China’s Wide Reach in Africa

Harry Hurt III, New York Times

AMONG Westerners, the economic partnership between China and Africa is often overlooked. But in “China Safari: On the Trail of Beijing’s Expansion in Africa” (Nation Books, $27.50), Serge Michel and Michel Beuret examine the roots of this relationship — and argue that China is engaged in a conquest of Africa that will have worldwide economic implications.

As French journalists, Mr. Michel and Mr. Beuret bring an acute awareness of their own country’s colonial history to the China-Africa story. Mr. Michel, a former West Africa correspondent for Le Monde, has also reported from Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan. Mr. Beuret, the foreign editor of the Swiss magazine L’Hebdo, has written extensively on human trafficking in China and Europe.

“China Safari” is a fascinating, provocative work of firsthand reporting that illuminates an important global economic story. The book also features a 16-page insert of color photographs shot by Paolo Woods, who puts human faces on the book’s sprawling story and highlights some of the stark juxtapositions of African laborers and their Chinese bosses.

…The authors contend that China’s ambitions in Africa are grandly geopolitical as well as economic. As Jacob Wood, a Shanghai-born housing developer based in Africa for more than 30 years, tells them: “I’m going to be honest with you, China is using Africa to get where the United States is now, and surpass it.”

According to one report cited by the authors, there are now about 750,000 Chinese living and working in Africa, in countries including South Africa, Nigeria, Zambia, Sudan, Algeria, Congo, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Angola, Gabon, Guinea, Ethiopia, Cameroon, Egypt and Chad.

So far, China’s ventures in Africa have produced decidedly bittersweet results.
(18 July 2009)

The new scramble for Africa

Fred Bridgland, Sunday Herald
TWO SCARCELY noticed events occurred in Nigeria and Botswana at the end of last week that signal the growing speed and strength of a new “scramble for Africa” among the world’s big powers, who are tapping into the continent for its oil, iron ore, timber, gold, diamonds and other natural resources.

At Nigeria’s Defence Intelligence School in Karu, near the capital Abuja, 30 military officers from seven African countries graduated from a training course designed to meet the “rapidly changing security complexities” of their nations “and the continent at large”.

Ostensibly organised by Nigeria’s Defence Intelligence Agency, the 12-week “Military Intelligence Basic Officers’ Course for Africa” – the third this year after two in Mali – was in fact designed by the controversial United States African Command (AfriCom).

Less than two years old, AfriCom has the same general responsibilities as all US combatant commands: to plan, direct and execute US military operations in its assigned area of responsibility. The US Seventeenth Air Force, based at Sembach in western Germany, has been allocated to AfriCom and renamed Air Forces Africa.

…That commitment was also suggested by another little-noticed event: the opening of an Aids testing and counselling centre in the Botswana mining centre, Francistown, built by AfriCom. The centre – one of 12 in the country whose establishment has been supervised by AfriCom’s Lieutenant Colonel William Wyatt – will provide anti- retroviral drugs to more than 16,000 people and is funded from more than $300 million committed by Washington to fighting HIV/Aids in Botswana.

President Barack Obama’s visit to Ghana this month signalled that America’s approach to Africa was emerging from a long, deep sleep and that the US was back in the African version of the Great Game.

In recent years, the strongest winds blowing over the continent have come from China. With the US and European Union preoccupied elsewhere, China has had the African playing field virtually to itself and has won new markets in country after country. Beijing brought welcome foreign investment on a scale not seen since the end two decades ago of superpower competition between the US and the former Soviet Union.
(20 July 2009)

Congo-Kinshasa: Firms Fuelling ‘Conflict Minerals’ Violence, Report Says

Marina Litvinsky,

Several international companies are named as helping to prolong the more than 12-year conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in a new report by the British-based group Global Witness, released Tuesday.

Titled “Faced with a gun, what can you do?”, it details how many mining areas in eastern DRC are controlled by rebels and the national army, who violently exploit civilians to retain access to valuable minerals. It names international companies which buy from suppliers who trade in minerals from the warring parties.

European and Asian companies, including Bangkok-based THAISARCO, Britain-based Afrimex, and Belgium-based Trademet, have been buying minerals from the DRC that are funding armed groups and fuelling conflict, said Global Witness.

Informed by on-the-ground investigations and interviews in North and South Kivu, the report reveals that despite being on opposing sides, the national Congolese army, the Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo (FARDC) and rebel groups, in particular the Forces Democratique de Liberation du Rwanda (FDLR), regularly cooperate with each other, carving up territory and occasionally sharing the spoils of illegal mining.

The FDLR use roads controlled by the FARDC, and vice versa, without difficulty. Minerals produced by the FDLR are sent out through local airports controlled by the FARDC in South Kivu.

“(The FARDC and the FDLR) don’t attack each other. Where both are present, they share the spoils and both extort from the population,” a human rights activist told Global Witness last year.

…”The Congolese government needs more assistance in order to be able to oversee the trade, but it is not the only actor,” said Sullivan, adding that companies that continue to profit from the trade must be held accountable.

“As long as we don’t change the way we go about purchasing these things economic incentives will override” the need for greater transparency, he added.

The profits armed groups make from their illegal control of the mines allow them to survive, as they pay for arms. To sustain this control, the main warring parties have carried out horrific human rights abuses, including widespread killings of unarmed civilians, rape, torture and looting, recruitment of child soldiers to fight in their ranks, and forced displacement of hundreds of thousands of people, the report said.
(21 July 2009)

The link to the full report is here.