China in Africa and lessons for Sri Lanka
Posted on May 20th, 2012

Shenali Waduge

For a continent that attributes itself to man’s evolution some 6million years ago and reminds us our roots are in Africa, there is little other than famine, drought, poverty, disease, poor leadership, religious conflicts, ethnic conflicts that depicts Africa. The richness of the continent saw Europeans “scramble into Africa” to devour its natural resources, land, use its strategic location and to convert its natives. Africa was divided through the Berlin Conference on 1814-15 with new borders drawn up by 1914 separating families, tribes and ethnic groups creating complete anarchy. China is the new player in Africa and it is interesting to see how China’s presence differs from the Europeans.

The story of Africa is nothing really pleasant. Having stolen the natural resources, divided land and created 100million slaves out of these natives, European invaders walked away with the riches of these nations. Asia’s story is no different. These invaders, nations whose roots trace back to slaves and convicts are today known as the Developed World while Africa lives in poverty. The irony of Africa as with all other nations under colonial invader rule is that whilst being subject to inhuman treatment and having their land disintegrated and devoured they have left these nations with a term called “independence” with leaders who have unfortunately proved they are no better than these foreign invaders. The story of the ordinary citizens in each of the nations that were once colonized and now in the hands of local leaders hasn’t lived upto expectations.

Africa is indeed an amazing continent. With 1billion population, 54 countries and people speaking 2000 languages. The Nile is the world’s longest river, the Sahara is the worlds’ largest dessert, Victoria Falls the world’s largest waterfall, Mount Kilimanjaro the world’s highest mountain. Africa is the hottest continent on earth, Sudan is its largest country (but the West has divided that into two) Cairo is Africa’s largest city.

China’s inroads into Africa has taken Western nations by surprise which explains the negative publicity given to China’s investments in Africa.

We are now in the 21st century. Despite Africa’s population being 1billion, 75% of the continent is sparsely inhabited. 24 million Africans are infected with AIDS with 6000 dying daily. Half of the continent lives below the poverty line. 48% of Africa are Christians (495.8 million) while 41 percent are Muslim (423.5 million). The African Muslim population is diminishing with 6m converting to Christianity annually.

Africa is seeing a rise in its economic growth and that change has been largely due to the presence of China. China is offering Africa the complete package “”…” upfront money, technical expertise, influence at the UN Security Council against western influence and for autocrats and dictators would Africa say no to China? Thus from investing $10b in 2003, China’s investment in Africa today is over $40bilion.

What makes China’s investments attractive to Africa is that there is no conditionality associated with what China gives and certainly differs from the manner the West tries to strangulate nations through IMF and World Bank structural adjustments, embargoes, sanctions etc. not to mention the humiliation Africa is subject to through the electronic media. For China “”…” a country’s internal problems are nothing to do with China and China does not make a single reference to any internal issues a far cry from the chorus of “human rights” chanted by Western systems.

 The West fails to realize that this is not the 1800s and people cannot be manipulated as the colonial rulers had done in the past. When the West shows no respect for countries what they end up doing is practically handing over these countries to China who does not mingle business with politics. Thus China has invested in areas that the West have sought to destroy through structural adjustments and both Asia and Africa are seeing a resurgence in industries, agriculture and physical infrastructure because of China’s investments.

 So what has China invested in Africa? West Africa, especially Nigeria and Angola provide US with 15% oil imports. China has offered Angola a $2billion soft loan whilst signing a $7billion investment with Nigeria agreeing to purchase 30,000 barrels per day for 5 years and to manage 5 of Nigeria’s oil blocks as well as agreeing to take over a privatized oil refinery that was on the verge of collapse. China’s assistance has enabled Nigeria to pay off $18billion debt.

 China has gone on to invest nearly $170m in Zambia’s mining sector, Congo’s mining industry whilst in Sierra Leone China is developing a luxury hotel and in Uganda China is involved in introducing anti-malaria drug. In Equatorial Guinea, Chinese firms are helping its dictator build an entirely new capital. For Rubert Mugabe, whose Zimbabwe has been almost handed over to China, his gift has been a 25 bedroom mansion valued at £1billion. Mugabe’s response is “we have turned East, where the sun rises and given our backs to the West, where the sun sets”.

A clear aspect differentiating Western investors from China is the fact that China invests through state-owned companies which implies that China looks at foreign investments from a strategic point of view rather than from a commercial advantage which also denotes that China is in no hurry for dividends for these have been targeted for long term gains.

China is a country that is growing and holding one fifth of the world’s 7b population and Africa is perfect to sell its goods while Africa is a home to a wealth of natural resources.  Its interest has been on commodities like oil, gas, platinum, gold and other minerals. It has invested in infrastructure and transport and facilities that serve the new elite that will emerge “”…” both African and Chinese. How US and EU nations must be envying China!

There are 750,000 Chinese who have settled down in Africa over the past decade and that figure is unlikely to decrease as China has made clear its policy on economic expansions. That could mean sending thousands more to solve its own population issues. These are aspects that need to be discussed and sorted and not left to be taken up later.

While China is clear about its business in Africa, the African nations dealing with China must also be aware of exactly what they are dealing with. Enslaved by colonial rulers, neglected by their own leaders African nations have little choice in gambling when assistance is provided. Yet, what must not be forgotten is that whilst China may provide aid and investment and turn a blind eye to internal issues China does not fool around with its export policies. One good example is the multifibre agreement imposed on China for a decade that has now been lifted. Thus, China’s goods are flooding the local markets and affects Africa’s exports resulting in not only loss of revenue but loss of jobs as well.

These are all lessons for Sri Lanka.

For a geographically advantaged country we should be prudent in the aspects of agreements we enter into and unlike the West whose bullying tactics are seeing them loose Africa, we do not need to be bending on fours worshipping the West simply because they are white and all those discussing agreements must be able to openly discuss a win-win situation that would not compromise Sri Lanka, its natural resources or its people.

Ideally, we should be concentrating on making Sri Lanka self-sufficient in agriculture, how far any action plans have been set up is a good question and demands legislators as to why they have not come up with a national plan to uplift the country’s agriculture.

In the light of poor performances by our own leaders, advisors and officials if we need to look to a fixed partner that would protect us from the barrage of international pressures and challenges coming our way “”…” it should be China and certainly not India.

7 Responses to “China in Africa and lessons for Sri Lanka”

  1. Naram Says:


    Thanks for raising a question thatneeds much further analysis. China was activein the 70s in providing the backbone to developing countries by stepping into build many items of essetial infrastrure like the rail link to export coppr from Zambia to ports in Tanzania when that copper rich African country found that they are landlocked by the illegal government of Ian Smith’s Rhodesia. World Bank refused to invest money on the much needed rail connection.

    More recently the oil rich state of Equatorial new Guinea was nearly taken over by a group of Western investors who tried to stage a coup and subsequently that country has forged a strong relationship with China.

    However Chinese language remains difficult to master and that makes it imore difficult for the other countries to be true partners in the construction efforts. GOvernments must take more care over how preliminary investigations or designs are carried out, the controls adopted during the construction process and the processes enviged for follow up management or the health and safety precautions during construction and hand over period as well as subsquent managementneeds to be closely supervised by government departments asChina’s own power structure, the way of doing business can change over time as much as that of the the recipient.

  2. AnuD Says:

    Read the above Link and understand how the world Geo-politics are changing. Western world has cut down Aids to Africa. But, India and China are very active in Africa. Africa understands the predicament that they are in. That is why they are fighting. Even though Africa is rich with many resources, they are being depleted and exploited by the western world. Itis clear that even Gadhaafi had to die because he wanted to free Africa from the situation that they are in.

    South Africa is considered developing fast. People are watching Kenya like countries too, They are even developing their own banking methods avoiding the use of very destructive and exploitative Credit card industry. Zambia was doing economically very well until Mugabe tried to nationlize the assets in the country. I think, that ended of their money becoming nothing and Mugambe complaining that Anthrax – epidemic among humans (Food & Mouth diesease) was introduced to them by the west.

  3. AnuD Says:

    Very good article. It is definitely, China and not India. As long as Tamils are there to influence, we cannot expect anything from India.

    China also has the problem of flooding the other country with their cheap products and also thousands of cheap Chinese Labour. I think, by that way, Chinese learn English and foreign cultures, settle in those countries which will be useful in the future, they also cover up what ever their know-how they have from the country they are doing business with.

    Every developed country including the America, Europe and Japan have stolen many things from countries. For example, among many other things, Sri lanka has lost of endemic genetic material to these countries which they will use in the future. I am sure, China may be doing similar things.

  4. Lorenzo Says:

    Take a look at the map of India and SL. Imagine India is a rectum and SL is a small stone under it in the shape it is. Now imagine the rectum releasing just 5% of it’s excreta load (95% is retained inside still). Now imagine how it will fall on the stone the shape of SL.

    Now imagine the map of Tamil Elam. Aren’t they one and the same?

    Just imagine what would happen if India releases the remaining 95% of excreta. It is threatening. Devolution fart and many other shaft pieces are blowing/falling on SL. We have to be prepared.

    This is the predicament of SL.

  5. Dilrook Says:

    Lorenzo Says:

    India, Sri Lanka and Elam maps.

    A more decent analogue would have been better. However, your analogue is near perfect.

    Like a model in scientific research; not perfect but explains how things worked and how things are likely to work in future.

  6. Dilrook Says:

    A very good analysis.

    Anud has also provided an informative link.

    In addition browse what Parag Kanna has to say. He is a world renowned geopolitics expert. I find many of his views agreeable. He says China is seven (7) times more significant than India.

    India, USA and EU still follow the 18th century exploitation and bullying tactics. China is vastly different.

    It is better to teach Chinese and Korean languages to Sinhala students than Tamil.

  7. Dham Says:

    First came the Indian buses. Then came the bajaajs, followed by TVR, Paiyaggios. More will come as Lorenzo says. Then we need a big team of Sangillis from Jaffna to clean up the mess.

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