Wednesday, April 28, 2010

China in Africa.

Tazara line (train Tanzania - Zambia)
“As soon as we have problems, we ask someone else to take care of them for us,” Isaac continued. “We ask the Europeans. We ask the Americans. We ask the Chinese. We will run this train into the ground, and then we will tell the Chinese we need another one. This is not development.” I thought of the wreckage by the tracks. In China, there is no such thing as metallic waste. Armies of migrant workers scour the countryside with hammers and chisels, collecting and selling every scrap to the insatiable smelters that feed the country’s industries. Here, by contrast, was a land without industry.
This is Columbia Professor Howard French in a recent article in The Atlantic [1] in which he discusses the infrastructure projects currently being undertaken in Africa by the Chinese. Does it promise the transformation of the continent, or merely its exploitation? He ends with the following, less-then-optimistic paragraph:
I [Howard French] asked him [a Congolese lawyer in Lubumbashi] if the arrival of the Chinese was a new and great opportunity for the continent, as some have said. “The problem is not who is the latest buyer of our commodities,” he replied. “The problem is to determine what is Africa’s place in the future of the global economy, and up to now, we have seen very little that is new. China is taking the place of the West: they take our raw materials and they sell finished goods to the world What Africans are getting in exchange, whether it is roads or schools or finished goods, doesn’t really matter. We remain under the same old schema: our cobalt goes off to China in the form of dusty ore and returns here in the form of expensive batteries.”
[1] Howard W. French. 2010. The Next Empire. The Atlantic. May 2010.

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