Category Archives: China and Africa Research

The Contradictions of Neoliberalism

Over at Balkinization, Bernard Harcourt has a great post on the contradictions of neoliberalisim in the context of the American penal system. Similar contradictions are relevant in the African context as well as some African states continue to wield coercive military and police force even while curtailing the role of the state in providing basic social services. Harcourt’s post is highly recommended.

China and Angola

Lucy Corkin (2006) has a thorough piece on China’s interest in Angola. She states that the most important form of cooperation and joint venture exists between the Chinese oil company Oil Petroleum and Chemical Corporation (Sinopec) and the Angolan company Sonangol combined to form Sonangol-Sinopece International (SSI). Indira Campos and Alex Vines (2008) confirm the significance of Angola’s extractive industries for China. They report hat Sinopec Group has a 55 percent stake in the joint venture and Sonangol has 45 percent. Between 2005 and 2006, nine cooperation agreements were signed and SSI bought three new Angolan offshore oil blocks with reserves of 3.2 billion barrels. However, negotiations fell through in 2007. Sonangol declared independence and SSI gave up he three newly acquired negotiations.

According to Pambazuka News (2009), “Luanda has made no secret of its efforts to diversify is portfolio of investors, ensuring that no one partner becomes too powerful in the oil industry. Consequently, Chinese efforts to secure oil equity in Angola have proved less successful than Beijing’s original expectations, and the Western oil majors still predominate.”
Angola has a population of 14 million, about half of the population residing in Luanda. Oil production accounts for 52 percent of the country’s $24 billion economy (Corkin 2008). Diamonds and oil account for 95 percent of Angolan exports. China has played a particularly important role in post-conflict reconstruction for a civil war that lasted from 1975 to 2002.
F. Ugboaja Ohaegbulam in U.S. Policy in Postcolonial Africa argues that the conflict began as a postcolonial struggle, which evolved into a civil war.
The roots of the conflict lay deep, first in Portugal’s imperial policy and practice in Africa. Second, they lay in the struggle for control of state power among Angola’s three national liberation movements immediately after Portugal was compelled to conceded independence in the wake of a military overthrow of its civilian government in Lisbon in April 1974. The struggle became complicated by external forces — the dynamic of the Cold War and the security interests of South Africa’s white minority government, which sought to perpetuate its rule in South Africa and Namibia as well as its hegemony in the whole of southern Africa….The perceived threat to the security interest of he white minority government of South Africa expanded the scope and duration of the war. The third root of he conflict was the ideological conflict for world hegemony between the United States and the Soviet Union….
Ohaegbulam (2009) continues, arguing that Portugal was run by authoritarian rulers who used brutal force to weed out critics of the colonial government and justified this on the basis that they were civilizing the people of Africa. Anti colonial struggles lasted for 13 years from 1961 to 1974. By 1975, when all parts of the empire was becoming independent, chaos arose in Angola and Portuguese authorities fled, refusing to take any action to control the chaos. “The factions in the struggle for succession in Angola — the popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), the National Front for the Liberation of Angola (FNLA) and the National Union for Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) — were initially national liberation movements which sought to remove Portugal’s imperial presence,” but they were unable to unite. Not only were they ideologically and ethnolinguistically divided, but they became divided based on the external support they received in the midst of the Cold War — one faction receiving support from the Soviet Union and the other receiving support from the US. “Thus, to perpetuate a status quo in southern Africa that favored the Western powers, the United States, under Gerald Ford administration, collaborating with President Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire and the white minority government of the Republic of South Africa, covertly supported an alliance of the FNLA and the UNITA against the Soviet-and Cuban-backed MPLA. The MPLA, which had already proclaimed itself the government of Angola (on 11 November, 1975), won an indecisive victory in February 1976 against its rivals.” As war continued, corrupt acts by the MPLA government persisted. UNITA rebels committed atrocious acts against anyone who was considered disloyal. The People’s Republic of China (PRC) established diplomatic ties with the MPLA since 1983. When Moscow supported MPLA at one point, the PRC turned to UNITA to forge alliances.

The consequences of war were devastating. Not only did the war deplete the overall labor force, especially in the rural areas, but destroyed peasant households and agricultural production. What was once a self-sufficient sector now depended heavily on imported food aid. Conditions were further exacerbated by the actions of UNITA rebels. They cut off road transport, obliterated bridges and prevented rail traffic and used infrastructure to smuggle diamonds to purchase weapons. The author estimates that $10 million worth of diamonds were smuggled every week through Zaire and $1 billion spent every year to buy weapons from the Soviet Union. Infrastructure that had been destroyed during the war is now being reconstructed and rehabilitated by the Chinese. It is estimated that $211 million loan has been given to build roads destroyed during the civil war. Campos and Vines (2008) maintain that Angola’s developmental needs are tremendous and the involvement of Portugal and Brazil in doubling their credit lines to help Angola rebuild its economy demonstrates that China is not the dominant contributor. The US at one point had been the major importer of Angolan oil, but that has since shifted to China and South Africa. Still, Chinese FDI is small in comparison to Western FDI, with Portugal taking the lead.

The number of Chinese living in Angola has increased, but as of 2005, the Portuguese comprised the main foreign labor force. In 2006, there were an estimated 15,000 Chinese with work visas living in Angola. In 2007, the number increased to 22,000. Most of the Chinese are low-paid migrant workers who will return home after their one to two year contracts end. They live in isolated, closed compounds, “often at the site of actual construction”. The authors also report that “those workers earn a very low salary and therefore lack the financial ability, language skills, and contacts to establish their own businesses in Angola” (Campos and Vines 46). However, given that over half of the population in Angola are jobless, the influx of Chinese workers may fuel resentment and contribute to future controversy. The authors mention that Chinese companies garner 70 percent of the contracts, which means only 30 percent of Angolans get contracts. However, it seems with the focus on rebuilding quickly, the Angolan government has favored Chinese companies over domestic ones by giving them over 70 percent of the contracts. Furthermore, since the Chinese also prefer to hire their own workers and have brought up issues about the standards of local workers and contractors, many locals have no benefited from anticipated levels of employment that the Chinese were expected to provide.

The authors also make the excellent point that there is a need for mutual understanding that is absent in work-related interactions between the Chinese and Angolans. The Catholic University in Luanda opened a research quarter for studies on China-Africa relationship. There is still little historical, cultural and linguistic knowledge between China and Angola. Chinese researchers are beginning to recognize the importance of Angola and other African countries, but the concern is that “China’s intellectual capacity to analyze the country has not increased” and therefore, this “highlights a serious sociocultural deficit for promoting a more realistic understanding of nonelite bilateral relations” (46-47).

Work, Economics and Meaning

I’m part of an online anthropology group at Open Anthropology Cooperative, which recently put forth this blog post about meaning at the workplace.

Alexander Lee writes:

“This article: Goodbye, Homo Economicus from Economist’s View voices concerns about the insufficiency of linking rational choice theory (with its model of humans as homo economicus, interested mainly in external measurable values of maximizing utility and minimizing cost).

What the “madmen in authority” heard this time was the distant echo of a debate among academic economists begun in the 1970s about “rational” investors and “efficient” markets. This debate began against the backdrop of the oil shock and stagflation and was, in its time, a step forward in our understanding of the control of inflation. But, ultimately, it was a debate won by the side that happened to be wrong. And on those two reassuring adjectives, rational and efficient, the victorious academic economists erected an enormous scaffolding of theoretical models, regulatory prescriptions and computer simulations which allowed the practical bankers and politicians to build the towers of bad debt and bad policy. …
Which brings us to the causes of the present crisis. The reckless property lending that triggered this crisis only occurred because rational investors assumed that the probability of a fall in house prices was near zero. Efficient markets then turned these assumptions into price-signals, which told the bankers that lending 100 per cent mortgages or operating with 50-to-1 leverage was safe. Similarly, regulators, who allowed banks to determine their own capital requirements and private rating agencies to establish the value at risk in mortgages and bonds, took it as axiomatic that markets would automatically generate the best possible information and create the right incentives for managing risks. …

The scandal of modern economics is that these two false theories—rational expectations and the efficient market hypothesis—which are not only misleading but highly ideological, have become so dominant in academia (especially business schools), government and markets themselves.

I am not familiar with the author of this article. Where the article stops, is in suggesting how economics could be reformed so that the internal models that build our current understanding of how resources and finances should be handled. That’s okay though, this is a blog about economics, not about meaning in the face of rational nihilism via utility… an understanding of money that is nearly a priori due to its near-circularity.

But if anything, the takeaway should be that our current system needs to change in some fundamental ways because of a lack of meaning in our workplace and the lack of integration between our system of resources and how people live.

It’s not enough to BS a company work-place environment. That environment needs to be genuine. People today are quite savvy at detecting bullshit. Likewise any meaning a company creates, like the lessons in a public classroom, for it to be meaningful, need to be integral to our personal lives, in some way. And that choice has to be allowed by each individual, we need a society that sets the proper conditions for such connections to thrive. What such a society should be, or how it should be transitioned onto is of course, a difficult but collective choice each of us needs to make on a daily basis.”

