Huawei taken to court in Zimbabwe

November 20, 2013

In the last year, regulatory challenges against Chinese companies in Africa have become increasingly commonplace, part of what seems to be a trend of greater African state assertiveness in dictating the terms of business with China as well as a more open competition between Chinese companies. In telecommunications alone, Chinese companies have faced investigations over corruption related to telecom tenders in Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria and Algeria, with both ZTE and Huawei being banned from tenders for two years in Algeria as a result,.

Nonetheless, the fact a $218 million telecom tender awarded Huawei to supply equipment to Zimbabwe’s state-owned telecoms operator NetOne has been challenged in an administrative court with allegations of corruption is significant because it questions the assumption that large Chinese companies do well in undemocratic states politically allied with China by integrating into the patronage networks of the ruling elite.

Chinese scholar suggests Africa learn from China’s party-building experience

October 24, 2013

Today, at the workshop “Fifty Years of China-Africa Cooperation,” held in Harare with FOCAC funding and organised by the Southern African Research and Documentation Centre, Zeng Aiping of the China Institute of International Studies, the Foreign Ministry’s think tank, gave a talk on how Africa can learn from China’s development experience. In addition to the usual discussion of agriculture, industry, opening up to foreign investment etc., he foregrounded social stability and the leadership of the Communisty Party, and suggested that African parties, especially ruling parties, can learn from the CCP’s experience in party building, party-state-society relations, and party-military relations.

There has been much discussion of whether China actually wants to export its political model to poor countries in Africa and Southeast Asia; i.e. whether it is consciously strengthening authoritarian regimes or whether this is an unintended by-product to which the Chinese government is largely indifferent but is sometimes forced to become sensitive to, as in the case of Burma. Most people, including myself, hold the latter opinion, but this talk makes me wonder whether at least some parts of the Chinese political establishment are in fact in the former camp.

The symposium’s main organiser, Phyllis Johnson, a long-time Mugabe supporter who blames the country’s problems on Western interference, also pointed in her talk to China’s National People’s Congress as a model of decision making, and  specifically suggested that Zimbabwe should learn from China’s approach to having the military under Party control but still allowing it to play a political role.

Chinese companies contract white Zimbabwean farmers to plant tobacco

October 20, 2013

Just had an interesting conversation with a white Zimbabwean shipping manager in Harare. He told me some of the white farmers who were thrown off their farms by Mugabe in 2002 have come back and are planting tobacco under contract for Chinese companies, which provide seeds and technical support. Would be interesting to know if anyone has done any reserach on this.

Opposition to Chinese companies’ labour practices in Zimbabwe

October 9, 2012

The Brussels-based news and campaign website Equal Times, funded by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), reports that 2,000 Zimbabwean workers employed by Anhui Construction Company (AFECC) in the construction of the new National Defence College with a loan from China Export and Import Bank were fired.

Unions say that those companies can fire and hire without notice, that they can even beat those who try and report abuses.

“The Chinese seem to have immunity to prosecution and arrest” claims Zimbabwe Construction and Allied Trade Union General Secretary, Nicholas Mazarura.

A few months ago a worker was badly attacked by an employer in Highfield, he was bleeding.

The unionists reported the fact to the local Police station but they were told to solve that issue on their own, since they had instructions not to arrest the Chinese who are “friends of the country”. But it is still unclear who gave these instructions.

The article claims that Chinese companies force workers to work overtime and without adequate safety equipment.

“The Chinese bosses accuse us of being lazy, that we do not want to work for our country. But we are forced to work 8 hours during the day plus 6 hours in the evening even if officially they are complying with the Zimbabwean law which contemplates a work day of 8 hours”,  Peter Dube, employed by a company owned by the Chinese Defence Forces and the Zimbabwe Defence Forces, told Equal Times. (…)

“When we accuse them they always say that Zimbabweans must work even for nothing, simply because the Chinese are using their equipment and money to help rebuild Zimbabwe, so they are not supposed to spend on ‘luxuries’ like safety clothing,” a union leader said.

Similar, but more nuanced and much better documented reports have in the last year come out of Zambia (notably a recent Human Rights Watch report) and Angola, the latter focusing in part on the construction industry. Some scholars have attacked them as inaccurate and inherently biased as they focus only on Chinese employers.

This particular report does not seem particularly well researched, and unlike others it has a strident tone. The charge that the workers on the construction of the defence college were fired after the construction ended also seems somewhat surprising, since (a) until now the main charge against Chinese construction projects has tended to be that they do not employ local workers, and (b) how can the company maintain a local labour force if it has finished its activity in the country?

Nonetheless, while for Anhui Construction the need to be flexible with the size of its labour force may be completely obvious, as it cannot predict when and where it will gain another contract, from the perspective of a country in which socialist-style labour protection has a strong tradition and which, unlike elsewhere in Africa, has largely resisted World Bank-style restructuring, these charges are understandable.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this report is that in Zimbabwe, too, labour unions seem to be starting to organise against Chinese owners — despite what I think should be the tight links of organised labour to the ruling ZANU.