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.

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