Tuesday, July 16, 2024

The hard truths about the Africa China Cooperation: There is urgent need to change the partnership strategy


By Kumbukilani Phiri

One day when all is messed up and we are all trying to look at who to blame, that’s when we will realize that we should have acted much earlier to change things. Here is my take.

The China Africa relationship goes back to as early as the independence struggle of African States in the late 1950s and early 60s. Many African countries established diplomatic relationships with China right after getting independence. That time China was also still struggling with her own problems at home with a GDP per capita less than most African countries. China had just come from a Civil war and was still bleeding from the Japan war. Most African countries shared solidarity with China. In return, despite all her problems at home, China would also always stand in solidarity with and support Africa countries. For instance, when Zambia was faced with the challenges of import and export routes to the port during the liberation struggles in Zimbabwe, it was China that came to the aid of Zambia to build the Tazara railway line. This is where the calling of China as an all-weather friend to Zambia actually came from. most Chinese workers who came to work on the Tazara project were actually poorer than their Zambian colleagues but sacrificed their lives to come all the way anyway.

Looking back today, I am sure if the African and Chinese leaders who stood for each other were still alive today like former President Kaunda, they would all be very proud of what China has become and how the relationship with Africa is still going strong.

With all this good comradeship background, it’s important for us to note that post-China development, the Africa China relationship has also changed. Depending on where you stand you can either say it has changed for the better or it has changed to capitalism. What I mean by changing to capitalism is that it’s no longer about solidarity, it’s no longer about comradeship, it’s now more about commercial transactions where the smartest and most intelligent or the powerful will walk out with a better deal. My fear is that while African countries may still be in the euphoria of solidarity and comradeship, China is ahead of competing with the West on many fronts. In short, China isn’t here to mourn our problems with Africa, they are here for business.

I remember so well when Going our Policy which was first announced in China in 1999 started gaining momentum. There was so much excitement from both State-owned and Private Chinese companies to go out there and spread their wings abroad. In 2006 FOCAC which is the Forum on China Africa cooperation officially came into being and ignited what would end up as the greatest movement of Chinese companies into Africa both for FDI and contracts for infrastructure development.

Leading up to this movement, the Chinese lacked a detailed understanding of Africa. I remember companies following African students in universities to consult about how to do business in Africa. We could see that the lack of information about Africa was genuine because all along there was very little business exchanges between China and Africa. China was willing to sit on the table with Africans to negotiate business deals based on a win-win and mutual business cooperation.

Fast forward to now which is almost 16 years after that great movement, the question is, has the business relationship worked out as initially planned to be?

My opinion is that, though quite alright the Chinese businesses brought investments into Africa and Chinese construction companies came and helped the construction of infrastructure Projects cheaply, Africa has not benefited as much as they could have. My reasons are Most African countries lacked And still lack the manpower to negotiate for good deals with China. The Chinese take many months if not years of planning and preparation for deals only to meet up with ill enlightened African counterparts. In the end, China always ends up with better deals.

Africa is full of corrupt, uncaring and selfish leaders that only care about what is in for them in any deal. So most of the time, African leaders auction off concessions for natural resources cheaply to Chinese companies just because they do get something under the table.

Chinese companies bring key staff from China. Despite creating so many jobs across Africa, Chinese companies have always brought key personnel from China. Very few Africans ever make it in the top management of any Chinese company, not even the few that studied and graduated from China and are able to speak fluent Mandarin. The Chinese companies would rather bring a Chinese graduate to take up a job in Africa leaving an African who studied in China and is able to speak their language. Most jobs created by Chinese Companies are general in nature where workers survive on minimum wages from one paycheck to the next.

There has been no real integration between the Chinese and Africans. Chinese and African leaders have cemented their relationship based on mutual respect and trust. However, the relationship between the ordinary Chinese and Africans remains very weak with no respect and trust for one another. While African and Chinese leaders can sit and dine on the same table, the ordinary Africans and Chinese rarely sit and dine on the same table. The order of the day is inequality, mistrust, mistreatment, fraud, and crimes. The recent Guangzhou incident is one such example of this problem.

Infrastructure from concession loans leaves African countries indebted. It remains unprecedented where a country that is doing so many infrastructure projects being paid in Dollars would have its currency depreciating to the dollar and other foreign currencies. The truth is, concession loans from China come with conditions that they are done by Chinese companies.

This means that the profit from the project will be externalized and that’s about 25–40% of the contract sum. Then since Chinese contractors have a tendency of bringing Chinese staff who are not paid salaries in the host country but China, it means 15-30% of the contract sum is also externalized. Most African countries don’t manufacture any equipment or building materials, resulting in another 20-40% being externalized to procure machinery and other materials. This leaves very little money to circulate in the host country. In the end, there is no money left in the country to create any ripple effects. Therefore, the African countries are getting indebted with no support economic activities to help generate income to pay off the loans.

China is letting African countries make mistakes which they avoided during their development stage. Even at their weakest after just opening up to the world in the late 70s and early 80s, the Chinese never allowed foreigners to do anything in their country without partnering with a local, whether it was a loan, Aid, or FDI, China always insisted in some instances for 50-50% partnerships between foreigners and Chinese.

In summary, as we look at where the China Africa relationship has come, we can only hope that those who have the power to drive it now will take time to reassess its performance and decide where they would like it to go. Otherwise, It may be another story of failure in history.


  1. Weak corrupt leadership……

    Don’t forget the population transfer of Chinese to Africa as part of their strategy.
    Especially Zambia. A large land mass with a small docile population and a corrupt leadership.

    The Chinese would rather see a Chinese bussiness man planted in Zambia where he sends back profits rather loiter in China where there are billions of them….

    This is a real and unwritten motive by the Chinese. Especially in Zambia , while the compromised broke PF are only hoping for debt relief at all costs.

    Even that dimwit lusambo was advocating for a Chinese city to be built in Zambia…

    Zambians will one day wake up and find Chinese have MPs in Zambia.

  2. Those chaps should have all been killed by the black mambas, For you young ones you wouldn’t know that many Chinese died in the Serenje to Mpika area trying to catch these deadly snakes they had never seen before and underestimated there speed. they were bitten like hell making that railway line. But they still left us with these Za yellows we see today. LOL

  3. 100 + % analysis. opening some closed minds. i like where you say, Chinese will not allow their loan to be handled to Africans without involving their company, their supervisor, their Chinese workers, their source of materials and their bank. At the end we only get a cheap product or project that can’t last longer than the payback of their loans, eg roads.

  4. Very true, what else can one add? And the way some chiefs are selling large tracts of land to the Chinese there’ll soon be civil strife over land. Although we address them as Royal Highnesses most of them are just morons worse than Steven Kampyongo and Vincent Mwale the 2 kaponya behind the 42 $1.0M wheelbarrows

  5. This article correctly sums up the situation in Africa. Just as Putin said the problem with africa is its leaders. Nothing else. In africa leaders actually boast of their stolen public money. Jst imagine that. Remember hw mobutu,chiluba, sani abacha,Zuma, dos santos, gaddafi,Mugabe,etc. flaunted stolen public money. we hv senior politicians showing of their stolen money with buying expensive whiskies in public. Jst imagine the cheap thinkig .wd u expect such chaps to be strategising about moving their countries fwd.no ways.

  6. The writer is clearly based in a western country and is a diasporan. The western world hate the fact that they don’t have much leverage anymore on the global scale. The western world claim to want to bring development but with conditions that we take on their values and become like them. They even want us to adopt their gay lifestyle. We are African and have our own identity and values. We would rather continue trading with China who don’t seek to change who we are. Its strictly business. Kz

  7. Spaka, “Zambians will one day wake up and find Chinese have MPs in Zambia.”

    Worse iwe Spaka, Zambia will have a chinese President within the next 15 to 20 years if not earlier, even as Trible HH continues to “nearly win” the elections and fighting in courts, until the Zambian president of Chinese descent bans him from politics.

  8. I believe the writer has a heart for Africa. A wrong doing is easy to spot and a majority can agree with me that the african leadership ain’t doing their best in service. I personally do not know what challenges our africa leader face, but one thing i know for sure is that they lack stretegic planning abilities and patriotism.

  9. Mr. K. Zulu, you are very right about the west way of doing business. My question is, what is the Zambian way? We have seen how the chineese are preying on our resources. We have a good business relation with china, the question is who benifiting more than the other and why?
    We need to put up strong agendas, even hidden ones (if needed) so that we can always have an upper hand on all the deals we make. Everyone is after winning, there is no fairness in the battlefield. The intelligent ones win and the dumb loses, we need to be the former.

  10. There we go again, blaming the West. What is wrong with Africa, we never take responsibility. We always have someone or something to blame for our failure. We fail to take responsibility.
    The writer is trying to open our minds to see what is at play, that neither China or the West is in Africa to improve lives. There are here to tap Africa’s resources.
    His pointed one major problem, lack of vision by African leaders, which is profoundly true.
    However, l would like to add one other problem, African people dependancy syndrome. We always want things done for us. Besides leadership, our greatest disappointment is us the enlightened and learned/educated, right now discussing here.
    Our enlightment amount to nothing. We only get educated to be employed. When are we going to be creative. I…

  11. It’s not long ago when we saw Chinese police officers who were to protect the Chinese residents in Zambia and were ear marked to work with Zambia police. Our sovereignty was at stake due to poor leadership. Foreigners can not be allowed to form police force in any country that is selling out sovereignty. It’s only in Zambia where we see Chinese to be police officers. We are sitted whilst we have been sold to Chinese. Lungu for love of money auctioned us long time.

  12. Thanks for this thought provoking article. We need to do more for our country is we want a better future. Starts by electing better leaders. Then by doing better ourselves in all our dealinhs, be it business, school or work. We must always work harder and with integrity. But first step is who we vote into power. But I just wonder who truly control elections in this country……..

    • Auria, lets not narrow this reasoning to current leadership. The issue goes beyond independence.
      The problem is not about how we conduct elections, but our principles in dealing with beneficial relationship with outsiders, China or otherwise

  13. We despise the west but they’re better than Chinese. A white man can set up a business but cannot exploit locals more than a Chinese. Chinese think we don’t deserve to be well looked after. The China-Africa relationship is useless and longer it takes the more damage for African countries. Something must be done and I agree with the writer. You contract loans from Chinese, all the monies for labor, materials, profit goes back to China and remain with substandard in infrastructure and 3 years down the line the building or roads completely torn apart yet the loans are to paid 10-20 years. Africans work up, let’s remove the heavy blanket on our faces!!

  14. You don’t blame the Chinese but your own lack of foresight. Chinese history and their transformation from communist to neo capitalist is well documented world wide and it only needed a few researchers at UNZA to figure out their intentions and render appropriate advice to govt. with expectation of progressive policy adjustments. Apparently this could never have been done due to over trust and here we are. It also points to flaws in curricula where u have people saying we can’t be learning about China and America yet they need their money

  15. According to Kaizer Zulu, 80 percent of people who disagree with the PF must be UPND supporters, whilst the remaining 20 percent must be people in the diaspora, because us who are here in Zambia cannot see anything wromg with the PF government.
    That is a shallow way of looking at things, time and again, I implore you Kaizer, to please respond to content of any article or comment. Discuss why you think its flawed, and support your stand, please leave the person out of your ‘argument’.
    The author has rightly stated that we are doing our business wrong, and gives reasons why, debate that!

  16. By the way, nice profile picture. Also, I would still like to set up a discussion with you, something we can stream live, simply talking about the state of affairs, let me know if you are interested.

  17. China will never transfer population to Africa and it’s never a strategy. The population of China is going down in number for the aging problem. Years later you’ll find that death will be more than new borns. Never worry about the transfer, China needs more people to develop and this is why the China government is trying to import more forenigners. Do not arrogantly assume that Chinese come here to ask for something, you got nothing to give. The only reason Chinese employees works here is the high salary comparing salary paid when working in China the motherland. Chinese companys doing business here is just following the police of Chinese Govt.

  18. Mr KZ say something constructive. Mr Phiri has raised clear substantive issues that are affecting many developing countries particularly in Africa and Zambia a case in point. Demonstrate your level of induction and seductive competency and secure an intelligible opinion. Its my expectation that you are or has been in government and the presentation above could invoke some awakening reality to react rationally and help your government realign some of those agreements you have mortgaged Zambia to in perpetuity just for crumbs you picked under the table.
    Cease hallucinating how you harassed, maimed, shot Zambians, beaten, kidnapped and dehumanised Zambians. Leave that to future Zambian courts to redress your victims and complainants. As at now consider the topic presented to Zambia.

  19. @Jerry, if Zambia has nothing to offer, then what are you doing here. You are being very arrogant at the time when Africans are being mistreated in China.

  20. Munadekh I don’t respond substantively to biased articles that are a mere opinion of a writer without much experience of living and serving in African governments. When you have served in public office, you wouldn’t write such idealistic fantasy essays. That is the writers opinion and is not a text of fact. I invite the writer to visit Zambia after the virus subsides so that the writer gets informed before writing such idealistic articles from comfort of the bedroom in diaspora. Informed writing is what I respect. Why not interview key government officials and integrate their responses in your article to give a balanced opinion ? Please I have no time for upnd supporters hiding behind the curtain of being a writer.kz

  21. Jerry xi ping jua mua ,When i was in South Africa to people like you they wud say” yo ma se poes my bru” which easily translates ” yo mothers ass”.

  22. China in Africa is following the Western strategy in dealing with African nations. That is tie African nations with debts they can never repay, and then have them lose their sovereignty. Read the book online in pdf format entitled “Confessions of An Economic Hitman,” by John Perkins, to understand what I’m talking about. These indebted African nations’ leaders become complete loyal puppets of China. That explains why almost all the leaders across Africa sided with China in the racist fallout that just happened to Africans in Guangzhou. The end game for the Chinese in countries like Zambia is complete take over of the economy, and eventually complete control of the media and politics. China’s colonial strategy in Africa is far more lethal than the western model. When the Western…

  23. … colonial era in Africa ended in the 1960s, most of the colonialists left Africa for Europe, except for a few who decided to stay back in Africa in countries like South Africa, Zimbabwe, Kenya, etc. The Chinese, on the other hand, are coming to Africa TO STAY FOREVER. They don’t intend to go back to China, since their country is overcrowded and their population will increase exponentially in the coming years. That’s both in China and in Africa. Currently, China has a larger population than the whole continent of Africa combined. China’s goal is to systematically take over the continent of Africa, by flooding African nations with Chinese nationals, who will begin to see Africa as their homeland too. When China told Japan in 2016 to “get out of Africa, our second continent,” they…

  24. … were not joking. They meant it. They’re not just after taking African resources out of the continent; they’re after land itself, too. They want to turn Africa into their second continent. Also remember the Chinese in Africa do not consider Africans to be at par with them, and always look down on the native Africans. And it’ll only get worse. Once the population of Chinese people in Zambia reaches 1 million, forget about sending them back to China, even the illegal ones. Because they’ll be controlling everything, including Zambian immigration. Also they’ll begin to fight for rights to be included in the police force, the military, and running for political offices. When it comes to business, you can’t have any kind of business contracts without going through them first. Native…

  25. … Zambians will eventually become second class citizens–in their own country. And this thanks to our clueless, foolish leaders who’ve sold us out to the Chinese.

  26. Decolonize Chambia, we want our Zambia back. We have been sold out . Chambia,Chimbabwe Chenya, chigeria, chomalia etc n soon Africa will be called Chifrica all because of poor leadership

  27. African needs to work on its systems to be able to compete. Its laws are weak. Here in Zambia, we insult each other politically daily but when are we going to set up a strong land administration policy that favours natives?? Even when natives own land, can they access finances with the current financial laws that enables a foreigner to borrow money at low rates while Zambians have high rates??

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