening of China’s intellectual property laws, with admirable progress worth shouting about.

But the current xenophobic attacks stand squarely to undermine any such glimmers of hope. China will struggle to win the world’s hearts and minds with such grim headlines. And the criticism is not western media bias as some Chinese officials have been keen to dismiss them as. The stories of residents being kicked out of their apartments are real, and there is video evidence available across social media to prove they occured. They smack of illegality and the trampling of civil liberties in the face of the authorities. Blanket denials will not help China’s cause.

Defeating the COVID-19 pandemic will require a global united front. It will need not only lockdowns, a range of personal hygiene measures, social distancing, respirators, masks, protective personal equipment and a vaccine, among other things. But it will also require firmly and truthfully stamping out the darker impulses of human behaviour when faced with calamity; it will mean clamping down on physical attacks and hate speech against minority communities. And since the overwhelming evidence of the origins of COVID-19 points to Wuhan in China, the Chinese government above everyone else ought to be at the frontline of the effort to protect minorities.

China Funding construction of new airport in Malawi

First it was a parliament building, then a road to connect Karonga and Chitipa, a five-star hotel, followed by a stadium, and now it seems they will be building an Airport. China is Africa’s new friend and within the last decade, they have made some serious inroads into Africa. The question that interests me looking at all the things China is doing in Africa, and considering they are not a colonialist is this: why didn’t any of the former colonialists build infrastructure comparable to what China is building in Africa today, when back in their own countries, they continued to build structures which no doubt contributed to their economies during the same period? Especially since some of these organisations had large empires which no doubt contributed to their enormous wealth….

Was it because they didn’t think Africa needed its own infrastructure? There was no plan …? Or was it because they had no money?

Anyhow i’ll ponder that another day 🙂

While President Joyce Banda should be commended for pushing through this excellent development (which is exactly the kind of infrastructure Africa needs) since it is true that our airports are outdated and in serious need for improvement, I wonder what she has granted the Chinese in return? What does the deal involve? Is the deal public? Would be interesting to see what is being offered in return…

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Where is Africa’s manufacturing?

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I prefer to ask (and answer) the above question, that references to the ‘stage’ or ‘point’ (not physical location) when asked ‘Why is Africa not manufacturing?’ . I’ve been asked this question so many times, by people beffudled as to how Africa pretty much fails where everybody else has succeeded. The reason I prefer to answer the above question is because unlike popular belief Africa is in fact manufacturing, just not as much as everyone else, and just not always visibly (you don’t hear these stories on Tv, and they are rarely in the mainstream media publications – unless you read FT – although that’s arguably not mainstream)

Similar to the questions of manufacturing is that of whether the skills for the establishment of a bigger manufacturing sector are readily available for investors to tap into?

KiZerbo200

I’ll start with the bad news:- If the skills are available on the continent, then as things stand, they are in severe shortage and are not really of African origin. According to research from OECD [see BBC link here], by the end of this decade (emphasis required, that’s by 2020) 4 of every 10 young graduate is going to be either from India or China. Looking at the list of countries listed, not even a single one is an African country. What does that say? Well, a number of things; that we are not producing enough graduates, or that the number of African graduates with skill sets (and of a high calibre) who can compete with their contemporaries from Chinese and Indian universities is comparatively insignificant. Which is worrying, because it essentially means Africa’s manufacturing is nowhere, or only material if driven and held together by non-African effectors.

In the past the Education of Africans has received very little support from those who should know better. Most dictators who took over from the colonialists did too little to maintain the standard and level of Education (or Higher Education) across Africa, focussing instead of consolidating their rule. With a few exceptions, multiparty governments that came after dictatorships followed suit, by not investing anywhere near enough as was necessary. The donors that were bed-fellows with the dictators (and those that came after) arguably weren’t as sympathetic or visionary. According to an ESSA paper (quoted in this paper titled “THE ROLE OF HIGHER EDUCATION IN AFRICA” by Prof.Dr.Birgit Brock-Utne of the Institute for Educational Research at the University of Oslo) the World Bank once viewed Higher Education in Africa as a luxury:

“To meet minimally acceptable targets for coverage and quality of lower levels of education in most countries, as a general rule the tertiary sub sector’s share of stagnant real public education expenditures cannot expand further, and in some cases may have to contract. Some combination of efficiency improvements, increased private contribution to costs, and constrained growth of – in some countries and fields, outright cutback in – production of graduates must be sought.” (World Bank 1988: 95)

Expenditure on education was merely a self-serving budgetary exercise, and it didn’t matter what the result was, or whether indeed Africa would be ‘left-behind’ as a direct consequence of the under-investment, what mattered was only that money had been saved.