The next time you go to work decide for yourself, if this is what you ought to be doing. Not today or tomorrow, but next year, or ten years from now. Understand that maximizing a paycheck is like maximizing utility. Getting a pleasant job that is close by is like minimizing cost. Is that really the best way to live?

After all, in the journey of being alive, we collect things, bank accounts and stuff. It’s not been accepted that anyone who has died has come back to really talk about it. Even still, we all see that No, you can’t take it with you.

I find Lee’s argument very compelling, because it takes into account what Jill Fraser’s White Collar Sweatshop does not discuss — the affects, attachment, belief systems and interpretation of work that make it a deontological good. I used to work at a start-up company before the dot-com busts and we experienced morale boosts from the excitement of being at the brink of revolutionary innovation…that is, until we realized we were not going to get funding from venture capitalists and we had to make ends meet from our overly thinned bank accounts. I also worked at a computer store selling hardware parts. That store shut down. At the same time, I worked at a local restaurant, which also shut down shortly after I started working for them. (I promise I am not bad luck though!!) Because I was not intellectually stimulated by either job, I did not find meaning. I was glad to see the hours pass by. Sometimes they passed quickly if we had many clients, and other times the hours dragged on. I suppose I derived meaning from interacting with friends at the workplace, but even they wanted to rush home. When I think about the best work experiences I had, among them being an SAT tutor, a web programmer at my undergraduate university, working for the mayor of Maui on low-income housing projects (for a summer), teaching 9 to 17 year-old kids technology at a summer camp, and working on administrative and technical projects at a teachers credit union, there are several factors that contributed to meaning at the workplace:

1) I had relative high autonomy.
2) I was valued for creativity and individual thought tempered with group teamwork.
3) Compensation (both pay and benefits) were average or above average.
4) Workplace pressures were not overwhelming.

While I agree with Lee that we should concentrate on putting meaning at the workplace, this goal should supplement the goals of trying to make working conditions fair and less cumbersome, not substitute for them. We should not assume that meaning is completely separate from other factors, economic or otherwise. For example, in Viktor Frankl’s Search for Meaning that is referenced by Lee, logotherapy involved a form of separation from one’s situation because it was simply too difficult to deal with the pain of witnessing a loved one die. It says, like many self-help books — and I’ve probably read Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits a dozen times — that the individual must rise above her situation. While I find this notion hopeful and necessary in challenging times like those faced by Frankl, it seems most applicable when there are no other or few other options, for example, when stuck in a concentration camp. But when one does have the option of a career-change, asking the boss for a raise, changing companies, or uniting with other workers to go on strike, maybe that also provides meaning. That is to say, perhaps Lee is defining meaning a bit narrowly. It can be means to an end, or an end in itself. For some, the meaning might lie in fighting for better conditions. For others, it might solely be in providing for one’s family. It makes sense for knowledge workers to easily find meaning in one’s research, teaching and other areas due to the relative versatility and autonomy of the nature of this type of work. But what of toll-booth collectors? There is no doubt that while some people might find meaning in that type of work, it would probably be much more difficult than for other jobs due to the lack of autonomy and the repetitive nature of the work. It is also possible re-orienting or shaping meaning is a band-aid to a larger issue — namely the increasingly specialized and mechanical division of labor. Maybe those who are dissatisfied with being toll-booth collectors need more than to be told that they should somehow try to find meaning in their work. Aren’t some jobs much more difficult to find meaning in? Don’t some people have to perform these jobs nonetheless? It seems clear that in situations like this, we need more than a search for meaning in order to improve the lives of workers.

The crux of Lee’s argument, I think, is about choice. Wouldn’t it be lovely if we had autonomy to do what gives us meaning? Lee brings up a good point about finding meaning at work. But perhaps the solution is that we should be able to find work that gives us meaning. It might be the case that some jobs simply by nature are meaningless. This is not to say an individual out there may not find meaning in that particular job, but that the onus should not be placed on the individual to make meaning at the job or to accept corporate propaganda. There is no meaning in increasing work pressures, workloads, and declining levels of career and financial security, which Jill Fraser has claimed leads to less emotional attachment and also, less time and energy to spend with one’s family and children. Given a lack of choice due to economic pressures, we are forced to find “work meaning” elsewhere — in social relationships, in civic engagements, in civil society, and in our homes. Given a set of choices, we can decide whether we want to hunt in the morning, criticize at night, or do both. First increase autonomy. Perhaps then, meaning will naturally follow.

