Category Archives: China and Africa relations

China-Africa Knowledge Project Resource Hub

I just received some exciting news about a new project that will benefit researchers and practitioners working on the China-Africa relationship. The China-Africa Knowledge Project was started in June 2013 and includes the China-Africa Knowledge Project Resource Hub, a website that connects scholars across disciplines and regions working on China-African relations. 

The Social Science Research Council states that  “in this initial phase, the CAKP Hub provides information on research centers and institutions working in the China-Africa space, features key researchers and their work, maintains a rolling list of useful online resources, and collects information on upcoming conferences, calls for papers, and other happenings. As host to the Chinese in Africa/Africans in China Research Network, it also widens the reach of existing cross-regional communities. In due course, the hub will offer a database of China-Africa scholars, a moderated digital forum for timely discussion of China-Africa events and findings, and a virtual research forum for graduate students.”

The CAKP will create programs and activities related to the Working Group on China-Africa, the Chinese in Africa/Africans in China Research Network and China, Africa and the UN. The Working Group members consist of a talented group of leading scholars, whose research have greatly informed my own work. 

The project is funded by a grant from the Henry Luce Foundation, with support from the SSRC’s Conflict Prevention and Peace Forum. 


Michael Sata Declared Zambia’s Fifth President

Note: Picture of Michael Sata was taken from Lusaka Times, which counts as public domain.

After much anticipation, Michael Sata was declared Zambia’s fifth president today. There were reports of violence in Solwezi (northwest), the Copperbelt (northern) and even Lusaka in the past few days since Zambians went to the polls on the 20th of September. Riots erupted over the delay of election results leading to suspicion of rigging. Yesterday, there were two power shortages where I live near the university. Even before the power shortages, the main television stations updating us with election results had stopped reporting due to an “exparte injunction imposed on three privately-owned media houses” to withhold publishing anything concerning the elections until results had been verified and finalized. By evening when electricity came back on, it was clear that Sata (and his party, PF) was in the lead. Though there were still 34 constituencies remaining to be counted, he had already obtained 40 percent of the votes while the incumbent Rupiah Banda trailed behind. They had not counted many of the constituencies in Lusaka yet. It was common knowledge that Sata had overwhelmingly swept the urban areas by huge margins. When official results were announced late into the night, immediately, we heard shouting, cheering, people running into the streets to celebrate and dance. Sata had won.

According to Lusaka Times, “Justice Irene Mambilima announced early this morning that with totals completed from nearly all the country’s 143 constituencies, Sata had won with 1,150,045 votes, representation 43 percent of the total. President Rupiah Banda had 961,796 votes, representing 36.1 percent. Eight other candidates shared the remainder.”

Now, what of President Michael Sata, otherwise known as “King Cobra”? He was a minister in the governments of both Kaunda and Chiluba. He used to be in the United National Independence Party (UNIP) under Kaunda and then changed to the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) under Chiluba so some see his move to the opposition Patriotic Front (PF) as simply opportunistic and disingenuous. Yet many Zambians consider him as someone to gets things done. He’s known to look out for Zambians. They remember the time when he was a minister of health and they never ran out of medicines at the clinics or hospitals. Detractors, however, worry that his reputed lack of tact and “political thuggery” will cause embarrassment at home and abroad and in dealing with foreign investors.

There is no doubt Sata is a polarizing figure, especially when it comes to the thorny issue of foreign direct investment. Sata has been known to run on an anti-Chinese platform, allegedly heavily supported by Taiwanese donors. Although this claim has been circulating, it has never been substantiated. When I asked an official whether it was true that the Taiwanese were donating campaign money to PF, he replied with a resounding no. It was to the benefit of Sata to tone down his anti-Chinese remarks, which he followed through this time in his campaign. Many of his supporters perceive him to be their defender, one who looks out for Zambians at a time when it seems investors reap all the benefits at the expense of locals. One thing is for sure: Sata has promised to change the way negotiations are done with the Chinese and work to ensure better work conditions, pay and benefits for Zambians.

However, targeting one group of nationals with xenophobic remarks may backfire. Many Chinese may pull out. Already, I have witnessed and experienced elements of xenophobia among Zambians — a strand of “Orientalism” that once plagued (and still exists in parts of ) the United States. Sometimes, I hear Zambians yell out “ching chong” or ask “why are your eyes like that?” Though there are Japanese aid workers and students and South Korean students learning the local languages — I’ve been told Japan and Korean companies are looking to invest in Zambia as well — the common response among Zambians is that “they’re all Chinese.” I have found myself often having to explain the differences among the nationalities and describe the diversity among Chinese themselves in terms of provincial origin, ethnicity, class, profession, and other ascribed attributes. The British colonial legacy has also influenced many to disparage those with non-European features and what they perceive to be “poor English manners” and English language skills. It seems, in general, one’s fluency in English is a marker of status. Thus, it becomes one of the most significant factors in their perceptions of the Chinese in Zambia. Perhaps, a type of racial hierarchy, maybe not the kind operating in the US but similar, is in effect as well, no thanks to Hollywood.

Of course, the discontent with the way many Chinese investors have handled labor matters is legitimate due to poor compensation and treatment of local workers. It is also undeniable that the majority of Chinese individuals and families in Zambia remain physically isolated and less socially and culturally integrated. However, it is curious and telling that the magnitude of emphasis placed on the Chinese (as an abstract, homogeneous entity rather than a group of individuals with diverse interests and origins) in comparison to the emphasis on the actions and often times, complicity of local officials and elites working in partnership with the Chinese is so much more severe. Why? The glare seems to me quite misplaced. It’s also alarmingly reminiscent of the historical racism against the “inscrutable Orientals” in the United States enshrined in the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.

