The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam

October 13, 2014

Saturday’s (11 October) New York Times carried an article on The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. For anyone familiar with China, the name rings familiar: what China’s government is striving to achieve is officially called “the great rejuvenation of the Chinese people”, but a better translation of Zhonghua minzu de weida fuxing is in fact “the grand renaissance of the Chinese race/nation”. The article describes forced wage deductions from workers to buy bonds supporting the cost of the dam and says reactions are mixed: some are unhappy while others seem enthused by the hope of development.

The article mentions that the dam will partly be built with a Chinese loan, but by an Italian company, Salini (thanks to Paulette Nonfodji for pointing this out). This is unusual and makes me wonder why the Chinese government agreed to provide the loan without the usual requirement for procurement in China. Perhaps there are Chinese subcontractors or perhaps the Ethiopian government has pushed back. In any case, this is something of a corrective to the excessive focus on the role of China in controversial development projects in Africa, making  it seem as though China deliberately exports predatory development just to pursue its own ends. In fact, an increasing number of Western, Brazilian, Russian, Korean and other companies are rejoining the ranks of global dam builders now that there is financing to be had from the World Bank and elsewhere, and the projects are beginning to look commercially viable.

For some time, various observers of China’s overseas engagements, including myself, have thought that if there was one country that could be said to be emulating the “Chinese model”, that’s Ethiopia: a strong developmental state that suppresses opposition, engages in surveillance and media censorship, and uses extralegal coercion when wanting to advance its goals. Perhaps it also produces the type of nationalist-developmentalist discourse that China does, and perhaps it is just as effective. Of course, there is nothing “Chinese” about this in any cultural sense: other developmental states like South Korea have done this in the past. But then again, perhaps there aren’t that many similar examples either. And it is certainly China’s example, and Chinese investment capital, that help the propagation of this approach now rather than in the 1970s. Yet, as this case shows, attracting Chinese capital may involve displays of friendliness towards China (and of annoyance towards Western human rights concerns) but does not need to result in a weaker hand when it comes to balancing Chinese and other interests.

We shall see to what extent other governments adopt this approach and how far they get with it. There is no want of candidates: Egypt, Turkey, Russia, Hungary, and some South American states come to mind. Interestingly, African states less so.


New Ethiopian presient has PhD from China

October 18, 2013

As PKU African Tele-Info reports this week (issue 159), the new Ethiopian president, Mulatu Teshome, an Oromo, has a PhD in international relations from Peking University, a department best known for the assertive nationalist Yan Xuetong. This must be the first African head of state — though ceremonial — trained in China.


Chinese company offshores Muslim headgear manufacturing to Ethiopia

September 19, 2013

The following caught my attention in a recent article in China Daily:

The 49-year-old general manager of Suzhou Orient Investment, based in Wujiang, a district of Suzhou, is investing $10 million (7.5 million euros) in a factory on the Eastern Industrial Zone in Addis Ababa, making headdresses for both Muslim men and women.

The company is taking advantage of a seven-year duty free period and will eventually employ 200 people on site. The investment came as a result of meeting Africa officials at a China-Africa forum in Suzhou last year.

“We will be closer to our key markets in the Middle East such as Dubai, Qatar, Yemen, Egypt, Iraq, Iran and Sudan,” he says.

Some 70 percent of Muslim headwear globally is now made in Wujiang, near where a number of chemical substances required in their manufacture are located. The company intends to use its new Addis Ababa base as springboard to operate in 20 other African countries over the coming few years.

“We were the first to introduce headdress making techniques here and the district has since become a major global production center for them,” he says.

So not only is Suzhou the global centre of “Muslim headdress” (kefiya?) manufacturing, but it will now outsource to Ethiopia! In some ways, Chinese globalisation progresses faster than I could think.


China’s media investments in Africa stay in the news

May 21, 2012

Just a few months after the announcement about a new CCTV African service and the opening of Beijing Review‘s Johannesburg bureau, it is China Daily‘s turn to start an African edition, beginning with a Johannesburg office with one in Nairobi planned. CCTV has recently opened a new New York operation, while China Daily — China’s original officially-desoignated foreign-language paper that has recently undergone a big makeover to make it more readable and credible in the eyes of foreign readers, e.g. by printing critical articles and inviting well-known foreigners to publish op-ed pieces — is now distributed as a weekly advertising supplement of the International Herald Tribune in parts of Europe.

All this is perfectly in sync with the Chinese government’s recent “opinion” on expanding Chinese media abroad, which calls for a comprehensive global media network with  coverage that will “centre on developed and neighbouring countries”  but “use developing countries as a[n intial] base.” (It should also  “rely on the Chinese-language overseas market,” one in which investment from China started earlier but is off Western radar screens.

I am usually tired of the widespread view that takes every Chinese investment in Africa as part of a master plan by the Chinese government. But in this case, where the actors are all centrally controlled state enterprises, there is no doubt that their goal is to satisfy government officials (a nd beat each other to it).

The news have triggered a round of commentary by Mohamed Keita in the New York Times, Deborah Brautigam, Li Anshan on Pambazuka, and Bob Wekesa in China Daily itself, among others, andaddressing a variety of issues — is media freedom an absolute good (no, say Li and Wekesa); does it really existin the West or is it in fact just an ideolgical ploy (the latter, sayWekesa andLi); is  China’s goal to help African governments limit media freedom (no, says Brautigam); is that the net result of Chinese investment anyway? (It can be, say I, at least insofar as a Chinese model of a state-financed public television with an overt mission to support the government no longer necessarily looks outdated and embarrassing, and protestations to the contrary are no longer de rigeur. Considering Ethiopia is one of countries with the least free media, the Ethiopian news agency’s plans to launch a multilingual 24-hour news channel is probably inspired by Xinhua ‘s CNT or Russia Today rather than BBC or Al Jazeera.)

For me, the most intriguing question is whether the new cohort of young Chinese journalists around the world — and the young African and other journalists that Chinese money will train and employ — will, quite apart from their employers intentions, pursue their own investigative agendas and generate a more complex picture of the world, in China and elsewhere. The Party line in China is that the current effortis to generate a more balanced view (that is in English publications; Chinese-language  communiques usually frankly speak about a more favourable view of China). I don’t believe that this is really the intention of the Chinese government, but it may nonetheless be an unintended result as more young Chinese begin reporting on the globe.


Gezhouba Group on overseas CSR

April 20, 2011

In an exercise that is becoming increasingly common in China, Gezhouba Group, one of the major hydropower contractors in Southeast Asia and Africa, has released its 2010 corporate social responsibility report. Chapter 6 of the report is entitled “Overseas CSR.”

The report singles out Gezhouba’s second place in CCTV and the China-Africa Friendship Association’s China-Africa Friendship Award contest (see News, 22 December 2010) as proof of its social engagement. Going into detail — the section is about half a page long — the report first states that the construction of hydropower stations and roads contributes to the recipient countries’ economic development, and that Gezhouba “actively pays all kinds of tax” and “enthusiastically accepts the supervision of recipient countries’  tax and audit authorities.” In other words, its major CSR achievement is its core activity itself, and the fact that it conducts it lawfully.

Next, the report states that Gezhouba has provided 10,300 local jobs Not an insignificant number, but not very high either considering the number of countries and the fact that most jobs are unskilled.

Next, the report contains details of what it calls “participating in charity building” 参加公益建设. These include drilling four wells in Malabo, the capital of Equatorial Guinea and donating cash, as well as Lenovo computers and writing implements to schools and orphanages in Kashmir, Ethiopia, and Libya. The most surprising item is a donation of 10 million kip (about 850 euro) to the Lao ministry of energy and mines.