Early British Colonialists in Zambia

I picked up Richard Hall’s Zambia at the library. The book was falling apart and worn out, but it was addicting to read. Who was Richard Hall? I found an obituary describing the man’s life, as he had passed on in 1997. As a young boy, he grew up in Australia, served in the navy, received a degree at Oxford and then moved to Zambia with his family to work as an editor for two Copperbelt magazines “one targeted at affluent white miners, and the other at a low-income but increasingly skilled black readership.”

In any case, what I found particularly fascinating about the book was the detailed references to early European settlers and colonialists in Zambia, in terms of the kinds of occupations and status they occupied in their home societies, especially in comparison to the Chinese either working and/or settling there. What might be the similarities and differences in attitudes towards Zambia and Zambians among different kinds of expatriates and colonialists? Where did they come from in their home societies and what propelled them to go to Zambia? Why Zambia? The point that underscores these kinds of comparisons is an emphasis of continuity in history in Zambia as opposed to framing China and Zambian relations as a break from the past. That is, can we conceive some of the negative depictions of Chinese engagement in Zambia and other African countries as uniquely different?

First, let us begin with 1867, when the northwest of Zambia was invaded by an Arab slave-trader, apparently a ruthless one, named Hamed bin Muhammed. He was also known as Tippoo Tib. According to Hall, Tippoo Tib was a “plunderer who showed no mercy to his African victims” yet he was kind to the whites he met. Henry Stanley took him on and King Leopold II named him the governor of Upper Congo. One of the accounts of the system of slave trade read as follows: “There they traded, and when ivory and slaves were sufficient they sent off caravans to the coast, which brought back guns and powder and other trade goods. After a time of peaceful penetration, having ingratiated themselves with the people and having built a walled village, the armed Arabs one morning would suddenly attack their erstwhile hosts and friends, killing their men and carrying off women and children….From then on, raids in the more distant villages were the order of the day, while the locals, turned into Arab servants, shared in the plunder. Thus mushroom Arab kingdoms were brought into being and built up throughout Central Africa” (46).

Surely, the Ngoni were involved in these trades, although as Hall mentions, whenever they took on captives, they did not sell them into slavery but either made them grow crops or absorbed them into their military forces. The Ngoni were “formidable warriors” and they incessantly raided some of the Bemba people. The Bemba, who did engage in slave trading, were the first to get gunpowder in exchange for slaves. This ended the raids between the Ngoni and Bemba. Then there were the Kololo who were similar to the Ngoni, also warriors. By 1840 or so, the Lozi people had created a powerful state to which tribes in the area around the flood plain had to pay tribute. The Lozi also had contact with Arab and Portuguese traders to the east. The Tonga peoples were dominated by the Lozi at one point. It was a Kololo chief who first met and was friendly to David Livingstone. Who was Livingstone? He had studied medicine in Glasgow and wanted to become a missionary in China but decided instead to travel to southern Africa. Apparently, he was so committed to the project that even when his wife had been ill and was expecting a baby who died while they were traveling in the region, he was determined as ever to take his entire family, wife and three children on the expedition. Sadly, it was Sebituane, the Kololo chief’s enthusiasm to entertain Livingstone by riding a horse with him that eventually led to his death; he was thrown off the horse and quickly fell and died.

The Kololo were eventually wiped out by malaria, but the Lozi remained resistant. In the latter part of the 1880s, we begin to see the formation of the British South African company, led by Cecil Rhodes, who was an Oxford-educated, wealth-driven man with empire-building aspirations. “At twenty-four he willed his entire estate to the the founding of a secret society which would be devoted to ‘the occupation by British settlers of the entire Continent of Africa’ as part of a design to spread British power throughout the world….Already [by the time he was thirty-five], Cecil Rhodes had amassed a vast fortune by winning control of the mining interests in the Rand; he was a dominant figure in the Cape Parliament and was to become Prime Minister within two years” (54). Rhodes worked with people he already knew — Sir Hercules Robinson, High Commissioner in the Cape and senior Imperial representative in southern Africa, who also had shared in De Beers, the diamond empire; Sir Sidney Shippard, the administrator of Bechuanaland, who had known Rhodes since their time at Oxford and would later become the director of the British South African company; John Smith Moffat, brother in law of David Livingstone. Cecil Rhodes made constant connection with the “high social circles” in England, speaking to people he met, “placing bribes” to entice them to put Central Africa on the map. On the other front, he placed “his people” to gain concessions entitling the company to land. Lobengula was essentially tricked into the Rudd Concession which gave the company control over his country. Then, there was Elliot Lochner, a former member of the Bechuanaland Police. highly compensated by Rhodes, to negotiate treaties with Lewanika to give up Barotseland. Two other key players were involved. There was Francois Coillard, a French missionary, whose statement that he was a man of God and above politics was rendered empty when he helped Rhodes and the company to gain the concession of Bartoseland. He was not above politics when politics could serve his evangelical interests (63). There was also George Middleton, who was a friend of Coillard and a young Englishman, a layman, who had gone to Barotseland as an ivory trader, representing a firm in Mafeking. Later on, it seems Middleton called the Concession “an immense sale of the whole country” and found the British South African Company to be no more than a “simple mining association”. Four months after the signing of the Barotse concession, Lewanika changed his mind. It took Lobengula three months to change his mind after signing the Rudd Concession. Both felt that they had been duped into signing the treaties. “What I wanted was not money but protection: not the protection of a mining and mercantile company but the protection of Your Majesty and Your Government, nothing else,” they wrote to the queen.

