Feb 10 2007

Step aside, Shanghai: Here comes South African Imperialism

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 4:58 PM

The new article from the pen of normally astute African Uber-journalist William Gumede rehashes a self-serving argument against Chinese engagement with black Africa first advanced in December by South African president Thabo Mbeki. He warned that Africans ought to worry about falling into a “colonial relationship” with China, which is rapidly expanding its commercial ties with sub-Saharan nations. The G-Mbeki argument is laughable except that serious people are, well, taking it seriously. Africa has a long and terrible history of exploitation so tossing around the C-word is inherently incendiary, designed to immobolize critics by raising the specter of racism and rank exploitation.
In fact, Chinese investments in Africa are a mixed blessing, with some measure of exploitation co-mingled with important new opportunities spawned by Chinese contacts. A more balanced view of the situation comes from Andrew Mwenda, the great Ugandan journalist and a friend of mine who is spending the academic year at Stanford University in Palo Alto, where I will be teaching a journalism course this April. Mwenda argues that fears over Chinese engagement with Africa are exaggerated. I agree. Africa suffers, fundamentally, from too little engagement with the wider world, not too much. Yes, the Chinese pose a challenge. They too often import workers to run their African enterprises; even hotel maids are flown into Africa to staff Chinese-owned hotels and bricklayers to work as builders on Chinese construction sites. The Chinese also resist giving real power to their African employees in Africa. Nevertheless, Africans at all level can learn something from the Chinese, and their engagement with Africa is much healthier than the situation of ten years ago, when China traded with and invested in everywhere else in the world except Africa.

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