Why Hilary Clinton and Michael Sata, among others, have chosen to emphasize the role of the Chinese in Zambia and on the continent of Africa also raises a few eyebrows. There is a joke among my Zambian friends that Lusaka has turned into a “province” of South Africa. It’s taken over by South African shops, malls, and companies. In the same vein, India has pledged $2.2 billion dollars of FDI in the next several years. Though China is currently one of the top investors in Zambia, labor issues have emerged in South African and Indian companies as well. It seems these problems are symptomatic of the way laws and policies (including tax benefits) have been implemented to give greater advantage to foreign investors and little or none to locals. One piece of evidence is the exorbitant rates at which local micro-finance firms and banks charge Zambians if they want to borrow money to start their own business — often times at 50 percent interest. Thus, if Sata delivers on his promise, he will work to ensure that Zambians themselves give each other the opportunity to become business-owners and stakeholders.

Only then will the rewards of increasing foreign direct investment ultimately and justifiably flow to Zambians themselves.

Slaves of Guangzhou

In The Blacks of Premodern China, Don J. Wyatt (2010) has written a magnificent piece of scholarship on early Chinese-black interactions. Wyatt prudently deals with the shifting and contested concept of “blackness” and notes that the premodern Chinese ascribed this category to a diverse group of peoples. Citing Frank Dikotter, who has written on race in modern China, Wyatt asserts “numerous peoples became black for the Chinese, even if, owing to a dearth of contact with them, they had not previously been regarded as being so prior to those times” (15). Using documents from the Tang Dynasty, Wyatt discovers that Nam-Viet peoples of Champa were considered black. Later on, Khmers, Malaysians and Malaccans were also thought to be black. Wyatt states, “differentiation in skin color persisted as only a second determinant of foreignness well into modern times.”

The term kunlun appearing in literature during the Zhou Dynasty (1050-256 BC) was in some cases used to describe people with dark skin, but not necessarily blacks or those of African descent. However, as Wyatt argues, “well before the beginning of the 17th century the presumed fusion between blackness of skin and the grave condition of being incapable of achieving any level of cultural attainment had already become firmly fixed in Chinese consciousness.” The dark-skinned kunluns, who Wyatt speculates to be of Malay ethnicity, were perceived to be alien, a menace to society, and barbaric. Even though kunlun merchants regularly traded valuable goods with the Chinese in Guangzhou since 684 CE, they aroused fear among the Chinese. Wyatt asserts that although it was foreignness and the associated inability to attain “culture,” which remained lodged in the Chinese consciousness and elicited disdain from the Chinese, their prejudices towards darker skin were undeniable. Wyatt argues,”the fact remains that by the time the Chinese had genuinely established contact with and developed a true cognizance of the peoples of Africa, [the ways in which ] they had come to equate blackenss fully and categorically with slavery, had already been well in place and robustly intact for a period of considerable duration. Sadly, it would endure for centuries and its legacy lingers with us even now” (42).

During the Han Dynasty (202 BCE-220CE), Guangzhou was a bustling cosmopolitan place with a variety of groups residing there, including the “tribal White (Western) Man and Red (Eastern) Man barbarians….many Persians, Malays, and Singhalese” (50). Using accounts written by Zhu Yu, a civil service servant who wrote Pingzhou Chats on Things Worthwhile, Wyatt observes his allusions to “foreign slaves.” Who were the foreign slaves? Some have conjectured that they could be part of a Southeast Asian contingent group, perhaps Chams, Sumatrans, and javanese. Wyatt argues that a second possibility, the more likely one, is that Zhu Yu was referring to Africans who were brought to China as slaves by the Arabs. Zhu Yu had recorded that the slaves maintained by the wealthy in Guangzhou were “black as ink. Their lips are red and their teeth are white. Their hair is curly as well as ochre-colored….They eat raw food. but once they are acquired as slaves, they are fed cooked food….There also exists a kind of wildman that lives near the sea. These slaves are able to immerse themselves in water without battling or blinking their eyes….” (56).

Wyatt also points to another possibility mentioned by Philip Snow. The black slaves might have been owned by Arabs living in Guangzhou at the time since there was a sizeable Muslim population. Ultimately arguing against this idea, Wyatt adamantly puts forth his perspective that the slaves were most likely owned by the Chinese rather than the Arabs. Eventually the Guangzhou slaves disappear or die, it seems. Wyatt does not offer a clear answer to the fate of the slaves. Again, he surmises, extrapolating from written accounts by a Spanish Augustinian friar traveling to China that by the 16th century, neither Africans nor kunluns or any “historical categories of blacks” were being enslaved by the Chinese. Due to a paucity of evidence on this matter, to which Wyatt inexorably concedes, the history of black slaves of China remains shrouded in mystery, one which I believe, needs to be explored and uncovered again and again by Sino-African scholars.

Wyatt seems to concur with this conclusion: “Once revealed to have existed at all, despite their estranged alterity within the very context in which we encounter them, China’s verifiable but heretofore obscure blacks become irremovable from our fullest understanding of the entity that traditional China was. Therefore, in the end, in the face of almost all conceivable odds, their position in our mental consciousness becomes inviolable, for no matter how marginalized they may have been in their own time, we become utterly incapable of trivializing, diminishing, or consigning them to ephemerality in ours” (135).

William Edward Burghardt Du Bois on China

How often do we conceptualize contemporary China and African relations in terms of its rich history, particularly among the sharing of ideas among intellectuals and activists? Recently, I stumbled upon a speech given by Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois. Du Bois traveled throughout Russia and China in the late 1950s and lived in Ghana in 1961. In Our Visit to China, privately published in Beijing in 1959, Du Bois discusses his identity:

I am an American in the sense that I was born in the United States where my forbears have lived for two centuries. We have worked and voted there, paid taxes and served in the armed forces. We have made some contribution to American culture. On the other hand, I am in the fifth generation, an African. In the eighteenth century, a Dutch trader seized my great-great grandfather on the coast of West Africa, transported him to New Amsterdam, which is now the state of New York, and sold him as a slave. He gained his freedom by fighting in the American Revolution to free America from Great Britain. The great-great-granddaughter of this Tom Burghardt married the great-grandson of a French Huguenot, who had migrated to America in the seventeenth century and some of whose descendents had gone to the West Indies to avoid fighting England. One of these had a mulatto concubine and his grandson married my mother. I am their son, hence my French name. My wife Shirley Graham was also born in America, of African and Scotch-Irish descent; and her grandfather was a Cheyenne Indian. Few persons have better right to call themselves American.

He then proceeds to explain why he visited the Soviet Union in 1926, 1936 and 1949 and China briefly in 1936: “The threat of war today is because so much of the world is convinced that private capitalism is doomed and fighting its last failing battle with a past based on human degradation for most people in the world. We are here to learn the facts in this crisis of modern civilization.” Here are excerpts of a speech he gave when he visited China with his wife, Shirley Graham, and spoke to more than 1,000 faculty members and students at Peking University on his 91st birthday.:

China after long centuries has arisen to her feet and leapt forward. Africa arise, and stand straight, speak and think! Act! Turn from the West and your slavery and humiliation for the last 500 years and face the rising sun. Behold a people, the most populous nation on this ancient earth which has burst its shackles, not by boasting and strutting, not by lying about its history and its conquests, but by patience and long suffering, by hard, backbreaking labour and with bowed head and blind struggle, moved up and on toward the crimson sky. She aims to “make men holy; to make men free.” But what men? Not simply the mandarins but including mandarins; not simply the rich, but not excluding the rich. Not simply the learned, but led by knowledge to the end that no man shall be poor, nor sick, nor ignorant; but that the humblest worker as well as the sons of emperors shall be fed and taught and healed and that there emerge on earth a single unified people, free, well and educated.

Africa does not ask alms from China nor from the Soviet Union nor from France, Britain, nor the United States. It asks friendship and sympathy and no nation better than China can offer this to the Dark Continent. Let it be given freely and generously. Let Chinese visit Africa, send their scientists there and their artists and writers. Let Africa send its students to China and its seekers after knowledge. It will not find on earth a richer goal, a more promising mine of information. On the other hand. watch the West. The new British West Indian Federation is not a form of democratic progress but a cunning attempt to reduce these islands to the control of British and American investors. Haiti is dying under rich Haitian investors who with American money are enslaving the peasantry. Cuba is showing what the West Indies. Central and South America are suffering under American Big Business. The American worker himself does not always realize this. He has high wages and many comforts. Rather than lose these, he keeps in office by his vote the servants of industrial exploitation so long as they maintain his wage. His labor leaders represent exploitation and not the fight against the exploitation of labor by private capital. These two sets of exploiters fall out only when one demands too large a share of the loot. This China knows. This Africa must learn.

**All parts of the speech and writing can be found at “Black Thought and Culture.” Copyright © 2009 Alexander Street Press, LLC. All rights reserved. PhiloLogic Software, Copyright © 2009 The University of Chicago.

China and Kenya

In a well-written article, Michael Chege (2008) informs us that China-Kenya trade has shifted from the 1960s to 1980s when Kenya sent agricultural products of China in exchange for lower-end consumer and textile goods. In contemporary times, most of Kenya’s exports to China are unprocessed nonfuel materials (soda ash and recycled metals) and manufactured goods. Kenya’s imports are dominated by manufactured goods as well (electronics, office equipment, medicine, furniture) and machinery and transport equipment for the industrial and agricultural sectors.

The telecommunications industry is booming in Nairobi and Mombasa because in 2006, the Kenyan government removed tariffs on computers and computer equipment.

In terms of aid, China has become the largest bilateral donor at $56 million right behind the European Union at $60 million. Chege, a UNDP adviser to Kenya’s Ministry of Planning and National Development, though footnotes that this article reflects his own “personal” views, favors China’s collaboration with the Kenyan government in providing efficient and rapid completion of projects. This includes the Nairobi Roads Project and the building of telecommunications infrastructure in the rural areas between 2003 and 2005, using “Chinese equipment of course” (25).

According to Chege, there are about 44 Chinese construction firms operating in Kenya, the large ones including Jiangsu International Economic and Technological Cooperation Company, Sichuan International Economic and Technological Cooperation Company and China Road and Bridge Construction Company. These companies have won bids over local and European contractors because, as Chege insists, they are quick and efficient at lower costs. It was estimated that it would take China Wu Yi company 10 months to renovate the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. “Quality infrastructure at a bargain price,” Chege emphasizes.

China also made headway in the resources sector. As of 2006, the Kenyan government gave China National Offshore Oil Company (CNOOC) six out of 11 oil exploration blocks “with no competitive bidding”. Due to protests from Spain’s Compania Espinola de Petrolas and Sweden’s Lundin International, negotiations allowed them to obtain rights to CNOOC oil blocks with a fee. Other companies participating in oil exploration are Woodside Energy (Australia), Chevron, Exxon and Petronas of Malaysia. Another huge project involving Chinese investment is in titanium mining. The Chinese state-owned company Jichuan agreed in 2009 to invest $25 million and take over 70 percent of shares of a Canadian mining company called Tiomin. Apparently, Tiomin experienced severe financial problems in the 1990s when it encountered protests from environmentalists and from local land-owners in Kenya’s Kwale District, who claimed that the prices they offered (originally at $114 per acre, which they increased to $505 per acre) were too low. Many of the problems associated with Tiomin Mines are delineated here. Now that Tiomin has received substantial backing by the Chinese state, it remains to be seen whether land disputes will continue to halt the mining process. It is quite peculiar that I cannot seem to find any current news reports on the status of Tiomin Mines, except for this article, which claims a transfer of ownership to an Australian firm, without any mention of Jichuan or the Chinese state.

In any case, what I find most fascinating about Chege’s explication of Chinese engagement in Kenya is the position of the flower industry. Kenya is the leading supplier of cut flowers to European markets since the 1980s. Yet, it seems China is also entering the competition in cut flowers. However, as Chege points out, the real threat lies in Ethiopia, where many Kenyan flower farmers have taken their businesses with the lure of free land, heavy subsidies and tax breaks. Kenya’s flower industry is primarily constituted by multinational corporations owned by the Dutch and British. The Chinese flower industry (on the mainland) caters to the Japanese market and is also owned by multinational corporations (mainly, Australian, Holland and a Dutch-Taiwanese company). This link and an excerpt, which I have copied and pasted below, tells us more about the flower industry in Kenya. A more critical examination of fair trade practices and labor violations of MNCs in the floral business, as well as a look at the great paradox of capitalism in catering to affluent consumers who expect fresh flowers year round, can be found at PBS and the Greenbelt Movement.


Kenya and Zimbabwe are the leading flower exporters in Africa. South Africa, Uganda, Tanzania and Zambia are also major producers, while some other African countries export a much smaller volume.

Two options are open to African growers: to directly market their flowers to consumer countries, or export them through the Netherlands auctions. The more-developed cut flower operations (such as Kenya’s) have the means to directly market some of their product, most of which is exported to Europe and the U.S. In less-developed African countries, however, such as Tanzania, where most of the growers are small-scale, the Netherlands auctions take 90% of the flower production.

Just a few flower types dominate African flower exports. Roses make up 70% to 95% of the exports in some African countries, particularly the less-developed ones. Other top flowers exported are Dendranthema (chrysanthemums), Dianthus (carnations), and Limonium (statice). A broad range of other flowers (not just those native to Africa) are grown in smaller quantities.

China and Sudan

Julia Strauss and Martha Saavedra in the introduction of China and Africa have submitted the argument that there is a need to consider the differences and similarities in China-African relationships within Africa. This can be done through diligent ethnographic research comparing multiple countries or multiple sites within a particular country. This field is still relatively new such that nuanced and complex research is in its formative stage.

Perhaps we can point to the ways in which China’s engagement in Sudan is simplistically depicted. One approach, which Daniel Large (2009) alludes to, is looking at China’s economic interests, tied to competition with the United States in Sudan. A second approach also frames the issue in terms of China encroachment upon Sudan by scrutinizing the historical change in Chinese diplomacy from “passive, blind support for Khartoum” to more active political involvement championing an end to conflict (62). Large seems to take an altogether different approach, one that examines how China fits into the history and politics of Sudan, rather than the other way around. What Large overlooks has been supplemented by the excellent edited volume, Darfur and the Crisis of Governance in Sudan: A Critical Reader.

Large writes, “The Chinese commercial expansion in Sudan did not take place in a vacuum but rather entered a political economy in which other external players had been and would continue to be active. Sudan, however, has become a center of established Chinese economic interests, which have continued to expand in recent years” (65). In 2007, Sudan was China’s sixth largest oil exporter and has continued to play a key role in oil investment. Ricardo Soares de Oliveira has written about oil investments in Africa, stating that since the 1950s, Western international oil companies (IOCs) such as Exxon-Mobile, Chevron, BP, Royal Dutch/Shell and Total dominated the continent (95). Chinese oil companies only recently since the 1990s began to gain a strong foothold in Nigeria, Angola, Equatorial Guinea and the Sudan.

Arguing that the National Islamic Front (NIF) regime, which assumed power in 1989, is “responsible for the domestic conflict,” Large attributes the sensitivity of Chinese engagement in Sudan to its relations with the NIF/NCP regime. Undoubtedly, as Large and many other scholars have discussed, the media has a heavy-handed role in this controversy. Atta El-Battahani in “Ideological Expansionist Movements versus Historical Indigenous Rights in the Darfur Region of Sudan” explains that the NIF, though containing members from both Arab and non-Arab groups in Sudan, has always been dominated by leaders “from the riverian areas largely dominated by Arabs and as such is susceptible to the perceived or actual influence of Arab-Muslim culture/centricity.” According to El-Battahani (2009), the ethnicization and racialization of the conflict was heightened by the military coup in 1989 bringing Omar Al Bashir and the ideology of Arabo-centricism into power.