Dr. James Johnston, who quickly became friends with Coillard, was a doctor and missionary who had previously evangelized in Jamaica. Yet he also helped the company. He was later very critical o Rhodes and the British South African company, emphasizing their use of “forced labour, flogging and even murder” (79). However, Thomson still believed that Britain was endowed with the God-given duty to expand its empire and it seems he was critical of Rhodes because it was in direct violation of what he felt should be an empire expansion directly from the Crown (80). If we fast forward to 1924, it seems many of the settlers assigned to be colonial administrators had served in previous posts and were trained in the military. For example, Sir James Crawford Maxwell had trained under Frederick Lugard in Sierra Leone and Nigeria before his assignment as governor in 1927. Lugard was born in India and raised in Worcester, England by a British Army Chaplain, his father, and the daughter of a reverend, his mother. He had fought as a young man against Arab slavers in Nyasaland in 1888 and became a well-known British colonial administrator in Africa before retiring in 1919 as Governor General of Nigeria. He produced the Dual Mandate which was required reading for every colonial cadet to implement indirect rule.

It’s quite interesting to conceptualize British colonial administration as a vehicle for career advancement for many of these young men perhaps born into less privileged backgrounds. In an informative article, “Modernizing Missions,” Joseph Hodge (2000) writes the following about colonial administration in the 1940s and 1950s.

“Perhaps not surprisingly, quite a few came from families with connections to the empire (in some cases having been born overseas, while in others knowing of close family relations who had spent time working in one or more territories. The great majority of those who became involved in colonial agriculture or agricultural research came from rural backgrounds, often born and raised on family farms, or reared in small villages in Wales or Yorkshire or Scotland. For them, working overseas held obvious attractions since the opportunities for farming in the UK at this time were limited and declining. Some were also motivated by the desire to help improve the lives of colonial peoples. Perhaps even more crucial than their background in shaping their attitudes and perceptions about development were their early colonial experiences. Often, it was in these formative years as colonial experts that key conceptual methodologies and development strategies were first devised….”

Although they were stationed throughout the empire, most spent their colonial years on tour in sub-Saharan Africa, with the greatest numbers being assigned to Kenya (28), Tanganyika (25), Nigeria (23), Uganda (15), Nyasaland (14), the Gold Coast (10), Northern Rhodesia (10) and Sierra Leone (7).

How might we compare the early trajectories of British and European settlers and colonial officials to current Chinese state-owned enterprise workers, petty traders and entrepreneurs and employees at private corporations? Can we compare and contrast the kinds of settlers, the nature of their work, and their attitudes towards locals? It seems all the European settlers and most definitely colonial administrators mentioned were racists and embraced a “civilizing mission” of the “dark continent.” Another key difference, noted by Hodges, is that around 1/3rd or more of former colonial administrators continued working in the same country for years even after independence.

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.

Chinese Medicine in Tanzania

“Medicine as Business: Chinese Medicine in Tanzania” by Elizabeth Hsu in China Returns to Africa: A Rising Power and a Continent Embrace (2009)

Hsu’s impressive study is based on interviews with “every doctor in Tanzania and Kenya” between 2001 and 2004. She identifies five ways in which Chinese doctors have been involved in Tanzania.

The first group included doctors sent by the People’s Republic of China in since the 1960s, each of China’s province “assigned” to an African nation: Yunnan to Uganda, Shandong to Tanzania and so on. She notes that by 2001, only four remained. This group was more oriented towards Chinese traditional medicine. The second group of doctors were trained in Western medicine and had worked during the building of the TAZARA railway, treating Chinese and local railway workers. The third group was composed of a combination of scientists, doctors, chemists, botanists and a medical anthropologist, some from China and some from other parts of the world conducting research and collecting data on tropic flora and fauna used for medicinal purposes. This research unit in 1991 “identified over 4,000 healers and tested 3,000 herbs” (224).

