China’s Big Interest in Africa

For my Senior Seminar class we read the article China Safari; On the Trail of Beijing’s Expansion in Africa, by Serge Michel and Michel Beuret, and I was amazed to learn about what has been going on over the last couple of decades in Africa.

The writer was visiting Brazzaville when a group of Congolese children had lined up. Instead of reciting phrases like “Hello mista!” or “Salut Monsieur!” which they learn in their schools to greet foreigners, the children said “Ni hao, ni hao.” It seems these days Congolese children think all foreigners are from China, and for good reason.

Today there are over 50,000 Chinese workers in Nigeria alone. One of them, Mr. Chang, broke down the China’s relationship with Africa: “You Westerners, you’re so patronizing. You come here and talk to the Africans about human rights, copyrights, all sorts of rights. You talk down to them. We get straight to the point. We talk business.”

And business is happening. In Nigeria specifically, the lumber industry has been revamped. In 2009, lumber imports to China had increased by 81% from the previous year. These numbers are a direct link to the business going on in Africa.

But others see this great leap in industry as also cutting corners. The lumber industry in Nigeria, that has been booming under Chinese control, has led to worrisome rates of deforestation. There has also been a case of drilling for oil inside of a national park that is currently receiving funding from the United States for its preservation.

Mr. Chang’s response to this was a reference to an old Chinese proverb: “When a tree is moved, it dies. When a man moves, he can make a fortune.” It seems that the Chinese working force in Africa isn’t going anywhere.
Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo with Chinese President Hu Jintao at the opening of the China-Africa summit in Beijing.

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