The Chinese-African Connection

Funded by the China National Mechanical and Equipment Corporation, the Imboulou Dam in the Republic of Congo is a 120-megawatt power plant that will double the DRC's national production of electricity and bring light to a large part of the country. Photo courtesy of Time Magazine/Paolo Woods.

Funded by the China National Mechanical and Equipment Corporation, the Imboulou Dam in the Republic of Congo is a 120-megawatt power plant that will double the DRC’s national production of electricity and bring light to a large part of the country. Photo courtesy of Time Magazine/Paolo Woods.

On the anniversary of Ghana’s independence, we wrote a blog piece about Former Ghanaian President Kwame Nkrumah‘s Pan-African ideology and how important it is to be aware of neocolonialism — the use of economic, political, and cultural pressures to influence other countries. While the definition of neocolonialism generally refers to the exploitation of former colonies, China’s recent economic boom has led to an increased investment in the many resources that makes Africa a literal and figurative goldmine.

China’s interest in Africa started as early as the 1960s and 70s when China helped build a railroad that connected Zambia and Tanzania, but the investment hit new heights when China invested 44.89 million dollars in the continent in 2010. While this money can be seen as a support to the economic, social and political independence of African countries, there has been some resistance. In an opinion piece published in the Financial Times, Nigerian Central Bank Governor Lamido Sanusi said,

China takes from us primary goods and sells us manufactured ones. This was also the essence of colonialism.

In the Republic of Congo, Jean de Dieu Malanga, a professor of Chinese, gives students at Savorgnan de Brazza high school their annual examination. Photo courtesy of Time/Paolo Woods.

In the Republic of Congo, Jean de Dieu Malanga, a professor of Chinese, gives students at Savorgnan de Brazza high school their annual examination. Photo courtesy of Time/Paolo Woods.

This relationship is certainly complicated by questionable ethical practices by both Chinese investors and the governments that accept those investments. Recently, illegal gold mining operations in Ghana have caused tensions, violent conflicts, poor worker conditions and environmental destruction. Similarly, the Ghanaian government is currently working with Chinese corporation Sinohydro to build Bui Hydroelectric Dam in the Northern Region of Ghana. While the dam will increase power supplies and create jobs, the project is being criticized for its profoundly negative impact on the environment and the forced resettlement of eight communities — 1,216 people. In East Africa, investment in the oil rich nations of Ethiopia and Somalia has resulted in claims of ethnic cleansing and other violence. For many Africans these experiences echo centuries of exploitation

While Nkrumah warned us of neocolonialism, investment and monetary support is needed to grow competitive economies in the 20th and 21st centuries. How can we be sure that all foreign investment is done responsibly to build a strong and independent African continent? Some reformers call for more transparency in international investments. Under the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) now requires all oil, natural gas and mining companies to report their spending. This reform empowers organizations like Publish What You Pay (PWYP), which work to create a world where all people have control over their resources by increasing transparency. Founded over 10 years ago, they’ve had many successes but are always looking for ways to build their coalition and expand the movement. What other ways do you think we can increase responsible investing?

by Vedan Anthony-North and Wren Longno, an Urban Policy and Analysis Master’s Candidate at the Milano School of International Affairs, Management and Urban Policy

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