Friday, August 24, 2007

The New Colonialists

“Their interest is exploiting us, just like everyone who came before...They have simply come to take the place of the West as the new colonizers of Africa.” - a Zambian politician

Chinese officials and their African allies like to call their growing relationship a win-win proposition, a rising tide that lifts all boats in China’s ever-widening sea of influence .

From South Africa’s manganese mines to Niger’s uranium pits, from Sudan’s oil fields to Congo’s cobalt mines, China’s hunger for resources has been a shot in the arm, increasing revenues and helping push some of the world’s poorest countries further up the ladder of development.

But China is also exporting huge volumes of finished, manufactured goods — T-shirts, flashlights, radios and socks, just to name a few — to those same countries, hampering Africa’s ability to make its own products and develop healthy, diverse economies. Textile mills and other factories in Zambia have suffered and even closed as cheap Chinese goods flood the world market, eliminating jobs in a country that sorely needs them. The Chinese investment in copper mining has left a trail of heartbreak and recrimination after one of the worst industrial accidents in Zambian history, a blast at a Chinese-owned explosives factory in Chambishi in 2005 that killed 46 people, most of them in their 20s.
“They were careless. Safety was not their priority. Everything was about productivity no matter what.”

But China’s growing presence in global trade is wiping out thousands of jobs in countries with fledgling manufacturing sectors like Zambia and South Africa. Despite relatively low wages in many countries, African manufacturers find it very hard to compete, arguing that China’s currency policies undervalue the yuan and give Chinese exporters a huge advantage. Many industries in China also benefited at various points from subsidies and free or low-cost government financing, making their costs lower. Beyond that, there are major infrastructure problems in Africa, where industry struggles with inadequate roads and railways, and unreliable electricity and water supplies.

Africa found itself once again on the losing end of globalization.
For decades, African countries exported large quantities of clothes and textiles to developed countries under a trade agreement intended to protect European and American markets from competition from China and others, while encouraging exports from the world’s poorest nations. But the trade provision, the Agreement on Textiles and Clothing, expired in January 2005, putting these countries in direct export competition with China.
Ms. Zimba, 40, a quality-control worker , earned a little less than $100 a month, as well as free health care and a pension, and a little three-room house in the workers’ compound. But since she lost her job, her family’s standard of living has plummeted. The water was turned off .

As for the Chinese, she bitterly refers to them as “briefcase investors.”

“They just fill their briefcases with our wealth and leave,” she said.

No comments: