Category Archives: China and Africa Research

Zambian Parliamentary Debates 2011 (Wusakili Constituency in Kitwe)

Presidential and parliamentary elections will take place on September 20th, 2011. In the past month, candidates for Member of Parliament (MP) have been featured on television debates. They have concentrated mainly on Lusaka and the Copperbelt provinces. I have recorded and transcribed one of the debates below. This debate for Wasakile constituency located in the Copperbelt province (in northern Zambia) was presented on the ZNBC show Race to Manda Hill on September 4th. **Disclaimer: The photo was taken from ZNBC’s website, which constitutes public domain.

Mr Kalobo (Multiparty Movement Democracy – the ruling party)

Mr. Mukumbuta (United Patriotic for National Development)

Mr. Myondo (United National Independence Party)

Mr. Zimba (Forum for Democracy and Development)

Mr. Myondo: We all depend on Kitwe Central hospital. My wish is to have a hospital that will cater to all these bases. When you from say, Kapula, you’re going to spend money to town. The roads are in very bad state. From sections B1 to B7, roads in those townships, you can’t call them roads because they’re ditches.

Mediator: Pick it up from there Mr. Mukumbuta.

Mr. Mukumbuta: There’s poor sanitation there. Imagine today 46 years after independence, people are still using communal toilets. In a big population of over 150,000 we only have one clinic. People of Chambuli have been suffering. No water, no proper roads. Same problem in other places. All these problems are attributed to failure of leadership on part of MMD, the party in control of the central government on part of PF these are the people controlling the government chambers.

Mediator: What are the issues? Mr. Kalobo?

Mr. Kalobo: We have water and sanitation which is being addressed by MMD government and health also being addressed. Mr. _ said there’s no clinic in Chambuli. There is one under construction. There are roads which are being addressed too. We have markets which the MMD is help building. We have problem of unemployment, which was also being addressed because it’s in our manifesto. We have problem of local money supplies. We have other problems like of widows, men in jail, the problems of the orphan, or should I say the vulnerable.

Mr. Mukubuta: I think he’s gone over the bar. We’re not talking about _. I want to disagree with him. The clinic in Chambuli, was it done over night? I totally disagree with him.

Mr. Kalobo: We have a clinic opposite the market, it’s under construction.

Mr. Zimba: It starts with one understanding the responsibilities and duties an MP. As an MP, your main duty is to lobby. You lobby the government for funds in order to tend to the problems you have in your constituency. You also lobby outside the government. There are various embassies in this country today. You lobby there as you look at what should be done in your constituency. Beside that, you need to mobilize the people themselves. People also need to participate in taking care of issues in their localities. So those are some of the things I will do once elected in office to better the lives of people in the constituency and improve the whole area in the constituency.

Mediator: Mr. Monda, issues of unemployment are very high because most activities revolve around Nkana mines.

Mr. Monda: I suggest that people in constituency make what we call cooperatives so that they utilize that fund because as a group it’s easier to access that fund. As a group it’s easier that way. That fund, I don’t think people know about that fund. So sensitize people and have them make cooperatives.

Mediator: How will you solve the problems once elected?

Mr. Mukumbuta: First, and foremost let me talk about problem of lack of employment. This leads to lack of parental care and this leads to juvenile delinquency. Where I am, I am an employer. I have employed hundreds of people. I will teach them that one, I’m able to employ them, I will teach people there how to create jobs. We have the giant, which is the Nkana copper mine. It has 16, 837 workers that is Nkana mine and Mferira. Just Nkana has 16,837. I will lobby for employment for the people. My local people should be employed. We’ll have an open pit.

Mediator: Mr. Kalobo, how will you carry out these promises you have made?

Mr. Kalobo: Let me start with problem with health. That should be built under infrastructural program. In the last years, 27 hospitals have been built. It’s in our manifesto. As I alluded to earlier, in Nkakongo, we have a clinic just waiting to be commissioned. Let me come to employment. The MMD government has built good policies in place that will attract foreign investors. So when those investors come, they’re going to create more jobs in two ways – local suppliers and foreign investors. When people are employed, the government can collect taxes. In short, tax base will be broadened. That will lead to more money in the pocket. That is employment side. I also mentioned the markets. Markets under local government infrastructure. We’ll build more markets. I was citing examples of _. That is just an example. I also mentioned the vulnerable. We have public welfare assistance of which in the last 5 years about 250,000 have been assisted under the food security pack. In the last five years, 700,000 have been assisted under public welfare assistance, in terms of education, health and social services. Thank you.

Mediator: People are stealing copper. How will you solve this problem?

Mr. Kalobo: It’s the duty of community to report to the police and the police should act. It’s not the role of the member of parliament to…

Mediator: A member of parliament should be concerned.

Mr. Kalobo: If the police has not done anything then MP can come in.

Mr. Myondo: Why is this common? Because there’s no jobs. They don’t have jobs, so they go and steal copper.

Mr. Mukubuta: Let me go back and say I want to disagree with the candidate from MMD, where he stated that more taxes and more money in the pocket. That’s the problem we have the MMD, they have the same language. More money in the pocket, more taxes. Let me come to the issue of theft. Illegal mining is the biggest enemy to the mining sector in this country. Once elected, the first thing I will do, I want first to each people manners that it’s not good to use _ and not use brains. One police post in _ and another police post in _ and another police post in _. The most important thing to educate people that it’s not good to be powerful, it’s better you be wise. It’s matter of changing people’s mindset. And we should encourage neighborhood watch. Citizens must be involved. When they see such intolerable behavior, they shouldn’t fear, because I think it’s important because some people think they’re above the law.

Mr. Zimba: I’ve interacted with people on the ground. I’ve seen their difficulties. I’m already self-sustained. I’m trying to better the situation for other people I want to agree with the issue of schools. In this country, even if we are going to boast about the policy of the current government unless we don’t want to think seriously, our education is only basic mind you. I hope you understand what that means. That means just something on the ground, a starting point. It’s not sustaining. You look at the curriculum system, you look at the way these teachers are being trained, you look at the infrastructure, it’s all basic. We need to overhaul the whole system so you get back to situation where you can compete favorably with the outside world. We live in a global village. If I’m educated in Zambia, I should be able to fit in the United states of America. But if you take an educated person in Zambia, they can’t even fit anywhere.

Mr. Myondo: That is true. We only have two basic schools. We have so many children.

Mr. Mukubuta: Let me try to disagree with _. I think there’s only one basic school. The other one is on the other side. We have only one high school, which was not even upgraded but promoted to be a high school. I think it’s a waste of time to not comment on issues of education. Indeed, these schools have number of problems. No teaching aid, even if you have good teaching methodology, without teaching aids, you are not able to teach. Le me give you an example. _ high school has 1700 pupils. Teachers and students ratio are 50 to 1. how can they survive? They don’t even have water.

Mediator: Connected to issue of sanitation, how will you solve the problem?

Kalombo: We are working as cooperating partners. If you go to _, the issue of garbage will be a thing of the past. So there’s a solution already provided. I also wanted to disagree with my friend seated near me, over pupil to teacher ratio. Between 2004 to 2009, the government employed 35000 teachers. This year about 4000, in mid year about 5000. so government is working on teacher to pupil ratio. In case my friend didn’t’ know here.

Mr. Mukubuta: I’m talking about facts. How many were sent to _ high school? You find human waste there. There are conditions that _ people are subjected to. That’s communication enough that they don’t have toilets. When they don’t have toilets they will do what they feel like doing. For instance, they are using 450 families using one communal toilet. That is simple mathematics.

Mr. Kalombo: The issue of toilets. It’s the B section and D section. The other parts, the toilets were done in 2001. toilets are there. People are stealing pipes, they’re vandalizing. Who’s suffering? Rumor is that it’s the opposition. It’s my appeal to the people of _, let people refrain from such bad vices. The MMD government is doing its best.

Mr. Zimba: I wouldn’t blame the people of Wusakele for the situation that is described here. I would look at it that the people of M want the whole world to see how badly they’re being treated. Someone here is boasting about new toilets. There’s no such thing. A new toilet , in my view, if they’re built in the house. He’s talking about pipes stolen. Yeah, why would people steal the pipes because they need to put the toilets in their house. People are subjected to…even the human waste you find, that’s what happens at night. They have to do what they do and put it in the bags and then take them out. I wouldn’t blame them. In my view, this is one compound that should go. It’s not human. That is what I feel, elected to the office, I will work towards that. I’ve been there especially the B section and other side of it. I don’t think people are happy there. The way it is, you can’t improve there. You have to do away with it and start over again. Talking about the stupid toilets on the side of the house is not the way out. The whole thing is a mess.

Mr. Mukubuta: I can’t have such plans of demolishing people’s houses. The best remedy is just to improve on sanitation. By removing such communal toilets. That’s what we should talk about here. You know, there’s not even space in Kitwe for people to go. We need to improve the township there. I think please, there has been a government in power for 19 and a half years now.

Mr. Kalobo: We’re going backwards. These people are telling us toilets are 3 km. You are sitting here lying. Toilets are there. The solution has already been provided by MMD government. Toilets are there.

Inspirational Life History (part II)

This is John’s** life history eloquently told to me over a cup of tea, while I assiduously recorded the details.

I was born in Zambezi District hospital to a single mother. I was the fifth born. My mother died when I was five years old in a bad bus accident. What I remember most about my mother was that she had beautiful, long hair and she was gentle yet a harsh disciplinarian. My father left a long time ago so I never knew him. So I was orphaned at age five.

When my mother died, everyone came and picked who they were willing to collect and adopt into their household. I was the only one left and nobody had volunteered to take care of me. Even after my mother was buried, I was alone. My mother had taken care of this man when he was sick at the hospital and because he was so grateful to my mother, he came to her funeral and chose to take care of me. That is how I was separated from my siblings.

This man came and took me to live in a village called Mumbezi. He was an elderly man with a wife and no children. They were very kind to me. He used to carry me on his back. Just when I fell in love with him, he died. He left instructions to his eldest son to ensure I would be taken care of. The village was very superstitious, so they thought I had death following me. This man’s eldest son was afraid and for three days after his father died, I had no home. I was only six years old and left alone. After those three days, the man called and explained why he had been so hesitant to come collect me. He said the villagers said if I take you in, I’m also going to die, but I don’t care, so you’re coming to my house.

They changed my name to Mumba, the name of a village headman who had died many years before. I stayed with this man and his wife and three children and they treated me as their firstborn. I used to sell sweet potatoes and mukoyo (a drink made from fermented maize) by the roadside. The man I stayed with worked for the roads department so he moved from place to place. He did not make enough and drank alcohol, so his wife would make sweet potatoes and other foods to sell by the roadside and I would help her. Those years, there was a rebel man, a bad guy who lived there and he used to kidnap children. I was terrified of him. But villagers killed him and danced all night in jubilation. These are some of the memories I had as a child.

Then, one day, when I was in grade four, my life changed. I was left with one of my younger siblings because the man had gone on duty and his wife went to deliver a baby, so she went to be with her mother. We continued to sell sweet potatoes and food so we could have some income while the man and his wife were gone. One day I was selling and there was a bus that came by. A beautiful lady asked to buy stuff and I just liked her. She kept gazing at me. After she got on the bus, she remembered me. I was her kid brother. I kept calling her, but the bus continued to move. There was no communication then so she had no idea where I was. She left and told my firstborn sister, I know where our youngest brother is. There was little they could do. They were still in school. My firstborn sister graduated college the next year. As soon as she started working, she went looking for me. So one afternoon, I was designing my toys – I enjoyed making art even as a child – when somebody sent for me. The family didn’t know her, except that she looked like she was from town. Later on, I recognized her. It was a touching moment because I had not seen her for years. I was 11 years old at the time and my firstborn was 23. So my sister collected me and asked permission from the man who had been taking care of me if I could go. He and his wife said I would be better off if I left the village.

So I went with my sister to a town beyond Solwezi. There I continued grade five in school. Now, suddenly, I had electricity and running water. From there, I went to secondary school and moved to Zambezi where there was a boarding school. My uncle was a teacher. I finished school and moved to Lusaka to live with my second sister, who married and lived there. I went to college, finished, and met a nice man also from Zambezi who let me stay with him. I worked at Munali boys high school and afterward, got a contract teaching in Botswana. I taught at a junior secondary school about 78 km from the diamond mines in Mpipi for three years. Then I got a contract with one of the international schools in Zambia and came back. I have been working here now for four years.

I did not see the family that took care of me until last year. I kept dreaming about them. I was worried that the woman had died and I never got to express my gratitude to them for taking care of me. They had a child after I left and they named him Mumba, after the name they had given me. They told him stories about me and said I would one day come back. One day, the child heard me singing on the radio. There was a brief interview with me and that is how the child knew where I was. They traced me and he came to find me. I went to visit them last year. It was a joyous moment and the man said, I knew one day you would come back. This boy comes to visit me once in a while. I am still in touch with the family.

I dream a lot about my mother. I had a dream that I was in college and went to live with my uncle on holiday. He told me this man in town is doing miraculous things. They can dig out remains and resurrect people. So in the dream we go dig the remains of my mother, all her body parts, and try to revive her. After putting her body in a bag and harboring so much hope to see her alive once again, we are told we’re too late. Then I am once again disappointed. It’s so real – all that hope. I miss her.

**John is a pseudonym.

Inspirational Life History (part I)

With a bright smile and hearty laugh, Sherry** has been dubbed by her nephews and nieces as the Zambian Oprah Winfrey. She has endured and overcome many hardships in life, like many young Zambians. She continually texts her friends and brother heartfelt, inspirational messages about not giving up hope. She is currently going to school in hotel and tourism and hopes to own her own lodge and restaurant one day. This is her life story – a testament to the scintillating spirit of the people of Zambia.

Sherry was born in Solwezi to one of five children. Together with mother and father, they lived there for six years. One day her younger sister and mother went for a stroll and never came back, as they were struck by lightning and died. There were four of the siblings left. Sherry was the youngest. One brother was three years older, another brother was five years older and her sister was seven years older. Her father was a businessman who frequently moved around. It was decided by her father and relatives that the children should move. Sherry and her older brother went to the Copperbelt to live with her uncle (brother to her father) while her older sister and other older brother moved to Lusaka. Sherry often heard from her father and knew he was busy working to support the family. Four years after her mother and younger sister died, her father died as well. Sherry was ten years old when she became an orphan.

Life with her uncle in the Copperbelt was full of surprises. Sherry has fond memories of a full house, sometimes more than 20 people living under the same roof. Attending primary school in Chikoliya in Muferlia, Sherry remembers having fun and playing with other children in the neighborhood flat. Although she appreciated her uncle’s hospitality, Sherry said, “Life has never been good when you stay with other people. You appreciate the shelter and the food but you are restricted. It does not feel good.” They lived therefor seven years. This is where Sherry already fluent in her first language, Lovale, learned to master the Bemba language.

When she was thirteen, her uncle retired and it was decided, again, that she and her brother would move. This time, she went to the village in Zambezi to live with her grandmother (her mother’s mother). A sweet woman, Sherry recalls, her grandmother was the one who taught her how to make nshima, the main staple food in Zambia, and to pluck the feathers of a chicken. Her grandmother, who looked just like her mother, was a fountain of wisdom and regularly took Sherry into the fields to teach her how to farm. To this day, Sherry attributes her cooking and gardening skills to her grandmother. Sherry entered grade seven in school and her grandmother supported her until she became ill. Sherry had to stop school for four years because there was no money. During this time, she sat at home with her brother. It was then decided once again that they would move, so they left their grandmother sick and headed to Solwezi again.

Her uncle (her father’s older brother) came to pick them up and dropped them off in Solwezi. They went to live with her older sister, who had at this point had gotten married and settled in Solwezi. The siblings was reunited but only for a short time. No one had a job and money was tight. They survived by getting help from relatives. Soon after the move, Sherry’s older brother left to work in Angola and Sherry left as well and went to live with her cousin (the eldest daughter of her father’s brother) in the Copperbelt. She had not heard from her brother in Angola for about four or five years until she learned he had died. Life continued and Sherry started grade eight in Kitwe in the Copperbelt. She lived there for three years until it was decided yet again that she would move to Lusaka and stay with the her other cousin (the middle daughter of her father’s brother). She entered grade ten at Lusaka Girls Basic School. She finished high school and has since re-entered school to complete her degree in hotel and tourism.

When asked about her future goals, Sherry responds that she would like to get married and have a family. Most importantly, she wants to help send her nephews (the sons of her deceased older sister) to school. She was imbued with this sense of care and concern while living in the village in Zambezi. She thinks that village life is more community-oriented and people help each other out, unlike in the city, where it seems people are more disconnected from each other. Sherry also has sad memories, as she recalls many of her old classmates from Solwezi are deceased. She recognizes the hardships many young Zambians have to encounter and she wants them to know together, they can keep the hope alive.

