Category Archives: Zambia

AFRICA RISING – FUTURE LEADERS: My Experiences as a Journalist by Charity Musa

Charity and I worked together at a Chinese telecommunications multi-national company in Zambia. Not only is she an astute business-person and a rising star in the company, she is also a professional journalist. She juggles it all, and very successfully! It is truly an honor to feature her story here on my blog as well as a sample article she wrote about a farmers’ workshop sponsored by USAID and Agritech Expo below.

My Name is Charity Musa, a Journalist from Zambia. I have been practicing Journalism since 2004. Ever since I was a little girl, I always wanted to become one because of the journalists I used to see on television. I guess I would say that I was fascinated by them.

During my childhood, I had a powerful fantasy of being a journalist and my role model was the famous Zambian journalist by the name of Maureen Nkandu. Whenever I would see her read the news on television, in my mind I would think, “I want to be like her” — an influential journalist.

I envisioned my future. I guess what they say in the famous Video ‘The Secret “Thoughts become Things” worked for me. “I BECAME.”

Writing stories has always been my passion because it brings me inner joy to my soul, I have always wanted to tell a story and be heard. When I do not write, I feel like something is missing and writing stories energizes me. I get excited like a little kid that is about to be given candy by her beloved aunt.

So let me tell you a little bit about my journalism experience, I worked for Zambia Daily as a part time journalist from 2004 until the beginning of 2008. While working there, I did my freelancing for Sila Press Botswana as well and I appreciated the experience because people in Botswana read stories about my beautiful Country Zambia.

And in 2006, I did a Southern African Media Training Trust (NSJ) journalism exchange programme with Namibia Press Agency (NAMPA) and I did an internship with New Era Newspaper for two weeks. It was a great experience. I got to learn more from the famous Veteran journalist who hailed from Zimbabwe, the Late Farai Munyuki, who was in charge of the programme at NAMPA for the Journalists from different African countries.

After 2008, I freelanced for UKZAMBIANS magazine writing mostly entertainment Stories and wrote a few articles for Huawei People Magazine and The Post Newspaper.

While I was working part time for Zambia Daily, I was trained by the best journalists like the Late Nigel Mulenga, Newton Sibanda, Joy Sata and Steven Phiri, who made sure I wrote stories well.

Nigel made sure I had a first lead story in the paper. I was so excited and honored. Here I am, a part-time journalist working for this National Newspaper. I wrote a lead crime story, which was read by millions of people that day. I like to imagine that more than a million read the article. After all, we can always dream, as we are so great at fulfilling our dreams through our visions.

That day was one of the most exciting days of my Journalism Life! Subsequently, I had the privilege of covering the Late Zambian President Dr Levy Mwanawasa. Can you imagine how I felt, a junior reporter being tasked to cover the President of Zambia? Those assignments were usually given to senior journalists with more Experience, but they trusted me enough with my colleague Barbara Mukuka to do the assignment and we did it with perfection. I think we wrote better articles than any other media outlets that day!

In conclusion, I would say, writing keeps me sane and happy, as it makes my mind more active and creative. I cannot imagine myself living a life without ever penning down a story because am very passionate about it and I believe that I make a difference with this passion.

Finally, below, I have included a sample article that I wrote about a farmers’ workshop held by USAID and Agritech Expo. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to contact me via email: charitymusa@hotmail.com.

AGRITECH EXPO AND USAID TO HOLD EMERGING FARMERS’ WORKSHOP IN ZAMBIA

By Charity Musa

US. Agency for International Development (USAID) says Zambia is becoming a real hub for emerging commercial agriculture in southern region.

Due to its commercial agricultural sector development, Agritech Expo in conjunction with USAID Southern Africa Trade Hub is holding an agriculture Expo in Zambia.

USAID Southern Africa Trade Hub Director of Agriculture Robert Turner said in a statement that the two- day free technical workshop programme will take place at GART research centre in Chisamba, Zambia from 4th to 5th April 2014.