Without research into what their policy position currently is, I wouldn’t be able to tell you whether this view has changed or not.

Investors with the means have been to put it mildly, shy of investing on the continent let alone into skills development. A paper by a researcher named Paul Bennell which addresses the issue of whether structural adjustments programs ( these are those stringent rules imposed on African countries as part of loan agreements from the likes of IMF and World Bank) over a 15 year period have indeed achieved the desired response (i.e. increasing foreign investment in the hope of triggering technology transfer from the industrialized countries to Africa) paints a depressing picture. To quote Bennell (via this link):

Surprisingly, the share of net earnings from UK manufacturing investments in Africa remitted each year to the UK was higher than the global average between 1985 and 1990 . . . While UK companies have been keen to reinvest very sizable proportions of their profits in North America, Europe and Asia, investment opportunities in manufacturing have generally been very limited in Africa and thus, given the option, most parent companies would like to remit the bulk of subsidiary profits from the region

In other words, Africa was where you went to make your money, and not a place to reinvest your profits.

But it isn’t all bad news.

Recently, the African Development Bank’s (AfDB) approved a US$ 45 million grant for the creation of a Pan African University (PAU) that will consist of five Pan African Institutes focussing mainly on science, technology and innovation. The background to the story reads:

Africa has only 35 scientists and engineers per million inhabitants, compared with 168 for Brazil, 2,457 for Europe and 4,103 for the United States. Shortage of skills has been a major constraint to Africa’s progress in science, technology and innovation. Due to low investment in research and development, Africa ranks low in global competitiveness and productivity. African students tend to opt for economics, business, law and social sciences rather than science, engineering and technology, hampering the continent’s competitiveness and growth. The result is a mismatch between skills produced and private sector jobs.

While one would hope this initiative will be a success, and the Institutes will not falter under the common problems that beset universities and research institutions across much of Africa, it will be interesting to see how this develops.

As is well understood universally, innovation is the lifeblood of industry, and without the creation of ground-breaking and new products,  a country cannot advance or gain a competitive advantage. It was the case during the industrial revolution, during the rise of countries such as Germany, Russia, Japan and even Brazil. The exception (only to an extent) to this rule appears to be China, but that’s for a whole load of other reasons that distinguish it from the rest of mankind

But as the African Development Bank correctly observed above, in order to create ground-breaking innovations and products, and in order to influence global scientific research and technology, you need a skilled workforce. That’s why  the AfDB initiative represents a realignment of Africa’s potential in the right direction.

Across Africa, there are many success stories that are truly inspirational, although as i stated above, these are not shouted about in the mainstream media. One such inspirational story is that of Fabrinox, a south African company manufacturing sheet metal that was formed in 1993, and that has seen turnover in recent years hit US$5.8 million. Asked what had been the best decision he had made to grow his company, the company founder says:

To have followed the advice of my business mentor Johan Beyers to not restrict Fabrinox and its people to one geographical area, product or service, but to take a global view in running the business. For instance, it means that we think globally in terms of our supply chain, and are most willing to service clients beyond the boundaries of the Western Cape province in which we are located, and South Africa for that matter.

In addition to such success stories, there are also many partnerships between foreign manufacturers and agricultural producers across Africa, and some of those partnerships are genuinely beneficial to Africans. Who knows maybe some of these could one day pave way for an African manufacturing industry of its own, if some haven’t began to do so already? After all, manufacturing in industries such as motorcycle build and assembly in China began when after purchasing equipment from Japan, the Chinese assemblers began to modify the Japanese made components; fast forward a couple of decades, and China was making its own motorcycles which essentially were improvements (i.e. “innovations” more or less) of the original Japanese models.

The partnerships article above correctly points out that:

The level of mechanisation in African farming is still very low. Kenya had 25 tractors per 100 square kilometres of arable land in 2009 while Nigeria has almost seven, according to the most recent data from World Bank. That compares with an average of 271 machines in the US.

There are also some manufacturers who are looking towards Africa not because it’s ideal, but because they are getting sick and tired of the happenings in Asia (workplace safety that in recent years has become a major issue, levels of corruption, the increasing fees demanded by some factory owners, etc)

But before anybody gets too excited, look, the Chinese are planning on setting up shop in Africa! (see here and here). Although here one must wonder, does that mean Chinese labour (as they have been known to do in some African countries across the continent) or will these factories use African labour?

As for the power that will drive everything and get every bit of machinery working (in some countries – putting an end to years of intermittent blackouts), that’s about to get much more exciting. At least that’s what Obama seems to be saying.

