Kudos to my basketball-challenged friend over at the always excellent (and often retrograde) What About Paris Blog for alerting me to the China in Africa: The Real Story blog. The China in Africa blog is written by Deborah Brautigam, who describes herself as follows: 

I’m a professor in American University’s International Development Program in the School of International Service. I am spending 2011-2012 as a visiting fellow at IFPRI (International Food Policy Research Institute). I’ve lived in Asia and Africa, studied Chinese for years, and done research in more than a dozen countries in Africa. In January 2010 I published The Dragon’s Gift, a book on Chinese aid and economic engagement in Africa (Oxford University Press — revised and updated for the paperback edition, published May/June 2011). This blog takes up where that book left off. Stay tuned for analysis of China’s “land grabs” in Africa, the China International Fund in Guinea and Zimbabwe, and so on.

The China in Africa blog is serious, analytical, balanced and interesting, and if you have any interest in what China is doing in Africa and what the impacts of that will be, you need to add it to your feed reader. 

  • MHB

    Thanks for the recommendation!

  • James G

    Her writing is well-researched and offers some interesting perspectives. However, I do take issue with her defense – and some of her writing amounts to that – of Chinese labor practices in Africa.
    When she says that the idea that “Chinese do not bring in all their labor and don’t hire Africans” is “not true”, I have to wonder what she thinks about the tens of thousands of laborers who are in China and are NOT on the books. It’s cheeky at best.
    “It has long been official Chinese policy to promote exports, and labor exports are part of this. In 2008, there were officially 140,000 Chinese working in Africa, which probably outnumbers the expatriates sent by all the Western aid agencies together. Chinese companies use more Chinese supervisors, managers, technicians and engineers than companies from any other country working in Africa. But the idea that the Chinese use all Chinese labor and do not employ Africans is empirically wrong.”
    Using a lot of Chinese and African government figures about Chinese laborers without going into the very likely fudging of the numbers – which both sets of governments have real and obvious incentives to engage in – strikes me as short-sighted. Using a Guardian article to say there is a ratio of 15 Angolans to every 1 Chinese on a project might be fine if the same article didn’t say this:
    One of the problems, say the opposition, is that no one can say just how many Chinese there are in Zambia. The government told parliament there are 2,300 but economists say the real figure runs into the tens of thousands.
    There are some asterisks missing in that 15 to 1 ratio. Below, from the same article:
    “It’s hard to know how they all got here,” said Guy Scott, a former agriculture minister and now the Patriotic Front leader in parliament. “If you go to the market you find Chinese selling cabbages and beansprouts. What is the point in letting them in to do that? There’s a lot of Chinese here doing construction. Zambians can do that. The Chinese building firms are undercutting the local firms.
    Obviously the government runs the census and if the populace is likely to balk, violently, at a large number of Chinese laborers, the numbers will be fudged. Please someone tell me that African governments are bastions of transparency! At any rate, Chinese are very very rapildy becoming involved in the most menial jobs across Africa, and unlike North America and western Europe, where high standards of living leave a lot of menial labor positions wanting, that is not the case anywhere in Africa. Anywhere. Even in areas that have reached a higher standard of living, there is wide-spread intra-country immigration and inbound immigration from neighboring countries, many of whom have economic, cultural, and political connections that (Chinese made bridges and roads notwithstanding) trump Chinese FDI. There are Chinese taxi drivers in Sub-Saharan Africa!
    Then there are accounts like this:
    This is true. In Lusaka and in the Copper Belt, poor and lowly Chinese workers, in broad-brimmed straw hats from another era, are a common sight at mines and on building sites, as are better-dressed Chinese supervisors and technicians.
    Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1063198/PETER-HITCHENS-How-China-created-new-slave-empire-Africa.html#ixzz1i7pWvG7u
    About 45 per cent of the 50,000 foreigners working in Algeria are Chinese. They are heavily represented in construction and public works projects in all major cities.
    The “Arab Spring” was reasonably well-reported in the western press, and i am sure that anyone even slightly familiar with Algeria knows that physical labor jobs should not be in such abundance there that tens of thousands of Chinese laborers need to be brought in. Imagine Nigeria or Kenya being allowed to send their unemployed and uneducated to China, where they understood neither the culture nor the language, to work at jobs in down at the heels parts of Guizhou or Henan.
    Anyway, other than that – a major quibble, but only one – I am glad to see her writing getting more attention and I hope that western analysis of China’s investment in FDI moves beyond “no slavery/bridges and roads” hopefulness.

  • Thanks, sir. Happy New Year. And stay in shape. 🙂

  • China’s exporting of labor goes hand in hand with their BOT contracts, that’s why they can be so competitive in cost and deadlines. If she’s denying that, she’s either been deceived or didn’t research the issue fully. It’s certainly NOT the real story.

  • To Kwane

    Spot on Mr. Oyama! Take the emotion out of the arguement and this is exactly what it boils down to — delivery of projects on time and within budget (now; whether or not the projects so delivered are up to standard, is a question for another day) . By employing their own (relatively more docile and more productive) labour force, Chinese contractors do away with the risk of the inevitable work stoppages/strikes (and political furore) that would result when our African workers are required to work at the same pace and for the same pay that the Chinese worker is willing to accept.. Chinese FDI and aid DO come with strings attached!

  • Williams

    I checked out the blog and I found it interesting. Thanks.

  • paul

    I came across this today, looks as if it might be interesting.