Mr Turner said about 50 emerging commercial farmers from Zambia, Malawi and Mozambique are expected to attend the workshop.

He further said the workshop was designed particularly for small holders and emerging commercial farmers to provide them with the basic information and context to better understand the technologies that would be available and on display during the workshops.

According to Mr Turner, “the Southern Africa Trade Hub is part of the US government’s Feed the Future Strategy, and our focus is both on the competitiveness of regional agriculture and on food security. As part of Feed the Future, the US government is focusing support on the following countries under the Trade Hub’s umbrella: Zambia, Malawi and Mozambique. In all three of these countries, small holder farmers make up the majority of staple food production, but they all suffer from very low productivity. Our support to the Agritech Expo is part of the Trade Hub’s regional approach to improving productivity among emerging commercial farmers and small holders.”

Mr Turner said it was important for the farmers to attend the workshop for them to adopt new agriculture technology.

“This includes improved seeds, fertilisers and mechanisation, and the Agritech Expo represents a sustainable, commercial mechanism to allow farmers access to these technologies. Because of Zambia’s commercial agricultural sector development, a wide range of companies representing a range of important technologies will be at the show. These technologies and services are needed throughout the region, and we want to support the show to be a regional resource.” He said.

Most of the emerging farmers, from the three countries, that have already signed up for the programme where eager to broaden their knowledge and make contacts at the Agritech Expo in April.

   
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AFRICA RISING – FUTURE LEADERS: My I.T. Aspirations by Thabale Ngulube

My good friend Thabale wanted to introduce himself on my blog. We worked together in 2012 in Kitwe, Zambia, where I was conducting research and working for a Zambian-owned mining construction firm. Thabale is a skilled website programmer and worked for a popular company that assisted us with website design, among other tasks. It truly is an honor to feature his story on my blog.

Thabale Ngulube: I’ve loved Information Technology from a very young age and have always believed it to be the “future”. I first started learning  I.T at ZCAS (Zambia Centre for Accountancy Studies) where I did IMIS (Institute for the Management of Information Systems) and worked for almost 4 years mainly doing data management at CHESSORE (Centre for Health, Science and Social Research) and sometime later worked for Talktime Multimedia were I mostly did web page designing and some office administration.
Currently I’m studying BIT (Business Information Technology) and hope to become a software developer so can fully grasp Application Development and I have a few ideas of how I can contribute to the development of my country by mainly streamlining how things are done. One time I helped design a prototype database for storing hospital patient records which basically was computerising the input and storage of data thereby, minimising the paperwork needed for the same task and saving costs in terms of stationery but unfortunately I didn’t get to fully finish it as my work contract was expiring. Now that I’m working with fellow students, I have encountered many inspiring ideas like for example one of my friends wants to do a food management system which could assist his mum run her business more efficiently. He’s thinking of developing a tuck-shop software program to calculate: 
Management of activities mostly involving 
Keeping track of profits 
Inventory checks to ensure the accurate number of items in stock
Knowing the amount of ingredients used in making foodstuffs
Sales for future projection and therefore limit uncertainties on the direction of the business
I was thinking about the tenant – landlord relationship which can be quite rocky at times especially in low cost urban areas especially it comes to paying up and what the exact amount owing is. I thought of building an app which can send monthly reminders to tenants to automatically alert them in good time to make the necessary arrangements to pay up their rents with the stated due amounts and would also allow for mobile-payments if the tenant happens to be away. However, on this side of the world smartphones are out of the cost range of most people who would probably utilise 3% of the phone’s capabilities and therefore see it unnecessary owning one. 
But the same app could still be developed on the already existing cell phone platform. Tenants can be reminded via the SMS facility which a lot of people are familiar with. The challenge is that not everyone is well-educated or literate as in, they are unable to read or write properly. In order to overcome this problem, I’d recommend a voice-messaging approach in a local language which the person can understand. Much like the way how the mobile service provider, MTN for example, currently sends random special offers to their subscribers using this technique by calling the subscriber.
Another situation I hope to address is the agriculture sector when it comes to fertilizer distribution by the government or some farming cooperative. Most of the time when farmers come to get their bags of fertilizer they have to wait many hours or even days when making follow-ups which mostly leads to them sleeping over at depots or other places longer than they have to.
Again I’d propose the SMS-alert app which would select registered farmers in a batch-processing technique so that the number of people coming over is controlled and farmers can make the necessary arrangements. For those that cannot manage to make it on the expected day, they will be carried forward to a free pickup time-slot after the second batch of farmers is dealt with and so on.
The challenge I see here is how these small scale farmers will reach the pickup point because most of them stay in far flung areas where transportation is difficult in terms of distance. As a result most of them may come late only to be told to turn back because they missed their slot. Also, mobile phone network coverage in some of these places is non-existent and these farmers may get their SMS alert when they move to where there’s a signal and by then it may be too late.
This is possibly the area Chinese investment can address in terms of I.T. infrastructure i.e. platforms  and equipment which will enable communications instead of retail businesses which have flooded the market. However, that may not eliminate the problem fully because there’s also the issue of I.T education because most people here feel intimidated by I.T technology when they don’t understand how it works or how they can benefit. There are places offering I.T knowledge but he way how its marketed usually does not take into account the common man who doesn’t live in the posh suburbs.
Another one of my friends’ hope that one day when he’s started his own firm, he’ll give back to his community in the form of Corporate Social Responsibility with the aim of educating and empowering people to reach their full potential. If I.T investment is made a priority, Zambia could be a technological wonder much in the same way South Korea is. Obviously that won’t happen overnight but like everything that has a beginning, things have to start somewhere with the first step.

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).

China’s Engagement in African Agriculture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

India’s Engagements in Africa

Sanusha Naidu’s informative article in A Scramble for Africa delineates deepening involvement in resource extraction, entrepreneurial activities, diplomatic initiatives and strategic alliances.

According to Naidu, India is expected by 2030 to become the world’s third largest consumer of energy, surpassing Japan and Russia. Africa, particularly Nigeria, supplies 11 percent of India’s oil demands. Much of India’s involvement in Africa has been overshadowed by the Chinese, but it is quite apparent from Naidu’s discussion that it is a key player. For example, India’s national oil corporations are dispersed throughout the continent. In Cote d’Ivoire, a conglomerate of various Indian companies have invested over $1 billion. In Nigeria, the National Thermal Power Corporation has invested $1.7 billion, the Indian Oil Corporation $3.5 billion in oil refinery and $2 to $4 billion in liquefied natural gas plant and oil refinery. In Sudan, Videocon Group has invested $100 million.

Indian companies have also become involved in uranium exploration. Naidu mentions that in 2007, the government of Niger provided 23 permits to 3 Canadian firms, 3 British firms and an Indian company named Taurian Resources to excavate uranium in the country. In total, the firms invested $55 million.

In 2008, the outcome of an India-Africa summit included agreements that outlined commitments by the Indian government to provide $500 million in development projects across Africa in the next five years, creating an India-Africa peace corps dedicated to development projects, and doubling trade from $25 t0 $50 billion by 2011. Indian companies have assumed a significant presence in Zambia, with Vendanta Resources investing $750 million in copper mining. The Tata group also operates widely on the continent, committing to $800 million renovation of the Taj Pamodji Hotel in Lusaka, a vehicle assembly plant in Zambia, construction of a $12 million instant coffee processing plant in Uganda and more projects in Ghana, Mozambique, Malawi, Namibia, South Africa and Tanzania.

Naidu argues that the Indian government is strategically presenting itself as an advocate of Africa with comparable presence to China with a similar aim of exploiting Africa’s resources for its own economic development.

On Colonialism

Any reasonable discussion of colonialism on the African continent must be accompanied by an analysis of the differences in political economy. If one examines West Africa, for example, its political economy of colonialism was concentrated in the hands of local producers and large foreign firms, in sharp contrast to South African economy, which was shaped by the British South African Company. In his magnificently fine-grained book The Political Economy of West African Agriculture, Keith Hart delineates multiple factors that contributed to its underdevelopment.

Factors include ecological challenges, the detrimental effects of the slave trade on the social structure and production of the region, and above all, the “growing discrepancy between labor productivity in Europe and West Africa during the period of mercantilist expansion.” It was Europe’s Industrial Revolution and especially Britain’s that changed West African palm production. It’s important to note that West Africa was put in a vulnerable position by relying on palm oil production due to World Bank stipulations. Let’s look at another example provided by Hart — rubber production. In 1926 the Firestone company of tire production bailed out the Liberian government in exchange for leasing a million acres of land for 99 years at low rent. This is an example of colonial corporate/state rule which guaranteed cheap labor and low pay. What’s fascinating about the cocoa industry in West Africa is high level of success by indigenous farmers. Early farmers relied on family labor and at times, they formed companies in order to purchase and distribute land before dividing them into individual enterprises (60). Many people who went into the cocoa business had capital to invest; this capital usually came from profits made on palm oil, rubber and slaves. Hart argues: “one major reason why the productive organization of the cocoa industry has remained so determinedly small scale and noncapitalist is that the state has skimmed off much of the wealth it has produced, through monopsonistic marketing arrangements, thereby reducing incentives to reinvest in farm maintenance and improvement.”

Compared to West Africa, the southern part of the continent was shaped in large part by the discovery of minerals. The British South African Company received a charter from the British government in 1880s which enabled it to profit tremendously from the extraction of resources such as gold and diamonds. Resource extraction had significant implication for labor. In the case of copper mining in Zambia, colonial officials imposed multiple taxes which essentially had the effect of coercing Zambians into the cash economy and the mining industry. Audrey Richards, also a remarkable scholar and anthropologist, mentions in her book Land Labour and Diet that Bemba youths went to mines in groups of five or six for a year or two and this changed the social structure of their communities by placing a group of older men in charge. The lack of young productive labor in the villages led to decline in agricultural output. Over time, those working in the mines lost interest in village life.

In southern Rhodesia, the colonial government began to institute labor boards designed to manage labor pools. Labor boards changed laws to make it possible for people to enter the labor pool and impose new levy taxes and so forth. Sara Berry, who draws from Frederick Cooper, makes the brilliant observation in “Debating the Land Question in Africa” that British colonialism was concerned with development insofar as it involved measures to stabilize the labor pool. Strikes broke out in the Zambian Copperbelt in 1935 and thereafter, demonstrating to colonial officials that African workers were similar to European workers in wanting higher wages, better conditions, family allowances, benefits and compensation, decent housing and healthcare. When faced with the prospect of extending welfare programs beyond the labor market to colonial society as a whole, colonial administrators withdrew. They appropriated and used “tradition” and “progress” whenever it suited their needs. When Africans went on strike they were told they were forgetting their traditions (Berry 16). Yet they instituted policies that privileged the modern, “progressive” African farmer by allocating private property. “In effect, Africans were being asked to act like economic men and tribesmen at the same time: to build a modern, commercial agrarian order on the foundations of tribal solidarity.”

When examining the current state of African countries, one must consider the vestiges of the past. As Berry puts it, “colonial regimes left behind a series of hastily built governing structures, and an improbable vision of Africans as selfless modernizers, drawing on a communitarian past to create new societies that would combine the benefits of European commerce and technology with the virtues of traditional self-help…they ignored the profoundly destabilizing effects of colonial rule….”