The fourth group included Chinese doctors sent to Tanzania and also Tanzanian medical students sent to China for medical training. This part was utterly fascinating and I wish Hsu had written more. Tanzanian medical students had six years of medical training in the PRC and they had to complete one semester in acupuncture. They were also exposed to traditional Chinese medicine from qigong to taijiquan (225). Hsu stated that some of the Tanzanian patients she interviewed insisted on the superiority of Chinese medicine compared to Western medicine.

The final group consisted of doctors who arrived in Tanzania since 1996. Pressures by the World Bank to privatize health care enabled these doctors to open up private practices and engage in “medicine as business” (227). Hsu notes that this is part of a larger pattern of Chinese people going to African countries to do business in multiple industries due to increasing pressures they faced in China. Hsu writes “in contrast to the socialist government-sent medical teams that included an acupuncturist, the private Chinese medical entrepreneurs almost exclusively rely on ‘Chinese formula medicines’ (zhongchengyao),” which are easy to consume but their benefits are debatable.

The Effects of Privatization in Zambia

“For Whom the Wind Falls: Six Problems with Privatization in Zambian Copper Mines” by Professor John Lungu and Alastair Fraser.

I found this really informative website called Fatal Transactions. It says it’s “a network of different European and African NGO’s and research institutes.” Their website offers a list of publications on the practice of resource extraction and its effects on local communities here. Professor Lungu and Alastair Fraser’s work, which was introduced to me in an excellent seminar can be found on the website as well.

Since 1991, government, heavily in debt, moved towards privatization with pressure from the IMF and World Bank. The consequences have been quite devastating; the report calls what has happened in the Copperbelt a “social crisis”. The authors identify six problems with privatization:

1) Deals were made in unequal circumstances. Because the Zambian government was heavily in debt, they had to make concessions in the “Development Agreement” that significantly benefited private investors at the expense of workers.

2) The Zambian government’s regulatory powers have been undermined; thus, it seems unlikely they will be able to govern the behavior of foreign investors to ensure that workers receive proper social services.

3) Nearly half of the workforce is casual labor, which means while this scheme is profitable for mining companies, temporary workers are unjustly deprived of health care, pension and other social services.

4) Pension funds continue to dwindle. There’s a tragic story on page 34 about a mineworker who was promised pension for his labor since 1981 and was cheated out of the money after he was retrenched as a worker for a privatized mine. At the time of the report, he was living hand to mouth.

5) Something I had not thought about and this article points out is the loss of businesses, suppliers and manufacturers tied to the mines. The report argues for industrial policy concentrated on building more copper smelters and manufacturing bases so that local Zambians will benefit from these investments. However, the government is held in a bind due to restrictions by the IMF and World Bank.

6) Companies failing to provide social services. Zambia Consolidated Copper Mining (ZCCM) used to provide health care, housing, HIV-AIDS and malaria prevention programs. The article states: “according to free-market ideology, and the Development Agreements, these goods and services should now be provided either by the local authorities or by market forces.” Free market ideology complete misses the point. How will locals provide social services when they cannot afford them? Certainly, some workers were retrenched after privatization but many were not. Those who were retrenched have received meager pay and no social services, since free market ideology also dictates that hiring casual labor is cheaper for the companies. Thus, stating that it’s up to the free market to provide social services is really an evasion of the problem at best and most definitely, a rejection of responsibilities incumbent upon the mining companies to provide for the well-being of workers and local community members.

Karen Transberg Hansen has written about the detrimental effects of neo-liberal development in Lusaka, Zambia. In her article, she observes that since the housing market was privatized, most people are forced to live in informal housing with inadequate electricity, water or transportation. From 1992 to 1999, formal employment declined from 17 to 11 percent. IMF policies such as the removal of food subsidies have engendered adverse effects. Some of the adverse effects are most evident in the expansion of the informal economy and the black market.

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.

Politics of Change in a Zambian Community by George C. Bond

Politics of Change in a Zambian Community by George C. Bond (1976)

In his illuminating analysis of Yombe political life, George C. Bond (1976) advances the argument that rural societies, such as Muyombe, where he conducted fieldwork from 1963 to 1965, and offers 40 plus years of research in Zambia, are part of larger political systems. Political activity, according to Bond, “structure political behavior, choices and decisions” and they constitute “social life” which forms the “constant interplay between behavior and rules”. Social change results from tensions in different political spheres, which highlight relationships between the local community and central government, small town and lesser communities, the old guard and new men, and the new men and villagers (160). Bond’s fieldwork occurring at the pivotal turn of independence in October 1964 is instructive in telling us how independence was managed and specifically, how local villagers responded to these changes.