Mahmood Mamdani (2009) in “The Politics of Naming: Genocide, Civil War, Insurgency” echoes similar points, but calls for an deep analysis of Darfur that takes into account its history and context. “The dynamic of civil war in Sudan has fed on multiple sources. First, the independence monopoly of power is enjoyed by a tiny Arabized elite from the riverian north of Khartoum, a monopoly that has bred growing resistance among the majority, marginalized populations in the south, east, and west of the country. Second, the rebel movements have, in their turn, bred ambitious leaders unwilling to enter into power-sharing arrangements as a prelude to peace. Finally, external forces continue to encourage those who are interested in in retaining or obtaining a monopoly of power” (152).

Elaborating upon Mamdani’s analysis of the complexity of the situation, Salah Hassan in “Naming the Conflict” points out the important role that the NIF government played in perpetuating the crisis. Hassan’s explanation is perhaps the clearest account I have read:

The protracted war in the South began in 1955 at the dawn of Sudan’s independence from British colonialism and was a logical outcome of the inequalities and imbalance of power sharing that characterized the colonial period. The war was also a consequence of the failure, typical of postcolonial regimes since 1956, to seriously address these inequalities. By all accounts the scale of horror and loss of human life over the stretch of fifty years of the civil war between the South, represented first by the Anya-Nya (1955-1971) and SPLM/A (1983-2003) on the one hand and the government on the other was equally if not more devastating than the current conflict in Darfur….Similar to the case of the Janjawid in Darfur, the practice of recruiting Arabized nomads to fight the SPLM/A in areas bordering the South can be traced to Numeriri’s regime (1969-1985). The continued mobilization of paramilitary groups konwn as Murahaleen formed by recruits from the Baggara nomads — the Misayriyyah — was carried out well into the democratically elected government of Sadiq al Mahdi. The Misayiryyah wrought painful devastationa nd undertook mass killings in the south among the Dinka communities in Northern Bahr Al Ghazal. In many ways this served as a rehearsal of the Janjawid attacks against the Fur, Masalit, and Zaghawa, who at present form the social base and ground support for the guerrilla warfare waged by the Darfur resistance movements” (161).

Hassan further explains that the unequal development created by colonial policies and the postcolonial ruling class between the center (Northern and Central Sudan) and the peripheries (south, east and west of Sudan), as well as the political manipulations of race, religion, and sect by the NIF regime were two main factors contributing to the crisis of governance (163). Hassan continues, “it bears repeating that the policy of forming and arming paramilitary tribal militias was initiated by the Numeiri regime and further consolidated by Sadiq Al Mahdi in 1986 under the pretext of defending civilian populations against SPLM/A attacks. This policy…has been taken to its extreme by the NIF government’s incorporation of these militias into a paramilitary fundamentalist army known as the Popular Defense Forces (PDF), established by a government decree. In the case of Darfur this resulted in the creation of the Jajawid” (164).

China’s role in Sudan has markedly shifted from passive, diplomatic engagement to one that is more politically involved. As Large demonstrates, two incidents targeting Chinese workers — in 2008, nine Chinese workers were kidnapped in the southern Abeyi region, and five were killed by rebel groups who at one time used to be aligned with the central government against the SPLA before going against Khartoum — prompted the Chinese government to become more vocal, at least in public discourse, about government responsibility and ethnic unity (70).

After the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) was signed in 2005 between the NCP and the SPLM, the Chinese government began relations with the SPLM-led government of Southern Sudan. The CPA created two governing bodies for six-year temporary periods — a Khartoum-based government which enables power-sharing between NCP and SPLM and the semi-autonomous government of Southern Sudan based in the new capital of Juba under the auspices of SPLM. The stipulation is that the south is supposed to receive a share of oil profits. Wedged in between the aftermath of the civil war, the Chinese government has developed profitable relations with both the NIF/NCP and the SPLM governments of Sudan. Especially in war-torn Southern Sudan, Chinese investments have been welcome with open arms (72) and the Chinese government responded through expansions of FDI and aid. Like other foreign investors, Large concludes, the Chinese government will face institutional obstacles ranging from infrastructure to conflicts between different communities in Southern Sudan, divergent interests and resulting clashes with elements of civil society, and potential targeting of Chinese workers by discontented groups seeking to use leverage against the SPLM or Khartoum. How this will affect future politics in Sudan and Chinese international and national politics remain uncertain.

Civil Society, the State, and Sino-African Relations

“Sino-African Relations: Reflections on Civil Society Engagement” by Antony Otieno Ong’ayo in Chinese and African Perspectives on China in Africa (2010)

I agree with Ong’ayo’s point about what the role of academics should be in discussing China and African relations: “Academia’s role would therefore be to underpin the understanding of the socio-political and economic problems facing both Africa and China and combined with civil society’s input would provide a formidable challenge to the hegemony of global capital and the political elites overseeing its operations” (239). Civil society can be a conduit for democracy and leverage against state forces; whoever, as the author demonstrates,there are also ways in which civil society has been linked with a neoliberal agenda.

In One Zambia, Many Histories, Mulenga contends that trade unions have been weakened from 1964 to 1991 due to economic liberalization policies that targeted 280 parastatals for privatization. The impact of structural adjustment programs (SAPs) on the labor market has been “devastating”. Factors that have been attributed to the decline of unions elsewhere (in various Asian countries) include the small size of organized industrial labor force, relatively low education of the labor force and legislation that counters single bargaining agents inside firms. The Zambian Congress of Trade Union (ZCTU) founded in 1965, which was led by former president Fredrick Chiluba, was weakened due to government suppression. When the organization resisted the government, Kaunda’s response was to shift from support to repression; in 1982, Chiluba and 16 other trade union members were imprisoned. After Chiluba came to power, a similar pattern ensued, with the further weakening of unions as a result of government suppression.

As the article points out, the weakening of civil society, particularly trade unions, can be attributed to government’s role in restricting them and also coopting strong labor leaders into the government system. There were 250,000 total union membership in 2001. After SAPs, which caused great harm to civil society, membership dwindled to half. Efforts at union organizing has also been frustrated through the increasing casualization of labor. However, Miles Larmer notes the revival of labor movements and argues that there is great potential for future mass mobilization. Despite varying degrees of strength of civil society elements, they are significant in fostering more equitable and therefore, less neoliberal relations between the Chinese and their African partners.

Ong’ayo maintains that a dialogue on China-African relations must include civil society on both the Chinese and African side. This includes knowledge of working conditions and exploitation in export processing zones (EPZs), human rights violations in work environments and threats to human security on China. Due to this lack of knowledge, the author argues, African civil society organizations and academics might overlook ways in which civil society might intervene as “an autonomous counterbalance to the state” (234). Possible interventions may take on the form of transnational alliances and activist coalitions around the world. Collaboration is imperative to prevent the state from dominating policy processes (239). Scholars should conduct research on the impact of Chinese investments, including “labor and human rights issues, on the impact of Sino-African agreements on African governments’ ability to deliver development and on the broader socio-economic and environmental impacts of Chinese investment in Africa” (240).

Another solution Ong’ayo posits, which I find exciting, is the possibility of building a database of current policy in China and individual African countries to document current and encourage future in-depth analysis. This would require collaboration among scholars around the world working on this topic and joint efforts with their civil society counterparts.

China’s Engagement in African Agriculture

“China’s Engagement in African Agriculture” by Deborah A. Brautigam and Tang Xiaoyang in China and Africa: Emerging Patterns in Globalization and Development (2009)

This article examines various facets of China’s agricultural engagement in Africa from 1960s to the present. The main focus is on the role of the Chinese state in the history of Chinese development projects in Africa.

1) History and Diplomacy: In the 1960s, the Chinese invested in state-owned farms in Tanzania (Mbarali state farm), Guinea and sugar or tea plantations in Mali, Benin, Togo, Madagascar, Zanzibar and Sierra Leone. By 1985, China supported agricultural aid projects in 25 African countries. Increasing engagement in agricultural projects was propelled by diplomatic “South-South” relations, as evidenced by premier Zhao Ziyang’s 1982 trip to Africa. In the 1980s, Chinese teams were involved in building infrastructure ranging from building bridges to irrigation systems. The focus was on image of diplomacy, which explains the reason projects tended to be visible and were funded by Chinese grants rather than loans. Structural adjustment policies in the 1980s and 1990s created a vacuum for Chinese state-owned companies to continue projects that they had begun in earlier decades.

From 1995 to the present, there has been a general trend towards integrating aid projects and Chinese enterprises. Rhetoric of “helping out” has been enshrined in agricultural development and other project as a way to temper potential backlash against China’s extraction of resources in African countries. This has been couched in terms of “getting and giving.” However, there continues to be persistent backlash against Chinese agricultural investments intended to provide for food security in China. For example, Chinese interest in helping Mozambicans increase rice production when only a small percentage of the population eat rice brought criticism to the fore. Some Chinese officials responded with the argument that offshore farming is simply unprofitable as shipping costs are too expensive. At present, however, as the authors argue, Chinese farms cater mostly to local sales (rice, wheat, livestock and poultry) or for export to global markets (vanilla from Uganda, vegetables from Senegal and sugar from Sierra Leone).

Examples of symbolic development projects:
a) In 1988, Chinese experts were sent from Wuhan to Sierra Leone to help with rice stations. The civil war in 1991 sent Chinese experts to Freetown. The project was suspended until 1999 when teams from Wuhan were sent again to rebuild rice stations, remaining there until 2008. Magbass Sugar Complex was another project in the late 1970s, which was one of the first projects to be directed by Chinese managers. Later, Magbass became privatized and the Chinese brought tried to rehabilitate the sugar plantation. However, this project came to a halt and eventually, the Chinese company decided to renege on offers to commit to sugar projects in Madagascar and Benin as well. Land disputes were symptomatic of a rift between the locals who claimed to be the landowners of the plantation and the government, which had promised the Chinese that they could expand the size of the plantation. The Chinese were caught in the middle of land ownership claims and rising tensions contributed to their eventual divestment.
b) Joint ventures were established between Chinese companies and local companies. In 1989, a Chinese company joined Liberia’s state-owned Kptatawee rice seed multiplication farm and encouraged local counterparts to work with their experts.

Examples of contemporary, more profit-oriented projects:
a) Hybrid Rice: The global seed business is worth billions of dollars and China holds the patent on hybrid rice. “Hybrids are stronger and more productive than their parent stock, but they have limitations: they need to be purchased again and again….” They are also often controlled by large multinational companies. In the US, around 95 percent of maize is planted to hybrids. Perhaps hybrid rice might be a niche for small-scale farmers in African countries.
b) In 1990s, 80 workers from Baoding in China went to work in Zambia to build a dam. They grew Chinese vegetables near their residence. When their two-year contracts ended, some workers stayed to farm. As Baoding was enduring the 1997 Asian economic crisis, the workers promoted farming in Africa. It seems there are about 28 “Baoding villages” in 17 African countries since 1998 and around 7,000 to 15,000 Baoding farmers. The premise of their villages in “entering through agriculture, get rich through processing” has aroused resentment among local farmers who argue that the Chinese “should restrict their marketing to the wholesale level” (154).

