China in Africa: Mercantilist Predator, Development Partner Or Both?

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China’s engagement in Africa should be seen beyond the three dimensions of access to raw materials, trade and … New Era reports.

By Catherine Sasman

WINDHOEK

China’s involvement and presence in Africa is growing ever deeper, while Chinese businesses have been on an ‘acquisition spree’ for resources across the continent since 1996.

This, among other things, suggest analysts, has changed the African perception of China, where it was first considered as an alternative to Western neo-colonialism to that of a new colonial force.

But, suggested the same analysts, the relationship should not only be viewed though the prism of China’s staggering growth and rush for raw materials and markets to keep this momentum going.

It has a much longer historic run-off, which, to an extent, explains the current relationship, within the framework of a globalised world.

But the Chinese presence is undeniably felt in local African communities and states. In Namibia, it is evident in the growing disaffection expressed by local businesspeople in the north, continuous complaints from the local – or not so local, from South African major companies – construction sector that they are being sidelined, and disaffection from Namibian labourers in their dealings with local Chinese retail traders.

Dr Henning Melber proposed that the local beneficiaries – or African beneficiaries – of China’s intervention in Africa, will remain to be a small elite, and that this intervention, if not managed properly, will not contribute significantly to poverty alleviation as is hoped.

“[The] Chinese penetration only gives another face to capitalism,” declared Melber.

Melber said with the (not so new) arrivals of China, India, Brazil and Russia in Africa to further their industrial growth with export orientation and growing demands for imports, competition for entering favourable relations with Africa is to increase.

“This, in itself, is not negative to the interests of the African people. But it requires that the tiny elites benefiting from the currently existing unequal structures put their own interests in trans-nationally linked self-enrichment schemes behind the public interest to create investment and exchange patterns, which in the first place benefits for the majority of the people.

Admittedly, the chances for this might not be the best,” said Melber.
“The Chinese track record emerging is not an indicator for a new trajectory, which would benefit the majority of the African people. More so, the Chinese foreign policy gospel of non-interference is an attractive tune for the autocratic leaders and oligarchies still in power.”

Gregor Dobler from the University of Sweden suggested that China’s growing influence and increased public presence in Africa would change the conditions under which Africans live.

He further suggests that China’s new-found importance on the continent, is a new factor that has developed largely outside of Africa’s control, “but very visibly, and identifiably, for a large number of people living on the continent”.

In a study on Chinese retail shops in Oshikango that borders Angola, and reviewed over a number of years, in March, Dobler found that Chinese presence has grown to about 100 shops in the northern town.

Oshikango, he said, has as a result of trade with Angola, grown from having only a tiny cluster of shebeens around an open market, into a thriving boomtown with around 5?

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