Imagine an African continent…” – Kofi Annan

Among the comments underneath the video on YouTube are:

1. “I want to be optimistic but judging from the butt licking seen at a recent Africa Business Forum (held in Dubai), I can assure you the African has a long way to go. It’s about change of mindset. Nobody is interested in HELPING you, they want your RESOURCES stupid! I almost plucked my lashes on hearing Prime Ministers, Ministers and top African leaders trashing each other and worshiping foreign. Over 50+ years after independence, you still cannot put your house in order! African Union my foot!”

2. “I wish this message is played over over in the bedrooms of these insensitive leaders in Africa.”

and

3. “Bless u Papa”

The issue Annan addresses is one that is critical to Africa’s economic development. Africa will not develop if African leaders are squandering African resources. If they are giving away Africa’s riches liberally. It appears like few African leaders ever question whether the contracts they sign with investors are truly in the country’s best interest. Do they ask third-parties for comment, or solicit views from across the country? Is there even a consultation?

Remember my observations here, about ENI which has been given a 70% interest in a Natural Gas finding off the coast of Mozambique? That’s precisely the unwise decisions which Annan refers to. Surely, there is little justification in giving away such a large interest, when Mozambique has more need for such resources which are essential to help it in eradicating poverty. Mozambique could have bought the required equipment and done the appraisal or exploration themselves. In the current global economic crisis, where jobs are scarce, I’m not convinced that anyone would have struggled to find the right talent, with the right experience to do the job to a satisfactory level of competence. In any case, no Mozambican (or African) company is likely to ever be awarded such a large interest in a natural resource in Italy (or indeed in Europe, America, or in Asia).

It’s simply not going to happen, and the Italians would never allow their government such obtuse liberties. Certainly not to the tune of $10 billion.

How then can African leaders justify giving away that much wealth, when their country folk are poor, and when the technology for mapping, finding and extracting Natural gas is somewhat elementary? And readily available. It’s not Space Science, or Nuclear Physics. But even if it were, in the current recession where governments are pushing for cuts throughout the western world, how many Nuclear Physicists or Space scientists, or Geophysical surveyors or Engineers out there are currently out of a job, and would relish such a challenge for less than $150,000 a piece, saving Mozambican government billions? Did the Mozambican government even consider doing the exploration or extraction itself using employed staff?

Lastly, I’ll leave you with a sobering question. Despite the fact that ENI have already sold part of that stake to the Chinese, do you know where the money they get from this deal will go? As in what does a company that makes billions in profits do with an additional $10 billion or more?

Will it be used to build schools or hospitals in Mozambique, some of which unfortunately look like this:

Or would the majority of such funds be used to multiply ENI’s wealth, possibly to issue dividends to ENI’s shareholders in Italy & Europe (or other industrialised and rich countries), where their schools and hospitals look like this:

Where will the majority of this money be invested? In Italy, in Europe? Or  in Africa?

If you showed the contents on this blogpost to any Mozambican, and asked them where in their view those resources are most required, what do you think they will  answer you?

I’d like to know how much (if any) of the actual monetary benefit ENI receives from this interest eventually remains in Mozambique ( for use in development, for Mozambican banks to make investment in foreign markets, etc). Surely if we are to take what Annan seems to clearly allude, Mozambique is the rightful owner of the natural resource. Why then should they receive peanuts from it? Shouldn’t they receive the lions share?

I’m not saying that ENI hasn’t contributed to social programs in Africa, or in other parts of the world, where they have operations,no that’s not what I’m saying. To the contrary ENI has supported social programs, most recently in Libya.

My point is, if European and American companies display wildly unrestrained greed in the form of behavior that suggests that they do infact own African resources, and African politicians are unable, unwilling or pressured from objecting to grossly unfair deals that are ‘discriminatory’ in every meaning of the word, and clearly unfair; and if civil society is unable to force African governments to renegotiate these unfair contracts (ideally before they are signed), how does anyone expect the continent of Africa to ever achieve economic development??When the resources that matter, and could make a huge difference to millions of lives, are given away so easily, moving only from South to North, or only from South to East, or from South to West??

Similar:

1. Who Owns the Land? Cameroon’s Large-Scale Land-Grabs

2. ‘The Resource Curse’: Why Africa’s Oil Riches Don’t Trickle Down to Africans

3. Africa Debate: Will Africa ever benefit from its natural resources?

4. Scramble for Africa

5.  Resource curse not the only reason for Africa’s poverty

6. Gazprom Said to Seek Stake in Eni’s Gas Assets in Mozambique