2) Labor: The authors point to three issues that arise from further Chinese engagement in African agriculture — the competition between Chinese and African growers, cash crops as competition for subsistence crops and finally, the issue of labor. Large-scale production might drive people off their land and push them into seasonal labor. One potential solution the authors offer is outgrowing, a system whereby farmers keep control of their land and the company provides technology and fertilizer to the farmers and ensures purchase of the crop in exchange for local production on a large scale.

"The Scramble for Africa and the Marginalization of African Capitalism"

“The Scramble for Africa and the Marginalization of African Capitalism” in A New Scramble for Africa?: Imperialism, Investment and Development (2009)

Roger Southall of the University of Witwatersrand and Alex Comninos, a researcher in South Africa make quite a compelling argument about the role of African capitalism in fostering development. They take issue with the perspective of the state as the primary vehicle for development, stating that African capitalists have tended to receive the brunt of criticisms and suspicion, mainly because they were threats to the state for power. Post-colonial elites that emerged were primarily through state employment rather than the private sector. “The emergent bougeoisie, managerial rather than capitalist, was therefore from this perspective pursuing rent rather than profit….” (358). They use Colin Ley’s argument in support of the development and further strengthening of indigenous capitalists, but argue that even in post-colonial Kenya, indigenous capitalists were “subordinate and auxiliary” to multinational capital. Others argue that Indian Kenyans were the largest contributors to Kenya’s capital growth while indigenous capitalists remained overly state-dependent.

The authors write: “Parastatals increased in number and scope, invading economic territory previously dominated by colonial companies, and were able to pose a more significant challenge to multinationals than weak national capitalist classes (Tangri 1999).” Aid and debt only served to strengthen the state. Later insistence upon the privatization of the state increased dependence on foreign direct investments. “The outcome was not a significant diminution of African economic sovereignty, but the adjustment of states to a comprador role on behalf of global capital by providing physical security and access to local resources and markets (Amin 1990)” (357). Privatization meant further bloating politicians and state bureaucrats and further prevention of creating a dynamic African capitalist class.

However, as the authors point out, there is great hope in the future. The hope lies in the new generation of African entrepreneurs. Most of these members are business persons, relatively young (20s to 40s), and trained in US and Europe. Seventy percent owned firms in the service sector and 16 percent owned manufacturing firms. They are interested in economic and political reforms and embrace “profits not profiteering”.

The authors emphasize the importance of black empowerment companies backed by the government. The telecommunications sector, they argue, is where indigenous capitalist firms have been thriving and will continue to expand. I believe that Chinese telecommunication firms may prove to be a vehicle of entrepreneurial, innovative activities for the next generation of Zambians. The authors attribute the success of the telecommunications sector to four factors:

1) “the exploitation of market opportunity at the right time by a number of African venture capitalists, albeit backed by a combination of state, private and multinational capital”
2) “dismal state of fixed line and telecommunications infrastructure in Africa, largely dominated by state-owned utility companies”
3) “liberalization and privatization of the telephone market, allowing for private sector expansion that bypassed incumbent fixed line operators and”
4) “the availability of rapidly advancing telecommunications technology”

Being Chinese in South Africa by Yoon Jung Park (2008)

Yoon Jung Park’s illuminating work on the Chinese in South Africa examines their identity formation as ongoing processes of construction in light of state laws towards immigrants, their “in-between” status during the apartheid, and their encounters with other Chinese and Taiwanese immigrants. The group Park focuses on number around 10,000 to 12,000 who are descendants of immigrants who arrived after 1870. Many came from Guangdong province of south China and were motivated by economic hardships brought about by the loss of jobs due to the Opium Wars and the Taiping Rebellion of 1850-1864 which caused the loss of twenty million people. Just as the Gold Rush had enticed many to head to California, some of them were lured to South Africa for gold. The Cantonese tended to live in Transvaal and the Haaka in coastal towns.

If we compare her work to studies on immigrants elsewhere, for example, Paul Stoller’s Money Has No Smell: The Africanization of New York City, common patterns emerge. First, there was the pattern of chain migration based on kinship networks from common places of origin. Usually, boys and men came first, then the women came later. Second, the level of acculturation and assimilation to the host society depends on myriad factors, perhaps most importantly, the acceptance of the host society. The attitude of the government of the departing society is important as well. For many centuries, as Park, Pheng Cheah and Wang Gungwu have pointed out, the Chinese state called Chinese migrants traitors, vagabonds, fugitives, outlaws, and later sojourners, guests, and visitors. From 1370 to 1893 due to inward-isolationist laws, the Chinese were not allowed to leave the country. This changed under the Manchu Qing dynasty. Sojourners played an important role in later national affairs when they became involved in financing projects back home; some have argued that because they were considered economic assets, the Chinese government tried to cultivate their loyalty to the homeland. Giovanni Arrighi in Adam Smith in Beijing makes a very interesting case that the overseas Chinese who were engaged in capitalist activities, but unlike in England, did not have the same sort of influence over the state, which prevented China from industrializing in the early 19th century.

Huaqiao, meaning overseas Chinese, was used to describe Chinese sojourners to mean that they would “be good filial sons who loved their homes, always planned to return, and never stop being Chinese” (62). China’s call for overseas Chinese to be patriotic was met with mixed responses, especially when the view of the host society of China changed when it became Community. Suddenly, every Chinese was suspected of being a Community. Then there was the issue of whether the Chinese Nationalists or the Communists would be considered the legitimate government of China after 1949. As in many overseas Chinese communities, it seems the KMT held dominance. South Africa recognized Chinese Nationalists as the legitimate government.

Like many other immigrant groups, adaptation to the host society differs across generations. The first generation, in general, was inclined to try to hold on to an essentialized and romanticized version of the “Chineseness.” The second generation began to question how “Chinese” they were and had different ideas about their sense of belonging. Yet part of the reason why the homeland continued to persist in their imaginations and provide a sense of rootedness was due to the rejection of the host society. In fact, what I enjoyed most about this book was Park’s comparison of the South African Chinese to the Chinese in America. She quotes, “sentimental identification with parents’ or grandparents’ homeland arises out of a continuing reluctance of larger society here to see the Asian Pacific Americans as they are — citizens of color — and as they would be : full-fledged participants in a pluralistic American enterprise. ‘Homeland’ here becomes a refuge, a state of parity, a myth of their own hearts” (74).

In South Africa, shopkeepers born in the 1920s and 1930s were treated as second-class citizens, though better than non-whites. Many experienced discrimination and oppression during the apartheid. They were not allowed to go to public facilities, white hospitals, schools and technical colleges. Although they were later allowed to live in white areas and go to white schools, they remained second-class citizens. The Population Registration Act of 1950 divided everyone into white or “European” or “non-European.” The latter was later divided into “native” (then “Bantu,” “African,” then “black), “Indian,” and “colored” (and the Chinese also fell into this category). Later, “Chinese” was defined as “any person who in fact is or is generally accepted to be a member of a race or tribe whose national home is in China”. In 1959, the Extension of University Education Act passed, allowing the Chinese and other non-whites to apply for permits to attend university. This also meant more integration with whites and eventual upward mobility. Some who attained economic success and became affluent adopted certain racist attitudes. As Park observes, “These young people appear to exhibit what one scholar refers to as ‘non-reflective’ racism, learned from their increasingly white social environment. This racism was further informed by a sense of uniqueness and superiority in their Chinese-ness, learned from parents and grandparents” (98). This also coincided with numerous attempts by Chinese South Africans to “woo white community leaders and decision-makers” to gain access to certain privileges.

When compared to the Mississippi Chinese, Park argues, the Chinese were similar in achieving economic success and in just two generations, shifting from shopkeepers to “highly educated set of professionals with high levels of acceptance by white South Africans” (105). The difference was the degree to which they maintained their unique status and also made efforts to preserve Chinese culture and heritage. In the 197os and 1980s, they were given offers to be “white” and therefore have full rights, but they rejected this offer on the grounds that they wanted full rights but also wanted to keep a separate ethnic identity. In 1994, the Chinese community like many others, felt let down when their hopes of a democratic state providing quality healthcare, decent education and other social services were lost in the face of what they perceived to be corruption in the government and rise in crime. Many remained quiet and politically inactive, because “their acceptance of concessions from the white government also turned them, unofficially, into honorary whites — an awkward position under any circumstances,” so they “feared that others judged them as having been co-opted by, or worse, having collaborated with the apartheid government”.

Race is, as Park argues, the most important variable in determining the distribution and redistribution of resources in South Africa. Labels have implications for the Chinese. They might fit into “Coloured” as they had been labeled in some cases during apartheid. Because they’re not mentioned in affirmative action laws, particularly the Employment Equity Act (EEA) of 1998 and Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) Act of 2003, they are excluded from remedial actions. Park concludes that although the Chinese community is quite divided on their position in affirmative action policies, she believes that they should qualify as disadvantaged. They were not permitted to vote until 1994. She argues, “if they do not qualify as ‘black’ and previously disadvantaged, then what of the experiences of the Chinese to came of age in the 1950s, 60s and 70s? To my mind their current exclusion from the employment equity legislation clearly denies them their history of discrimination, humiliation and suffering. These new Acts continue to rob them of equality in post-apartheid South Africa”.

Park’s study is very comprehensive, but left me with many questions,which I believe is a hallmark of an overall excellent ethnographic study. She briefly talks about what happens when South African Chinese, the ones who had been there for two or more generations interact with newer immigrants of Taiwanese, ethnic Chinese from other parts of the world, and mainland Chinese. She explains that because these multiple groups have their own view of what is authentically Chinese, “Chinese-ness” has come under heated debate. I have witnessed this in southern California where I grew up — tensions among different groups of immigrants, all calling themselves “Chinese” or in some cases, “Taiwanese.” Some of the Taiwanese were not welcoming of the mainland Chinese immigrants that arrived in the 1990s. Aihwa Ong among others has published on this in detail referring to the examples of “parachute children,” children whose affluent parents and families in Hong Kong and Taiwan purchase homes for them in the US and they maintain ties to their homeland due to frequent travel afforded by mass amounts of wealth. I went to university with many “parachute children”. She calls this “flexible citizenship” which is the “cultural logics of capital accumulation, travel and displacement that induce subjects to respond fluidly and opportunistically to changing political economic conditions” (Ong). What is the nature of their interactions and how are these interactions impacted by different labor settings? Gillian Hart’s Disabling Globalization about the treatment of South African black workers in Taiwanese factories can be put in fruitful dialogue with this book.