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At this point, China has a fairly well-established trade
relationship with a number of sub-Saharan African countries. Despite some
improvements over the years, Africa has not benefitted from Western aid nearly
as much as they had originally hoped to. Thus, the door has opened for China to
increase already-established economic relations with Africa. While China may
have more to gain from economic relations with Africa, it is nonetheless an
important relationship for a number of countries in sub-Saharan Africa in terms
of economic, medical, and educational development.

            Through
economic relations with Africa, China has also been able to extend
desperately-needed medical services over forty-six years in the form of China
Medical Teams (CMT) that offer free facilities and medication (Anshan, 6). As
part of this medical aid, approximately 17,000 medical workers have been
dispatched to 48 African countries over the years treating roughly 200 million
people (Anshan, 6). Most importantly from an economic standpoint, China has
assisted Africa in human capital development. In the context of modern day
Africa, the concept of “human resource” is primarily derived from the human
development school (Anshan, 11). In addition to the significance of education
and health in human resource development emphasized by the human resource theory,
the human development school goes even further with an included emphasis on
“empowerment, cooperation, equity, sustainability, and security” (Anshan, 11).
Human capital has been identified by many economists as being a key factor in
determining the level of well being of an economy, thus human resource
development is crucial for economic progression (Anshan, 12). This is an area
of development that China has placed added emphasis on in assisting Africa, an
area that many Western sources of economic assistance for Africa have seemed to
overlook.

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Many African leaders have cited the
lack of skilled human capital as a key factor in much of Africa’s inability to
flourish in a globalized economy (Anshan, 12). Many of Africa’s skilled people,
especially those specialized in the medical field, have left Africa for
wealthier nations in order to earn higher incomes (Anshan, 13). Although China
is a completely different situation than Africa (seeing as China is just one
nation), China is very qualified to assist Africa in human resource development
in that they too dealt with the problem of a lack of skilled human capital in
the past. In the past, foreign aid to Africa has often heavily relied on
foreign expertise with little local input. This is a major detriment to development
capacity as it overlooks the various, complex intricacies of a national
economy. A figure that really sticks out is that roughly two-thirds of Africans
have no access to family planning or HIV prevention programs (Anshan, 16). A
lack of general healthcare inherently undermines human resource development.
Human resource development in Africa has definitely been hindered by the
Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs) introduced by the International Monetary
Fund (IMF) and World Bank in the 1980s (Anshan, 14). As a result of SAPs, many
African nations found themselves in heavy levels of debt. It is also estimated
that through forty years, roughly 90% of the $12 billion a year in technical
assistance is spent on foreign expertise (Ashan, 15). It appears that these
programs are not necessarily designed for African countries to “graduate” from
this foreign assistance, further exacerbating the issue of African dependency
on foreign aid. Local African expertise is being heavily underutilized. In many
cases, technical assistance is often treated as a price of foreign aid rather
than a solution for local problems (Anshan, 15).  

            China’s
approach to aid in Africa differs greatly from that of the West in that they
place special emphasis on the receiving country’s sovereignty (Cheng, 2). China
also holds a “no strings attached” policy in which they claim to not impose
ideology or values on countries that they provide aid to (Cheng, 3). This is in
addition to their “non-interference” policy in which they have pledged to not
be directly involved in internal conflicts in the recipient nations. These
policies have not been met without international criticism, with some countries
claiming that China may be ignoring human rights abuses in some of the African
nations that they provide aid to (Kushamba, 5). Many leaders in Africa have
been extremely appreciative of the assistance China has provided. China was
among the first countries to respond to the Ebola crisis (Cheng, 4). They also
pay special attention to the development of infrastructure, an area the West
has often overlooked (Kushamba, 2). In addition to infrastructure building,
China has stressed technical training to manage new infrastructure.

