China and Africa: Aid, Trade and Guns

Posted by Reading Time: 6 minutes

By Andy Scott

Part Two: Aid and Trade

The TAZARA Railway in Tanzania - George Andreou

The train station in Mbeya, Tanzania stands out among the other buildings in the city. It is the nicest structure in the city, and it, along with the railway that runs through it, was completely financed and built by the People’s Republic of China.

Built between 1970 and 1975 at a cost of US$500 million, the TAZARA (Tanzania-Zambia Railway Authority) Railway – running between the port of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania and Kapiri Mposhi in Zambia – was constructed as an alternative to rail lines via what was then Rhodesia (current Zimbabwe) and South Africa to landlocked Zambia.

“It’s quite a reputable railway, providing the only alternative mode of transportation between Mbeya and Dar. I’ve been to the station and it reeks of an outside corporation,” says Nicki Nelson, an independent economic development project manager in the region. “The only negative thing I heard about it, other than being constantly late, is that due to its slow travel, robbery is a regular occurrence as locals jump on and off and rob the rail riders.”

When China sponsored construction of the railway, it wasn’t to provide robbers with an attractive target, but to eliminate Zambia’s economic dependence on Rhodesia and South Africa, turning the railway into a major economic channel for the region. Over the years its importance has been reduced as road transportation has become more competitive and Zambian ties to South Africa were reestablished following the end of apartheid. At the time however, it was the largest foreign aid project China had ever undertaken.

Today, Chinese construction projects can be found throughout the continent, building roads, railways, basic infrastructure that nations use to grow large. Critics argue that these are the mere side effects of China’s thirst for oil and mineral resources, and fail to raise the local population’s standard of living so much as the help the governments in charge stay in charge. It is this fact which critics point to when looking at China’s influence in Sudan and Zimbabwe to name but two. In this second part of our series on China and Africa, we look at what China is doing on the ground in Africa.

“Send lawyers, guns and money”

The demand for resources has become a driving component of China’s foreign policy said David Zweig and Bi Jianhai in a 2005 article in Foreign Affairs – China’s Global Hunt for Energy.” The manufacturing sector in China is creating huge demands for aluminum, copper, nickel, iron ore, and oil. Zweig and Bi write that Beijing is actively pushing state-owned enterprises to look for and secure contracts with countries that produce these needed resources, while at the same time courting governments of those resource-rich countries with diplomacy, trade deals, debt forgiveness, and aid packages.

According to The Jamestown Foundation, the Chinese government has invested heavily in Africa over the past four years to encourage trade relations, sponsoring the China-Africa Cooperation Forum to provide opportunities for governments and businesses to strengthen economic cooperation. It seems to be working, in 2000 two-way trade between China and Africa surpassed US$10 billion for the first time, by 2006 it had reached US$55.5 billion.

China has a long history of providing aid to African countries as a means of building goodwill and support. Engineers provide technical support for infrastructure projects, doctors help with the treatment of AIDS patients – since 1963, over 15,000 Chinese doctors have worked in 47 African states treating nearly 180 million cases of HIV/AIDS.

In Sudan, 436 engineers, medics, police observers, and transport specialists are part of China’s contribution to a 10,000-strong U.N. force charged with monitoring the peace agreement until 2011. They are just part of the 1,809 Chinese troops, police military observers and others that deployed worldwide as part of U.N. peacekeeping missions.

In addition to people, China is using its new found wealth in foreign exchange reserves to cancel African debt. The Christian Science Monitor recently stated that since 2000, China has canceled more than US$10 billion in debt for 31 African countries and has given US$5.5 billion in development aid, with a promise of a further US$2.6 billion in 2007-08, according to estimates by the Economist Intelligence Unit.

Beijing has overtaken the World Bank in lending to Africa: In 2005, China committed US$8 billion in lending to Nigeria, Angola and Mozambique alone – the same year the World Bank spent US$2.3 billion in all of Africa.

The gun merchants

If it was only aid and infrastructure that China was providing Africa, critics would probably not voice their concerns so loudly, but along with all the investment initiatives and construction projects, China exports guns.

The Congressional Research Service reports China’s arm sales to Africa made up 10 percent of all conventional arms transfers to the continent between 1996 and 2003. The countries receiving arms, according to a Council on Foreign Relations report, include:

China has sold the Islamic government in Khartoum weapons and US$100 million worth of Shenyang fighter planes, including twelve supersonic F-7 jets, according to the aerospace industry journal Aviation Week and Space Technology. Experts say any military air presence exercised by the government—including the helicopter gunships reportedly used to terrorize civilians in Darfur—comes from China.

Equatorial Guinea
China has provided military training and Chinese specialists in heavy military equipment to the leaders of the tiny West African nation, whose oil reserves per capita approach and may exceed those of Saudi Arabia.

Ethiopia and Eritrea
China sold Ethiopia and its neighbor, Eritrea, an estimated US$1 billion worth of weapons before and during their border war from 1998 and 2000.

In 1995, a Chinese ship carrying 152 tons of ammunition and light weapons meant for the army of Burundi was refused permission to dock in Tanzania.

According to the Overseas Development Institute, China has delivered at least thirteen covert shipments of weapons labeled as agricultural equipment to Dar es Salaam.

The autocratic government of Robert Mugabe ordered twelve FC-1 fighter jets and 100 military vehicles from China in late 2004 in a deal worth US$200 million, experts say. In May 2000, China reportedly swapped a shipment of small arms for eight tons of Zimbabwean elephant ivory, Taylor writes in his report. In addition, the U.S.-backed International Broadcast Bureau says China provided a radio jamming device to Zimbabwe that allows Mugabe’s regime to block broadcasts of independent news sources like Radio Africa from a military base outside Harare. China also donated the blue tiles that decorate the roof of Mugabe’s house.

Officially termed “non-interference in domestic affairs,” China’s foreign policy has lead many critics to contend that China props up regimes that trample human rights and exploit local populations. China doesn’t tend to mix business and politics, and while many are critical of their actions in Africa, some say that China is not all that different from other countries in its pursuit of interests. “China is not unique in cutting deals with bad governments and providing them with arms,” David Kang, a visiting professor of East Asia Studies at Stanford University, told the Council on Foreign Relations.

The Neo-colonialists?

It is not only China’s weapon sales that have raised concern. Many argue that China “dumps” cheap products in Africa, while exporting only raw materials. It is a scenario that analysts say undermines local industries and potential benefits such as industrialization and job creation.

“These effects are compounded by the fact that the vast scale of China’s exports has depressed prices in several global markets to which African countries are seeking to export their products,” Joseph Karugia, the director of the African Economic Research Consortium, recently told the East African newspaper in Nairobi, Kenya.

Danna Harman wrote in a recent article in The Christian Science Monitor that China has gone to great lengths to been seen as a benevolent partner with Africa.

“China is the most self-conscious rising power in history and is desperate to be seen as a benign force as well as to learn from the mistakes of the existing major powers and previous rising powers,” says Andrew Small, a Brussels-based China expert at the German Marshall Fund, a public policy think tank. “It sees its modern national story as anticolonial – about surpassing the “century of humiliation” at the hands of the colonial powers – and still thinks of itself, in many ways, as a part of the developing world.”

Whether it is guns or aid, China has found a willing trading partner in Africa, and unlike many western nations, Beijing doesn’t insist on a lengthy philosophical discussion on the state of African politics.

Serge Mombouli, a longtime advisor to the president of the Republic of Congo and current Congolese ambassador to the United States, recently told National Public Radio that the West pushes for intangible achievements like better government, while China supports tangible things.

“Tangible development means you can see, you can touch,” Mombouli says. “We need both. We cannot be talking just about democracy, transparency, good governance. At the end of the day the population does not have anything to eat, does not have water to drink, no electricity at night, industry to provide work, so we need both. People do not eat democracy.”

4 thoughts on “China and Africa: Aid, Trade and Guns

    Chris Devonshire-Ellis says:

    Well quite frankly the Western governments and international aid agencies by and large have done an appalling job in Africa. Corruption, dreadful levels of mis-management, no concept of weaning any of the recipient countries off welfare, and the money going into the pockets of individuals working for ‘aid’ agencies and NFP entities is appalling. Set up an NFP, tell your own government you’re doing education about AIDS in Tanzania, get a small tax free grant of a few million from them, fly out to Dar, import a big Mercedes 4WD and rent a swish apartment, pay yourself the ‘going rate’ salary of USD250,000 a year all out of that grant and man are you set up for years. Its a disgrace. One read of Paul Theroux’s pan Africa travel book “Dark Star Safari” – which is a great read in it’s own right – will explain a lot about what is goig on with Western aid out there. So fuck ’em. They only complain about the Chinese going in and doing it because of their own selfish interests. And everyone knows what happens to you if you embezzle goverment money in China. So let the Chinese have a go – they can’t mess it up anymore than the West has done in Africa, and they certainly can’t be any more corrupt.

    I wish to thank those who have contributed into this article and also those who have commented on it.
    When looking back, BACK into the colonial period, 90% of African countries are still suffering for what the colonialist countries have done in Africa. Generations and Generations are paying for it and will continue to pay for it. Africa is a rich, vergin land. China understood that!
    China is a silent, pacific country, no matter what one might say. There is no country called country of rich or country of poor. China is doing what any country has never done for its own people.
    For many western countries, China move to Africa is regarded as a new form of colonialism. Let be realistic and face the reality, the true side of the story. Thousands of imported machines imported from the west are left behind in many African countries without spare parts. Many African countries are divided by the ancient colonial powers. When Africa awake and start to say “NO”, Africa is considered as renegate continent, a continent that is following China. This is not true. China is a country that understand the needs of many countries than any other country can do. That’s is why they are going to Africa, not with their machines, but with enough spare parts and tools for manufacturing those spare parts by local people. China is not eyeing Africa natural resources! China is not colonizing and not intending to colonize any African Country. The west needs to make a deep analysis and accept that they have lost their battle field in Africa. The west has created problems without solution.

    John Freemont says:

    re: Celestin CHABI says: “China is not eyeing Africa natural resources!”
    Well the trade statistics reported disagree with your claims (eg to name but 1 online source). Basically you are so obviously wrong on this point (and EVERYONE with any knowledge of what China is doing in Africa would know this) and many other points you make are easily disputed that nobody can consider even debating anything with such a fanatic. Either you are a 50 cent (see for example wikipedia for those who dont know what that is) or you require the understanding that your opinions need to be based on researched fact…..otherwise you WILL be flamed. : )

    Take this as constructive critism to improve your game if you are serious and not a mouth piece. We all have room to improve.

    Matts Mahumane says:

    The West is now busy “advising” and warning Africans against the exploitation of African resources by Chinese, but they don’t tell the same Africans that they, too, plundered Africa for centuries, starting from slavery to colonialism, and left Africa bare naked. At least the Chinese will leave behind some hosptals, railway lines, schools, highways etc. The Chinese are not known to have enslaved or colonised any country

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *