Chinese economic presence in Africa comes in for a lot of criticism: the projects to which they contribute financing favor foreign companies while leaving local contractors behind – or so the critics say. The Chinese are also known for bringing in their own people to do the work. In Kenya, for instance, there has been a recent wave of Chinese immigrants who account for about 10,000 workers.
I met some Chinese managers during my short visit to Accra, Ghana. I have to admit that these conversations were revelatory to me. Why do they bring their own workers? One reason is that the Chinese don’t know how to manage Africans. The cultural differences are huge. To give you an example: many of the contracts are Government-related, and the Chinese feel the pressure to meet the deadlines. They expect their people to work 6.5 days/week to make sure the deadline is met. Africans are more relaxed about deadlines – too relaxed, as far as the Chinese are concerned!
Trying to learn a bit about China’s presence in Africa, I came across a report on China’s development aid to Africa. It was published about a year ago by the Center for Global Development. The report shows that Chinese investments in infrastructure projects date as far back as 1950. During the Cold War, China was eager to back Africa so as to counter the influence of the U.S. Since then, financial flows from China to Africa have come from both Chinese private businesses that expand internationally, and from state-owned companies that provide grants and interest-free loans to African countries.
China’s president visited Kenya last month. The aim of his visit was to promote ties between the two countries. As a result of this visit, 17 agreements were signed promising billions of shillings in the form of development funds. The project that received most media attention was the construction of the East Africa railway. Other projects include the establishment of the China-Africa Development Bank, the set-up of a China-Africa Research Centre, and projects related to ecological and wildlife protection.
After some bomb blasts in Nairobi a few weeks ago, the U.S. and the U.K. warned tourists about potential risks. Some travel agencies evacuated their customers, and some flights have been cancelled until November. A few days later, the Chinese government promised to take 17,000 Chinese tourists to Kenya. It looks like the Cold War type of allegiance still plays a role…
What comes to mind when you think about the Chinese presence in Africa?