By Jacob Kushner
When Xi Jinping pondered which foreign region to visit first as China’s newly appointed President, he wasn’t swayed to a mineral-rich Australia, a thriving Singapore or steadfast North Korea. Instead, his careful calculations took him to Africa. After a brief, almost obligatory stop in Moscow, he flew to Tanzania, South Africa and Congo-Brazzaville, where he promised $20 billion in new credit to finance infrastructure and agriculture in Africa over the next three years.
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Some two months after that visit, President Barack Obama followed in the Chinese leader’s footsteps. It was only the American President’s first extended trip to Africa since taking office some four and a half years earlier. The sign of America’s lagging commitment to Africa was not lost upon Africans. That China has moved 600 million people out of extreme poverty over the past 35 years is a source of wonder for many Africans who remain trapped in cycles of poverty. As the American President spoke of a “Pivot to Asia,” China was intently channeling its attention here: In 2009 China supplanted the United States as Africa’s largest trading partner and never looked back. China’s government estimates that it conducted $200 billion worth of trade with the continent in 2012.
Perhaps no African people is more optimistic about the potential of Chinese investment than that of the Democratic Republic of Congo, a nation rich in natural resources but poor in nearly every other respect.
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In this article for The American Interest magazine, Jacob Kushner argues the United States should re-think its approach to diplomacy—a sphere in which China is uncharacteristically out-maneuvering the United States in Africa in several important ways.
In Congo, Chinese are settling in with businesses and bargains that locals love. At one copper smelting plant, Chinese and locals work together but live apart.
LUBUMBASHI, CONGO — Some 6,000 miles away from his home in China, Robin Wei awakes on a cot beneath a white mosquito net. He gets dressed, opens the door of his bunker, and walks out into the rainy season toward the factory where he works.
Four years ago, Mr. Wei bade goodbye to his wife and daughter in Shanghai and boarded a flight to the heart of Congo’s mineral belt. He lives and works at a Chinese-owned smelting plant that extracts copper from the rich ore, which is then sold for wire and pipes that go into building skyscrapers and cargo ships.
Congo also holds nearly half the world’s known reserves of cobalt. It has vast reserves of high-grade copper, tantalum, and tin. Just 10 years ago, a ton of copper could fetch $1,700 on the world market. Today it goes for about $8,000.
Wei is one of hundreds of thousands of Chinese men and women – as many as 1 million by some estimates – who, at least for now, call Africa home. (Wei goes home to visit his wife and daughter once a year.) China has been investing heavily in Africa for more than a decade, and both China and its migrants are in what could be called a settling-in period as the story of a fast-growing Africa and a rising China unfolds.
What does China see in the world’s poorest nation? An opportunity for big business. Congo is known for poverty and conflict, but it is home to an enormous wealth of buried minerals such as copper, whose value is rising on the world market. Already, tens of thousands of Chinese men and women have left their families behind to live in Africa to dig and process ore.
Now, two Chinese state-owned companies are opening the biggest mine Congo has ever seen. In exchange, they’re spending billions of dollars to build new roads and modernize Congo’s infrastructure.
But will Chinese mines and roads help transform Congo in a way Western aid and business has not? Or will Chinese businessmen and Congolese officials get rich while the people continue to live in poverty?
In “China’s Congo Plan”, Jacob Kushner takes us street-side to a grand, Chinese-constructed boulevard in Congo’s capital Kinshasa, to a mountain range where Congolese men, women and children dig for minerals with picks and shovels, and to a factory where Chinese immigrants melt aqua-blue rocks into molten copper lava. Two years after China overtook the United States as Africa’s largest trading partner, Kushner brings us inside the world of China’s rise in the continent.
Kushner’s reporting was supported by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, and his research was advised by faculty at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. “China’s Congo Plan” was awarded the Grand Prize in the Atavist Digital Storymakers Award for Graduate Longform, sponsored by the Pearson Foundation.
Where is Chinese Money invested in the DRC?
Sébastien Le Belzic, Le Monde
“The problem is the carelessness of the Congolese government,” says Jacob Kushner, an American journalist who has long worked on Chinese investment in Congo. In its investigation, which began in 2013, it already highlighted the gap between the enormity of Chinese investment in Congo with the poverty of the local population. “Chinese investment in Congo has always been very important with big contracts traded from state to state. Infrastructure projects, mining, as well as small restaurants and shops created by Chinese migrants–these are two different worlds that I wanted to study to see how the Chinese investments have changed Congo,” he says. “But what has really changed is the crisis and the great fear for Africa that these Chinese investments are decreasing … Africa depends heavily on China, too much perhaps. ”
“The question everyone asks is: how have Congolese politicians used the money invested by China in their country?” Jacob Kushner asks. “There needs to be more transparency on these mega-projects and the debts they generate.”
“You can see that in this country we have a lot of resources,” lawyer, opposition party senator and prominent critic of the government’s dealings with China Emery Kabamba told Kushner for his eBook. “But where is the proof that we are really enjoying it? Go ten meters from here, you will see the situation. Five minutes from my office you will see people who don’t have electricity.”
Read the full article at LeMonde.fr/Afrique