While China has had diplomatic and
military ties with African nations since the 1950s, large scale trade has been
a fairly recent development with 681% increase between 2001 and 2007 (Kushamba,
3). Trade between China and Africa grew from $2 billion in 1999 to $160 billion
in 2012 (Kushamba, 8). China is also very active in Africa in providing loans.
As of 2013, the Chinese claimed that they had aid accords with 48 African
countries and loan agreements with 22 (Kushamba, 5). China is Africa’s most
significant partner in terms of infrastructure development which some areas of
Africa desperately need (Kushamba, 7). Some examples of this would be Chinese
investment in steel-making facilities in Zambia, broadcasting systems in
Liberia, toll roads in Uganda, railroads in Ethiopia, and the list goes on
(Kushamba, 7). China has invested heavily in the business sectors such as
retail, finance, and food processing (Kushamba, 9). Chinese firms have also
typically promoted inter-regional trade, allowing for more diversification of
African economies. This differentiates them in their approach to trade in
Africa as they heavily encourage intraregional trade, as opposed to the
traditional Western approach to aid in Africa in which national borders
(drafted at the 1885 Berlin Conference) served as barriers of trade (Maswana,
106). China is investing in roads and railways to facilitate this intraregional
trade. In the last twenty years, China has experienced a massive increase in
the import of African materials

In exchange for providing assistance
to Africa, China does receive a great deal in return. One-third of Chinese
imports are from Africa (Kushamba, 4). It is also no secret that China gives
disproportionate aid to countries with large natural resource reserves. There
was also the issue of the Nigerian government rejecting the World Bank railway
proposal in 2007 as it contained stipulations relating to human rights abuses
in Nigeria (Kushamba, 8). They instead opted for the $7 billion Chinese plan
which contained no language relating to human rights abuses. This is again a
product of Chinese non-interventionist policies (Kushamba, 8). A 2013 figure
estimates that roughly 55% of Chinese imports were minerals, and they import
much of them from Africa (Kushamba, 9). In exchange, they import massive
quantities of textiles and electronics into Africa. This says to me that not only
are the Chinese pursuing resource extraction in Africa, but market development
as well. However, many Africans believe the quality of Chinese products to be
substandard, having been referred by some as “Fong Kongs” in South Africa and
“Zhing-Zhong” in Zimbabwe (Kushamba, 14). 

Many researchers have also observed
that China’s natural resource extraction in Africa may be damaging to African
economies in that proceeds are not being properly invested back into African
economies (Kushamba, 9). Over the years, the import of massive quantities of
Chinese manufactured products into Africa may have also damaged Africa’s
manufacturing sector most likely due to price competitiveness. The South
African textile industry has been heavily affected by this phenomenon. China
also does not necessarily follow environmental regulations with regard to its
activities in Africa (Le, 106). This is true in the case of the Lamu Port
Construction project in the port town of Lamu, Kenya (Le, 106). China has
invested heavily in this project as this port would be a huge economic asset
for them by increasing shipping capacity to and from East Africa. However, they
may not be paying enough special attention to the potential effects on both the
natural and human environment in Lamu County. Fishermen, honey harvesters, and
pastoralists in the region have all reported increasingly lower yields as more
families move there for work to make way for the impending construction of the
port (Le, 116). A 2010 feasibility report estimated that the population of Lamu
County will increase by more than ten times from the 2009 estimate of roughly
110,000 people to well over a 1.2 million upon completion (Le, 116). As more
mangrove forests are cleared to make way for the transport corridor leading to
the port, the livelihoods are being affected as many of them rely on the
mangroves for timber, home goods, traditional medicine, and mosquito repellant
(when burned) (Le, 118). Lamu County is overwhelmingly Muslim, and the local
populace fears that conflicts may occur with the migration of new workers into
Lamu County (who may be of varying religious backgrounds) (Le, 118). With the
new influx, locals also fear that the risk of sexually transmitted diseases may
spread. 65% of locals interviewed thought that the local environment would be
damaged by the construction of the port (Le, 119). Lamu County has
traditionally been a well preserved area in terms of its rich history, but
again, historical structures as well as local culture may be affected by the
port.

