Saturday, November 11, 2006

Chinafrica (7) Watching for PRC Influence in Africa

GREG MATHIS: Is China helping or exploiting Africa
by Greg Mathis
November 10, 2006

Leaders from China and 48 African countries recently announced a trade agreement worth $1.9 billion. The pact includes investment deals, low-cost loans and aid, all to help boost development in Africa. Let's hope Africa does benefit from this partnership. China is sure to profit - the country's power players are known for making and benefiting from deals that other nations thought impossible. But what about Africa? Will this new deal pull Africa's nations from the depths of poverty or exploit the country's people and resources, as so many other relationships - reciprocal or forced - have done in the past?

China's affiliation with Africa is nothing new: the country has already spent billions securing its right to drill for oil in African nations like Nigeria and Angola; deals to begin drilling in Kenya and Ethiopia are in the works. The Chinese have also invested in the copper industry in Zambia and Congo and have bought large shares of lumber from Cameroon, Liberia and other nations. In the last year, China's trade with Africa increased by nearly $30 billion and continues to grow. Africa's economy has nearly doubled in that same period; experts say that one of the major reasons behind this growth in the increased trade with China.

Though Africa's economy has improved, almost half of Africa's people still live on less than one dollar a day; most of the world's poorest countries are in Africa. Many blame Africa's poverty on corrupt governments and economies and famine and, to some extent, these things play a role. But Africa's poverty is a direct result of the slave trade and colonialism. Historically, wealthier nations - among them are Britain and France - raped the continent, depleting it of its wealth of resources - human and natural - and leaving its residents to wallow in unimaginable poverty.

China has been heavily criticized for making business deals without any regards to the political and social climates of the region they are in. The country's policy of staying out of other nation's affairs see it doing business in areas where human rights violations are rampant, government corruption is the norm and democracy is a far away dream. In the past, Chinese companies were criticized for funneling cash to an African president charged with war crimes and for funding civil war in another one of the continent's nations.

For Africa to return to her former glory, foreign investment is key. Last year, Africa received less than 2 percent of all foreign direct investment. This lack of investment means less money to create jobs to alleviate poverty. But foreign investment must come with some measure of social responsibility. If China continues to ignore the wide-spread violations that trouble the African nations it works in, Africa will not truly prosper. African leaders will become more powerful, the rich will become wealthy. But most of Africa will not reap the benefits of this billion dollar agreement.

Too many countries have taken from Africa, leaving nothing but despair behind. Let's hope China's involvement with Africa won't be reminiscent of the past. Time will only tell if China is committed to spurring development in Africa.

Judge Greg Mathis is national vice president of Rainbow PUSH and a national board member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

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