**Sherry is a pseudonym used to protect her identity. She has consented to the use of her life history on this blog. The painting of the lovely Zambian woman in the picture was featured during an art exhibit in July 2010 at the International School in Lusaka, Zambia. The artist has consented to its use on this blog.

Domestic Issues In China’s Development Model

There were several important points Wenran Jiang made in “Fueling the Dragon: China’s Rise and its Energy and Resources Extraction in Africa.” Jiang examines Sino-African relations through the lens of the Chinese development model, arguing that “China’s ‘miracle’ growth of GDP has come with heavy price tags on wages, workers’ welfare, the eco-system and political reforms” (2009:37). What are these costs?

1) China consumes 31 percent of the world’s coal, 30 percent of iron, 27 percent of steel, 40 percent cement, 20 percent copper, 19 percent aluminum and 10 percent electricity. Hence, the imperative to extract resources from the African continent. It’s worth noting that India, Canada, Switzerland, and other countries are involved in similar endeavors. In Zambia, for example, Mopani Mines is owned by Canada’s First Quantum Minerals, Swiss firm Glencore International and the Zambian government. Zambia’s biggest mining company, Konkola Copper Mine [KCM] is an Indian company based on London and listed on the stock exchange.

Heavy demands for raw materials and resources have contributed to a destruction of the environment both at home and abroad. In China, this is manifested in its pollution rates; 70 percent of rivers and 90 percent of city rivers are polluted. This lack of concern for the environment, though increasingly attended to in recent years, transfers over to their projects in African countries. Failure to enforce environmental regulations, as Jiang argues, is also part and parcel of the weakened African state to put protective structures in place.

2) The modernization program in China relies on the supply of migrant workers. Jiang writes, “Thirty years of reform has transformed China into a cut-throat, competitive capitalist market economy featuring severe exploitation of workers, especially migrant workers with sustained low wages. It is thus difficult to imagine that Chinese entrepreneurs and companies used to such domestic conditions would go to Africa and treat workers there any differently” (39). This point encapsulates the thrust of my research on labor relations.

Jiang’s point is a comment on our bounded conceptions of “Sino-African” relations. He urges researchers to reach deeply into our understanding of China’s domestic policies towards workers and their role in the strengthening of Chinese civil society. On an optimistic note, Jiang writes that Chinese leadership is paying more attention to the negative outcomes of the modernization efforts and have addressed these problems through greater protection of workers’ rights, implementing new procedures of work safety and transparency in civil allegations. What Jiang makes clear is that Sino-African relations is directly tied to what is happening at home. “If China’s cut-throat capitalism continues to externalize its negative aspects to Chinese practices in Africa, only corrupt regimes in some of African countries will benefit instead of ordinary people. And there will certainly be more backlashes of local resentment against Chinese presence” (58).

“Chinese practices” is heterogeneous and may produce unintended effects, in some instances, providing upward mobility to locals, especially in capital-intensive and highly skilled (meaning, less replaceable) sectors. It’s hard to tell at this point. I believe a proliferation of ethnographies can illuminate for us potential benefits and costs to China’s increasing presence on the continent.

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.

Thinking about Museums in African countries…

Most museums in Africa were established in the colonial era using the European model, which Lorna Abungu (2005:151) claims catered to the upper classes and encouraged them to “marvel at exotic artefacts belonging to the indigenous peoples of the particular country.” Although African museums went through a nationalization period after independence, whereby indigenous1 Africans were hired as staff and employees of institutions and brought a different perspective to many of the exhibits, African museums still face numerous challenges, ranging from inadequate government funding to low visitor turnout to high staff turnover. One of the biggest challenges they face, according to a report from an AFRICOM conference,2 is how to present Africa’s rich cultural heritage and history to the world while ensuring that museums meet the needs of the local community.

The National Museum of Kenya

In contrast to the focus on international tourists exemplified by some Rwandan museums and memorials, an example of an African museum that has a larger focus on local communities is the National Museum of Kenya, which is promoted by AFRICOM due to this more local focus. Even so, this museum, like many others in Africa is hindered in its outreach by financial, technological, and other constraints. The National Museum of Kenya has a partnership with the Smithsonian, which funds study trips to the Smithsonian to keep staff members updated on the latest museum technologies. However, there are still problems with the lack of equitable access to the Internet for many Africans and the lack of funding for the creation and maintenance of museum websites (Abungu, Monda, et al 1999). While financial constraints affect museums all over the world, those in African countries tend to be even severely affected due to lack of funding and reliable technological infrastructure. Use of computers can be unreliable and slow.

This poses a challenge for museums, such as the National Museum of Kenya to make their website accessible to locals. Funding in general is lacking in educational institutions, such as universities and national museums. Many museum professionals have left, seeking employment either in South Africa or outside the continent, where they are better compensated for their skills. In a visit to Songo Mnara in Tanzania, Chapurukha Kusimba (1996:166) observes the impact of a struggling economy on the local museums. She noticed that “many junior museum staff were dealing with the rising inflation by skipping lunch and walking to and from work to their residences.” Museum staff members were so demoralized that when they were supposed to clear the site, they would set it on fire (Kusimba 1996:166). The director of the Moto Moto museum in Zambia echoes similar sentiments. “How many of the key museum personnel have access to computers and how many of them have the capacity to utilise the technology? What is the cost of human resource capacity building? There is abundant information on the Internet but what percentage of our population has access to it? Indeed, we must keep pace with the world but our funding levels are too low. How do we resolve this paradox?”

A partial solution to this paradox is for museums and donors to direct more of the limited funding that is available to serving local needs. The National Museum of Kenya and its project in working with street children exemplifies the significance of social responsibility among museums. The program caters to local needs by bringing street children into the museum, having them participate in various fun activities and giving them a guided tour of the exhibitions. Children also participate in workshops with local artists and gain skills such as photography. The museum then puts their photographs and artworks on display and raises public awareness of the issue and generates interest and dialogue about solving the social problem. Although the program is not enough to solve the street children issue, the National Museum of Kenya has reached out to the community and opened up dialogue about creating social change. Also, as Fredrick Karnaja Miram (2003) notes, some of the street children benefited from the experience by selling their artwork on the streets.

According to AFRICOM, there are over 20 museums in Kenya. There are less then ten in Zambia and around ten in Tanzania. There are six genocide museums in Rwanda, but AFRICOM only lists one museum in the entire country. With so few museums in Rwanda, Kenya, Tanzania and Zambia, they must serve multiple purposes, first and foremost, meeting the needs of local communities. As Abungu concludes, “[African museums] must be places of social interaction that teach tolerance and acceptance in the face of increased globalization and cultural diversity. Not only are African museums learning more from local communities but they are also reaching out to encourage the participation of these local communities in the museums and its activities.” (Abungu 2005:154). Although Rwandan genocide memorials help boost tourism for the country, their prioritization of international community needs over local ones may seriously hamper or slow down reconciliation efforts in the future. In contrast, the National Museum of Kenya has launched initiatives that includes the needs of multiple groups of people, most importantly, locals. In Kenya and Rwanda, where museums and memorials are scarce and underfunded, and social problems of poverty impede awareness of and access to museums, museums can serve as sites that bring the local and international community together to promote social change.

2 AFRICOM is a non-profit organization formed since 1999 under the auspices of the International Council of Museums (ICOM), based in Africa and run by Africans, to promote a professional network of museums on the continent. Once a year, the NGO hosts a three-day conference to conduct workshops, presentations, discussions and meetings on challenges facing African museums and potential solutions.

Abungu, Lorna, Lawrence Monda and George Ombachi.

2005. “Museums and Communities in Africa: Facing the New Challenges” Public Archaeology. 4: 151-154.

1999. “Connectivity, Collaboration, and Culture: Challenges of African Museums on the Web.” National Museum of Kenya, Kenya.

Grand Theater Built by the Chinese Opens up in Senegal

A friend of mine sent this recent establishment in Senegal:

Wade on Friday thanked China “for this majestic jewel” which cost 16 billion CFA francs (24 million euros/34.6 million dollars) and hailed the “dynamics, pragmatism and efficiency” marking the two countries’ cooperation.

China bore 14 billion CFA francs of the total costs and Senegal the rest.

Senegal’s ambassador to China, Pape Khalilou Fall, said in an interview published in the pro-government newspaper Le Soleil earlier this year that the project was financed through “non-repayable grants”.

The opening ceremony which featured shows by artists from Senegal, Mali and China was also attended by Malian President Amadou Toumani Tourr and Chen Zhili, a senior official of China’s National People’s Congress, or legislative.

The six-storey 1,800-seat building is part of Dakar’s cultural park which is currently under construction. The project started in December 2008.

The multifunctional Grand Theatre will also be open for concerts, films and conferences.

Chinese Vice Premier Hui Liangyu was in Senegal in January to oversee projects China is carrying out in the country.

Among them are the rehabilitation of 11 regional stadiums funded by China and the manufacture of Chinese minibuses in a factory opened in Thies, west of Dakar at the end of 2009.

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.

A Look at Petty Capitalism

Petty Capitalists and Globalization: Flexibility, Entrepreneurship, and Economic Development. Eds. Alan Smart and Josephine Smart.

Michael Blim (2005) makes an interesting argument of petty capitalism as a way to decenter the power of large corporations. Who are the petty capitalists? They are “individuals or households who employ a small number of workers but are themselves actively involved in the labor process” (3). There was some concern in the past that petty capitalists were marginalized, but David Harvey’s observation that Fordism has given way to more flexible accumulation seems to point to increasingly significant roles of petty capitalists. This volume exposes the diversity of petty capitalists and its unstable and complex position, drawing from its potential for both economic advantages and heightened exploitation.

Simone Ghezzi’s article about family-run enterprises in Brianza and Frances Rothstein’s article on small-scale garment manufacturing firms in Mexico demonstrate the grim reality of surviving the global market that make family exploitation necessary. I find Ghezzi’s explanation of exploitation useful: “in discursive terms exploitation may be articulated in various sublimated ways: one of the most recurrent seems to be the ideology of ‘hard work’….The exploitative character of the social relations of production within and among workshops is intertwined with the artisans’ increasing concern for the potential loss of competitiveness in the region” (118). In many cases, it seems, petty capitalists lose out because they have to subcontract to remain competitive, and subcontractors end up investing in technology which puts them in debt and both groups face economic challenges in trying to keep up and yet remain lucrative.

Compare this to Jinn-yuh Hsu’s research on petty capitalists in Taiwan’s semiconductor industry. Trust and social networks involving friends and classmates rather than kin play crucial roles in facilitating connections in Hsinchu and Silicon Valley, which keep petty commodity production (PCP) firms competitive and successful. “Technical cooperation proliferates as personal networks spread. More importantly, a repository of specialized industrial skills and capabilities is formed within the social networks in the HSIP” (156).

Close collaboration with engineers in Silicon Valley partners helps them develop new technologies and also keep up with the latest trends. Yet these collaborations are not fostered by multinational corporations. They are, however, mediated by overseas organizations which aid workers in tapping into local social networks to gain access to technology and “absorb them effectively.” Thus, in this case, the social networks benefit both Silicon Valley and Hsinchu firms. A key feature of the two-way flows of capital and technology is the encouragement of joint ventures and equal partnership at the local level. This is undoubtedly enhanced by a common language, culture and level of experience among the workers. As Hsu points out at the end of the article, it seems this kind of mutually beneficial collaboration occurs under certain conditions — more commonalities than not. Culture as perceived by the workers seems to be most salient in fostering social solidarity.

Then, there’s Michael Blim’s account of the petty capitalists of the central Italian Marche region who inspired some disappointment in him due to their “failures to invest in radically upgrading their production processes so as to assure their own survival and the region’s well-being” (257). Blim offers a very thoughtful reflection of why academics tend to sympathize with petty capitalists: “given the depths of our own domination, and by the perfection of craft in teaching as well as in thought, our appreciation of petty capitalists may derive as much from our own confinement as from their relative freedom to take on the world economically on at least a few of the terms they choose.”

Despite the multiple challenges petty capitalists face, there is something admirable about their determination to persist despite the odds and risks. But, as Blim shows, this might have as much to do with a particular representation of petty capitalists as possessing attributes of loyalty and thrift and hard work as the academic’s own desire for more autonomy projected onto the people they study. Nonetheless, Blim tells us, studies on petty capitalists generate mixed results.

With regards to microlending, Blim asserts that this particular form of petty capitalism may not lead to greater economic inequality, even though it may in some instances strengthen “petty bourgeois values such as thrift and hard work…among women entrepreneurs” (268). It’s particularly fascinating that the ideology of the individual pulling herself up by the bootstraps becomes so prevalent in the realm of microlending, but Blim does not elaborate on whether this is an outcome of microlending or petty capitalism in general or simply a justification used amid growing economic inequality.