If we are to understand China and African relations, we must analyze it not as a “new” event marked by a departure from the past, but rather a piece in continuity of Africa’s long and complicated history

New Movies "When China Met Africa" and "The Colony"

So I went to the film screening for “When China Met Africa” and “The Colony” sponsored by the Committee on Global Thought at Columbia University and was glad to witness such thought-provoking documentaries related to my research topic. The first film had more of an argument to make, not quite as cynical as Darwin’s Nightmare, but it had a slant which I quite well embrace. The second film was more of a narrated, journalistic account of Chinese lives in Senegal. I was partial to the first film, primarily because it tried to illuminate some of the controversial and taboo topics in China and Zambian relations through powerful yet subtle images and dialogue. Some of the topics that the film addressed — topics that I’m grappling with in my own research — are the following:

1) Potential Exploitation of Workers and Unequal Power Dynamics — Many of the scenes made me feel uncomfortable, as they showed the Chinese in the negative light, in particular, yelling at the workers, talking about “bashing in the head” of a local who might have stolen chickens from the owners, and giving them low wages in harsh working conditions. My research in Zambia also confirms this troubling aspect, although as the film only briefly alludes to, but I try to discuss a bit more thoroughly in my work, the language barrier poses a huge problem. Many of my Chinese friends spoke of their insecurities in speaking and understanding fluent English, and this created distance between them and locals. Their reliance on mannerisms and gruff tones tended to be easily misconstrued as blatant rudeness or even exploitative styles of management. I think that some of my Chinese respondents, in order to overcompensate for their insecurities, exhibited rougher styles of management because of their insecurities of trying to make it in a foreign country and also about their English abilities. Nonetheless, I do think there are issues of race and also global world order perceptions that the film elided. Some of the Chinese in the film made negative comments about dark-skinned, Black people. In preliminary fieldwork, nearly all of my respondents espoused some form of racial prejudice. I will tentatively put forth that this has to do with how Africa is positioned in the imagination of Westerners and the Chinese (many of whom are influenced by the West as well). That is, their perceptions of race also has to do their perceptions of China as a rising global power and Africa as far behind, economically and also in terms of development. Thus, most of my Chinese friends wanted to make enough money either to go back home or to go to countries they considered to be in the “first world.” Anywhere but Africa, they said. Still, race, in terms of preferences for lighter skin in the Chinese context and brought over as social practice in African countries, cannot be completely ignored either. These are issues that the film touches on and I hope to address in further research.

2) Food Chain — I became quite cynical and even depressed at some of the conditions I witnessed while in Zambia during the past three summers. The film did a great job in provoking the audience to be critical about the benefits that locals accrue from Chinese foreign investments. I found the juxtaposition of images of dignarities and elites on Chinese and Zambian sides meeting with elaborate fanfare against images of locals struggling to make ends meet and working in tough conditions to make a living especially effective. One got the sense that what is happening among state and international actors was not benefiting people on the ground, the Chinese and Zambians who were learning to work with each other and working in the hot sun to complete projects signed and sealed by the elites. I always think of the food chain analysis when I think about my research (I’m quite pessimistic, I know, and it’s been hard not to be). Some of the Chinese I met, as in the film, were in Zambia to take advantage of opportunities that they were excluded from in China. Too much pressure in China. Some felt left behind. What happens then? They go to Zambia, where so many are also left behind. At least where I stayed in Lusaka, unemployment reaches over 70 percent. Individual Chinese traders must struggle at first to make some profit, but they do come with the advantage of more capital garnered from back home. What does this do to local Zambians? Some are driven out of business. Others work for the Chinese for very low wages because they don’t have many other options. One man complained to me that the government was not preventing the Chinese from entering nshima-making niches at the market and was adamant that this should be a local-targeted niche. Even there, he said, the Chinese were taking over. The movie pointed out that there are these structures in place that put both groups at a disadvantage and it became a matter of one group crawling over the other to get ahead within structures that are inherently unequal. It reminds me of the food chain. It’s not right for the toad to eat the fly, but the toad eats the fly to survive — survive until, at least, when the animal above the toad eats the toad. What the movie didn’t address was the level of corruption among the elites and political/international actors. I wondered, for example, how much the Zambian minister was getting from the Chinese to give the companies bids on construction and other development projects. I am sure there was an exchange of money, but how much and when?

What the movie did make clear is that even as the individuals try to learn to understand each other and their own lives, there are challenges that extend beyond their day-to-day situations. These challenges are global and economic and attest to the notion that China and African relations is less a clear-cut domain, but seemingly more and more about structural inequalities in the global world order.