Monday, November 01, 2010

Oil out - Guns in

Chinese and African Perspectives on China in Africa. Eds Axel Harneit-Sievers, Stephen Marks and Sanusha Naidu, Pambazuka Press £16.95. (Also available as an e-book from

There may be a prevalent view of Africa as a continent immersed in poverty, but in fact it is rich in many things, minerals and energy for instance. Efforts by the wealthiest and most powerful countries to exploit these resources have carried on since the end of classical colonialism and the coming of ‘independence’, and these have helped ensure the continuation of poverty for the vast majority of Africans. As China joins the club of developed capitalist states, it also sees Africa as a source of raw materials and a market for exports. This volume gives a wide-ranging overview of China’s activities in Africa, with chapters by activists and academics from both China and Africa. Almost without exception, the most interesting essays are those by African authors, with those by Chinese contributors being largely bland and uncritical.

Bilateral trade between China and Africa has increased over the last decade to more than $US100 billion. As Chinese capitalism expands, it needs to import raw materials of various kinds, and nearly 80 percent of China’s imports from Africa are oil and petroleum products. For instance, 500,000 barrels of oil are exported to China from Angola each day, and it is only Chinese companies, with mainly Chinese employees, who carry out this work, so Chinese industry benefits from both the oil and the extraction work. Furthermore, China is a major producer of wood and paper products, but has relatively little by way of forestry resources, hence Chinese companies undertake logging in Mozambique and Tanzania. Minerals such as iron ore, copper and uranium are imported to China from Liberia, Zambia and Niger.

At the same time, China exports finished goods to Africa. In Nigeria, for example, cheap Chinese textiles have undercut domestically-produced goods, increasing local unemployment. Chinese companies export cheap, and sometimes dangerous, goods aimed specifically at the African market, where consumers have little money to spend. Arms sales from China to Africa are also an important source of profits, with Sudan, Ethiopia and Zimbabwe among the purchasers.

The book contains a few pointless policy ideas, such as the African Union playing a larger role in supervising Sino-African relations. Its usefulness lies elsewhere, in showing the extent to which China is acting in essentially the same way as the other capitalist powers, and how the workers and peasants of Africa remain subject to the exploitation and oppression of both ‘home-grown’ and global rulers.

Book Review from November issue of the Socialist Standard

No comments: