Friday, August 24, 2012

Chinese Interests in Africa

Africa has long been a land of lush resources, home to both fertile lands and harsh deserts. Some of the most powerful ancient civilizations were located on the continent, including the Egyptian, Carthaginian, and Mali empires. However, in the modern era Africa has become known for the carving up that occurred when European nations began to colonize the continent in the nineteenth century and strip it of it's resources. And today, similar work is underway by China.

Prior to the nineteenth century, Africa's main draws were its rich mineral deposits (namely gold) and the slave trade which flourished in Europe and the America colonies. By the nineteenth century, European powers quickly began to set up colonies in Africa in what was known as "the Scramble for Africa," invading the continent, colonizing, and annexing land. Native Africans could do little to halt the Europeans who had advanced weaponry due to the tide of the Industrial Revolution. Soon, Britain, France, Italy, Germany, Belgium, Portugal, and Spain would claim land in Africa, stripping it of resources.

While the age of imperialism drew to a close with the onset of two world wars, and revolutions granting independence to native peoples from their colonial powers, the time of colonization has had a lasting influence on Africa. Most notably, the European nations worked to strip Africa of resources, but did little build lasting infrastructure to the region.

Today, a new effort is underway in Africa spearheaded by the Chinese. The Chinese are leading enormous infrastructural projects in Africa, building the region (and also getting access to much needed resources in the process) and pouring large amounts of money into projects all along the African continent.

The Chinese are placing most of these funds into resource investment, utilizing Africa's rich deposits and untapped areas. The Chinese are also striving to improve infrastructure and transportation throughout the region. However, is this advancement and investment in infrastructure to benefit the locals or to aid Chinese efforts to access and transport resources? Is Chinese "investment" in Africa a subtle word choice to mask plans to get at Africa's resources?

Another part of this is a large influx of Chinese workers into Africa, a move that is creating hostilities between the Chinese and local populations. Visitors to China may also note large influxes of African students studying in major cities such as Beijing and Shanghai. While large pockets of African students exist in China, they are often met with hostile attitudes centered on racism.

The similarities between European colonization of Africa and China's recent "investments" in Africa are great. And the growing tensions between the two cultures and China's ambitions in the region are definitely something to keep an eye on.