Similar to the Nuer, ecological conditions marked activities of village life. Intense agricultural activity, which involved the cultivation of maize, millet and beans, took place in the rainy season around late November or early December. In the dry season, villagers began to prepare millet gardens and involved themselves in building and repairing houses, bridges, woodsheds and granaries (9). As for the different kinds of crops, Bond observes that maize was planted in December and early January, beans were planted twice a year “between the rows of maize”, millet gardens were built by cutting branches from trees and burning them in the dry season, and millet was harvested and used for making beer. The Yombe also grew groundnuts, cassava, bananas, and sweet potatoes and pumpkins. There were few cases of malnutrition during his fieldwork, Bond notes, for the “combination of maize and millet porridge with red beans provided the Yombe with a nutritious diet” (10). It seems subsistence farming was predominant, although some Yombe sold to the Kasama Co-operative, which operated a truck that went to the village once a year or they sold to Isoka, the district headquarters. However, since prices for the crops were quite low, “they [had] little reason to increase their productivity” (11).

Because of taxes originally imposed upon villagers by the British South Africa Company and later by colonial administration, many men worked in the urban centers. Yet some remained connected to home by sending remittances and visiting when they could (13). Village residents divided these labor migrants into three groups, “villagemen,” “minemen,” and “townmen.” Villagemen had spent a short amount of time in the urban areas, minemen were more accustomed to urban ways, and townmen, the ones who received formal education, were opposed to villagemen or minemen. The townmen were the instigators of change. As Bond notes, “…what is important here is that, because they aspire to reproduce the material and social conditions of the town in Uyombe, they take an active part in politics and have become an effective group within the rural community. Their activities have brought them into competition with the more conservative ruling elements: the chief, his immediate supporters, and many of the headmen. It is primarily among the townmen that one finds political activists — the men who were able to harness rural discontent into an effective nationalist movement” (89).

It is worth noting, as Bond explains so well, that the period preceding 1965 was replete with political activities in the urban and rural areas. The African National Congress (ANC) was created in 1951 and lasted until 1958. In 1958, Dr. Kenneth Kaunda went his separate ways from the ANC and formed the Zambian African National Congress (ZANC), which was later banned and Kaunda was imprisoned. The United National Independence Party (UNIP) was created during this time and Kaunda became its leader when released in 1960 (86-90). By 1962, UNIP had “developed into a mass party” spanning 24 regions and many constituencies. Uyombe was a hub of significant political activity and the UNIP branches in Isoka District were run by the “new men,” the elite “townmen.” Churches also played an incredibly important political role by educating elites and recruiting members associated with political alliances. Bond explains that the Free Church of Scotland, though with only a membership of 250, was known to produce educated elites with a “Western orientation”. It was the first European mission church to develop a following in Uyombe. Because of its entanglement with politics, it remained successful, compared to the Watchtower movement, which prohibited political activities and the Lumpa church, which was later banned and according to Van Binsbergen, crushed by UNIP adherents with the endorsement of Dr. Kaunda. (See “Religious Innovation and Political Conflict in Zambia: The Lumpa Rising” for more details)

Regarding the production of elites in religious organizations, Bond explains: “By the 1930s, the new Livingstonia-trained elite controlled both the Free Church and the chiefdom, and the Free Church became identified not only with the new elite but also with the chief and his royal branch. In 1965, while there were elders and deacons who still supported the chief and his branch, there were many who belonged to other royal branches or who were members of and loyal to UNIP. The Free Church remains the church of the new elite, and though many of the young political leaders were suspended members, they still attended services regularly” (25).

Conflicts between different groups of elite, the old guard — the chief and his followers — and the new men emerged as a struggle for power. The more educated supported more nationalistic policies, while the less educated had more local concerns. Although there were also other rural elites, such as the shop owners and traders, their interests tended to align with the old guard because their futures lay in the community but supported the new elites when they put forth development plans that would benefit their enterprises. Many of the new elites occupied political offices and left the community, while the old guard, increasingly “parochial in their orientation” headed the villages. However, due to villagers’ demands of local development, the old guard was “forced to take up positions which the central government might consider radical” (160). In the epilogue, Bond asserts that chieftainship, an “intimate part of local government,” benefited from the aftermath of national independence and Zambianization policies which shifted power among the progressive elements to the urban areas, further entrenching conservative, traditional elements at the local level.