Another interesting observation is
that the Chinese and Kenyan governments have done a terrible job at interfacing
with the locals, with some not even aware of the construction project (Le,
119). China’s importing of unprocessed primary commodities from Africa and the
export of manufactured goods to Africa has been described by Lamido Sanusi
(governor of Nigeria’s central bank at the time) as the “essence of
colonialism” (Maswana, 96). Using the relative trade index model (RTI), it was
determined that there were ten countries in sub-Saharan Africa with a score
larger than 1 (Maswana, 103). This indicates not only high volumes of trade,
but high levels of dependency as well. In a sense, dependency can be viewed as
a precursor to neo-colonialism. What was also interesting was that South Africa
and Nigeria, China’s two largest trading partners in Africa, had among the
lowest RTIs in Africa (Maswana, 103). This may be due to the fact that they both
tend to have more resources and thus a more diversified economy when compared
to most other African nations.

            African
perceptions of China are an interesting topic, with a wide range of opinions
existing depending on the people and place. Many African leaders, namely
Senegalese President Macky Sall, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, and former
South African President Thabo Mbeki, have expressed admiration for
Chinese-African relations (Kushamba, 14). According to a 2010 Pew Research
poll, 75% of Nigerians held a favorable view of China (Kushamba, 14). However,
as noted before, many view Chinese products as poor in quality as evidenced by
a study performed by the Ethics Institute of South Africa (2014) in which the
vast majority of participants held an unfavorable view of Chinese products
(Kushamba, 14). In Ghana for example, the people have mostly viewed Chinese
intervention in its economy as positive and conducive to development. However,
this has started to change, specifically in western Ghana due to relatively
recent events. The Chinese-run bauxite mines of Ghana have met significant
backlash (Aidoo, 60). While the mines have provided jobs, they have also drawn
attention in China to the mineral-rich nature of West Ghana, thus attracting
many freelance Chinese miners attempting to participate in “galamsey”. Galamsey
refers to independent, artisanal gold extraction, specifically in Ghana (Aidoo,
55). Unlike the local miners who used traditional tools, the Chinese typically
employed heavy machinery and chemicals for mining. Some of these chemicals are
toxic and have gotten into the water supply, damaging the drinking water of the
locals and further stirring up anti-Chinese sentiment (Aidoo, 60). However, the
Chinese miners were readily able to find willing local Ghanaians to work in
joint ventures. Further stirring up local anger, it has even been suggested by
some that local chieftains may have assisted the Chinese in the acquisition of
machinery and chemicals for mining in exchange for kickbacks (Aidoo, 65). The
Chinese dabbling in galamsey are at odds with China’s “non-interventionist”
policies. As more Chinese miners flooded the area around the village of Awaso
in western Ghana, mass deportations began to occur in 2013 known as the
“galamsey crisis” (Aidoo, 58). This crisis could not have come at a worse time
for Ghana because they had just accepted a $3 billion loan from China in 2012,
the largest single credit facility to an African country (Aidoo, 61). Many
Ghanaians hold an unfavorable view of these Chinese miners, seeing them as
invaders there to exploit Ghana’s resources for profit. Ironically, the
activities of these miners would not have been possible without the assistance
of local Ghanaians. I think this really highlights the complexities of both
local and international players in a globalized economy.

            In
conclusion, one can draw a number of perspectives from the data regarding
Sino-African economic relations depending on the source. There is no doubt that
China is looking to exploit African natural resources and markets for profit,
just as Western nations have done in the past. However, China has at times
provided a number of African countries with greatly needed medical, human
resource, and infrastructural development. I would say that for some African
nations that lack large quantities of skilled workers, manufacturing
capabilities, and infrastructure, it would be in their best interest to remain
in economic relations with China. However, all African nations are not created
equal so this statement will not hold true for everyone. If nothing else,
engaging in economic relations with China cannot be any more harmful for Africa
than engaging in economic relations with the West, albeit for different
reasons. However, like many African leaders, I believe that the current state
of the relationship is unsustainable (especially with regard to rampant Chinese
extraction of nonrenewable resources), and needs to be altered to best benefit
Africa in the future.

            

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