Saturday, April 24, 2010

China's Role in Africa

The Atlantic has a good feature this month on China's current and expanding role in Africa.  In an effort to secure access to the natural resources its growing economy requires, the Chinese government has expanded its role, influence, and power in Africa largely by providing heavily (or completely) subsidized infrastructure projects to African governments in exchange for highly beneficial arrangements providing access to the much needed resources.

Whether it has been (a) building and giving the Rwandan government a new Foreign Affairs building, (b) constructing new, much needed major roads in both Rwanda and the Republic of Congo, (c) financing and building a new "skyscraper" Kigali, or (d) financing and building two much needed dams on the Congo River to provide electricity to Brazzaville and the rest of the country: the impact of China's heightened activity in Central Africa has been very apparent during my time here.

To further illustrates China's level of activity and involvement in Congo-Brazzaville and as this NPR article states, China purchases 50% of the country's oil production, built the Defense Ministry offices and the new modern national TV and radio station, and imports virgin Congolese timber via a favorable long-term agreement.  When you drive north on the main road out of Brazzaville, you pass several large fenced Chinese camps with construction equipment and barracks to host the Chinese workers who come to work on the projects.

As China continues to try to secure access to as large of a share of Africa's natural resources as possible, the issues discussed in the article related to development, the efficacy of government aid, transparency requirements, the susceptibility of these arrangements to local government fraud/embezzlement, and the economic, health, and cultural impact on the inhabitants of these often rural, resource rich areas will only grow larger.

UPDATE: Its from 2008, but Fast Company has a really good series on this issue with articles focusing on specific countries and a specific resources.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Casting Pots

A couple of Saturdays ago, a few of us went to learn how some local Congolese cast the pots you see around town.  We wandered around a neighborhood on the north side of town before eventual finding some guys who were still working and willing to show us the ropes.

They use an old engine and wheel crank to serve as an underground blower to feed the charcoal fire to melt the random metal scraps that are used for the pots.

The molds are made simply of dirt and wooden or metal frames.  The topsoil here has a lot of sand, so the best dirt is several feet underground and more dense.  They make simple but impressive molds of the pots and lids.

As the guy keeps turning that wheel, eventually the charcoal gets hot enough to completely liquify the scrap metal, and it is poured into a slot that has been made in the top of the dirt molds.  The metal hardens very quickly, and you are left with a new pot 

Lastly, he uses this contraption to scour the inside of the pot.

Click here for the full album.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010


If I had known that me leaving the country would result in Duke getting another title, UNC losing the NIT Final in the Garden, the Braves bringing up a once-in-a-generation prospect (who went yard in his first career AB on Opening Day), and the Bobcats heading to the playoffs, I would have shipped out long ago.