Tanzania-Zambia Railway


“The Tanzania-Zambia Railway: A Case Study in Chinese Economic Aid to Africa” by George T. Yu in Soviet and Chinese Aid to African Nations (1980)

Africa’s Freedom Railway: How a Chinese Development Project Changed Lies and Livelihoods in Tanzania by Jamie Monson (2009)

TAZARA Railway was a symbolic development project that marked “third world” solidarity amid contentious Cold War politics through China’s leading, benevolent role. Proposals for the project were consolidated at the heels of Tanzania and Zambia’s independence in the 1960s with the hopes of stimulating greater agricultural productivity especially in light of neighboring Rhodesia as competition. As Yu (1980) states, “landlocked and surrounded on three sides by hostile forces, Zambia, more than ever, sought a link with the outside world, fearing that Rhodesia and the Portuguese would sever its traffic to the sea entirely”; furthermore, an oil pipeline that went from Dar es Salaam to Ndola, Zambia proved to be an additional incentive to build the railway.

Proposals were submitted to the former Soviet Union, United Nations, Britain and Canada, all of whom rejected the project based on what they would turn out to be an “expensive mistake” (Yu 123). China accepted the agreement in 1967 following President Kaunda’s visit to China, but the agreement was not finalized until 1970 after several rounds of negotiation. By the time it was completed in 1976, the project had cost an estimated $456.3 million and exceeded the initial estimate by $55 million, which China “had agreed to absorb” (130). Although the loan was supposed to be interest-free, governments on all sides agreed on commodity-credit exchanges. Half of costs of building the railway link would be financed through the purchase of $121 million worth of Chinese goods.

The workforce comprised of Chinese, Tanzanians and Zambians. In 1972, the workforce was broken down into 70 percent Tanzanians, 26 percent Chinese and 4 percent Zambians. By 1974, 30 percent Chinese, 36 percent Tanzanians, and 34 percent Zambians made up the workforce. Manpower, according to officials involved in the project, seemed to severely limit the project due to the shortage of trained civil engineers, hydraulic engineers, mechanical and hydraulic engineers as well as geologists and soil scientists. Because China was also confronted with the problem of scarce resources, much of the technology was imported. The Japanese provided hundreds of bulldozers. Other imported machinery included British and Swedish trucks, Finnish rock-crushing machinery and German buses (135). Most of the equipment, such as locomotives, rolling stock and actual materials was manufactured in China.

Actual construction of the railway was done in sections. Mobile construction camps, which moved along the route, were given equipment and resources by the main base camp. Jamie Monson (2009) reports that when the Chinese and Tanzanians worked together, their approach to the project was “labor intensive” and back-breaking. Even against Tanzanian law that required workers in government institutions to put in seven hours a day, Chinese supervisors required that workers put in longer shifts. What is fascinating is that, according to Monson, if workers read Mao Ze Dong’s red book, supervisors allowed them to sit for hours. Otherwise, workers were instilled with ideologies of brotherhood, personal character and hard work. Although broader conceptions of cooperation and collaboration may have framed projects, Monson’s description of the interactions among Chinese and African workers suggest other possibilities. Majority of workers conducted their working and off-duty lives in a segregated manner and although African workers were put in leadership positions, they were few and far between.

By late 1970s, Yu reports, China began to limit aid to African countries. However, he argues, “the rail link, in terms of aid categories and level of resource expenditure, reflected an exception, rather than the rule, in China’s aid practices” (141). TAZARA was a symbol of China’s power, commitment to other “third world” nations, and victory of the West. Unfortunately, when I last visited the railway en route to Dar es Salaam from Kapiri Mposhi, evidence of its deterioration was apparent. According to a 2008 report by the Times of Zambia, “screws and bolts were missing from most sleepers and switch bearers,” thus posing danger for passengers and crew members. It seems the railway will once again make its way into the hands of the Chinese, the government has granted $10.8 million to renovate and rehabilitate the railway and Chinese investors have looked into the prospect of taking advantage of potential privatization of transportation sectors (thanks to recommendations by the World Bank and audit firm PriceWaterhouseCoopers). Sadly, the railway has been underused. Designed to carry 2.5 million tons each way (Yu 137), it now carries 0.5 million tons a year. It seems mounting problems manifested themselves in 1978 when about one-third of the locomotives and 30 percent of the wagons were inoperative. Yu attributes these problems partly to “premature departure by the Chinese” before Zambian personnel could be fully trained. Despite these problems, TAZARA remains a permanent fixture reminiscent of historical Chinese, Zambian and Tanzanian solidarity. It continues to be a potent symbolic force that is consistently invoked in modern times.

Note: Picture (left or top) is the inside of the Kapiri Mposhi station in Zambia. Picture (right or bottom) is a Chinese map of TAZARA (1977) obtained by George T. Yu (1980: 138).