The million Chinese who’ve landed in Africa are plucky, hugely ambitious and have an eye for opportunity. They’re also helping make China a big player on a continent once dominated by the West.
You’ve seen the headlines: China is taking over Africa, and the United States and Africa’s former colonizers in Europe have lost sway.
Mostly, it’s true. Throughout Angola, Ghana and the Congo, some of China’s largest companies are building roads and railways. They’re backed by Chinese banks, and they’ll pay off their loans in kind through mining and oil deals. All the while, small-scale Chinese entrepreneurs are moving to Africa, opening pharmacies, trading furniture or buying land to farm, much as earlier generations did in Southeast Asia and North America. African governments are welcoming them with open arms, and for the most part, so are Africans themselves.
Earlier literature on China’s rise in Africa pushed us past the easy — and flawed — paradigm of China as Africa’s latest ”colonizer.” But in his forthcoming book, China’s Second Continent, Howard French argues the Chinese who migrate to Africa do so as individuals motivated by simple, familiar dreams of opportunity.
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A former China bureau chief for The New York Times and veteran Africa correspondent, French traveled the African continent, speaking Mandarin with Chinese men and women who had grown weary of the daily grind in their homeland. The characters French encounters are risk-takers: sometimes foulmouthed, often lucky and universally ambitious.
Read the full Q&A: Howard French on ‘China’s Second Continent’ | C-Notes | OZY
China isn’t the only one raising its stake on the African continent.
African leaders are happy to look beyond Western aid and investments that come tied to pesky political conditions, like asking for free elections or letting the opposition out of jail. As a result, China, India and other Asian firms willing to look the other way are making major inroads across the continent.
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Now, Turkey is joining the crowd and forging a route into Africa, setting its sights on Uganda, an East African nation with untapped reserves of oil and minerals. It could be the start of a beautiful friendship.
Read more: Turkey’s Rise in Africa | Fast forward | OZY
By the books, it’s rising. Africa had six of the world’s 10 fastest-growing economies in the 2000s. Minerals, metals and oil are nourishing long-starved government coffers. In January, Kenya’s Revenue Authority said it had collected too much money in taxes over the previous six months — 24 percent more than during the same period the year before.
But don’t go telling your friends Africa is no longer poor. The raw numbers are misleading, and “much of Africa’s celebrated growth is vulnerable,” according to the first Africa Transformation Report, published last month by the African Council on Economic Transformation (ACET). According to ACET, African economies have failed to transform in ways that would ensure long-term gains.
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In that argument, ACET joins a burgeoning subfield of economists trying to explain the discrepancy between fast economic growth and slow human progress in some African countries. Their ranks include Dani Rodrik and other development economists, but ACET’s report may be the most prominent. They hope their ideas change how we think about national success.
Read the full story at OZY.com
A push by Kenya’s president and male-dominated parliament to overhaul marriage bodes ill for the nation’s wives, socially and economically
NAIROBI, Kenya – President Uhuru Kenyatta signed a new marriage law this week that drastically restricts the rights of women in wedlock.
Human rights advocates here and abroad are condemning the law, which grants men the right to marry a second, third or even fourth wife without the previous wives’ permission. Currently, certain traditions allow men to take multiple wives, but only if he first gains their approval. There is no law that allows women to take multiple husbands.
“Parliament has discovered it has this ability to formulate laws that serve its interest,” said Tom Odhiambo, professor of cultural studies at the University of Nairobi. “Because many (members of parliament) are married to women whose social status and education level is below theirs, they can always go home and say “the Constitution allows me to marry a second wife.”
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After parliament passed the regulation, Kenyans waited for nearly one month to see whether President Kenyatta — who stands accused before the International Criminal Court of committing crimes against humanity during Kenya’s violent 2007-2008 Presidential election — would risk further soiling his human rights image by signing it into law. Christian and Hindu leaders joined human rights advocates in calling on Kenyatta to veto the Act, saying polygamy violates their religious edicts.
Read the full article at GlobalPost.
Turkey, which already straddles both Europe and Asia, is now making inroads into a third continent: Africa. East Africa is poised to become the new frontier market for Turkish construction, textiles and hospitality firms as they position themselves to become major stakeholders in the region’s rapidly growing industries.
Meanwhile, the Turkish government is forging ties with its African counterparts to negotiate tax agreements, regional security cooperation and foreign aid packages.
“The total value of projects undertaken by Turkish contractors in African countries exceeded $47bn dollars” in 2011, according to the most recent available figures from Turkey’s Ministry of Economy. At the same time, Turkey’s exports to Africa reached $13.3bn that year – a fivefold increase since 2003.
For service workers at the Nairobi Railway, breakdowns and delays limit time-off, and there’s no overtime pay
MOMBASA, Kenya – In its heyday, the Nairobi railway employed some 24,000 people. Day and night, they worked to keep freight and passenger trains running between what is now Kenya’s capital city, Nairobi, and the Indian Ocean at the port of Mombasa.
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Today, the Rift Valley Railways Consortium employs only 3,000 people. The railway itself has changed little in more than a century since it was built by the British imperial power. Trains still bobble up and down, side to side as they roll along outdated, narrow tracks. Train traffic, derailment and other delays strand cars for hours in the middle of a national park.
In April, the China Road and Bridge Corporation announced plans to replace the historic railway with a new, modern line. Workers will lay a set of standard-width tracks that will allow freight trains to traverse them at much higher speeds. Most workers seem hopeful the new line will attract more tourists and other passengers, and that the influx of customers will translate into higher wages and benefits for the workers, too.
Read the full story and watch the video at GlobalPost
Nairobi’s first cupcake shop demonstrates the power of a rising consumer class — and teaches a lesson about labor in emerging economies, too.
If anyone needed more evidence that Kenya’s economy is on the rise, a sort of confirmation arrived recently — in buttercream and a half dozen flavors that change daily.
Sugarpie Cupcakes in Nairobi has won plenty of fans and local press, attesting to this city’s changing tastes. The expats tend to favor Belgian chocolate, while the Kenyans prefer chai or red velvet, but overall sales have grown fast since the business launched late last year.
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Running the business is no cakewalk — but its vagaries and workarounds reveal a lot about Nairobi’s consumerist aspirations, and the economics that underlie them. A rising number of middle-upper-income Kenyans sees cupcakes as one of many small luxuries they can afford. And some among Kenya’s large, (non)working class see that as something to aspire to.
Read the full story at OZY.com
In the 19th century, foreign explorers came to Africa in search of ivory, rubber and slaves. Today, they come for Africa’s minerals — its copper, zinc and tungsten. The developed world needs them for its skyscrapers, cell phones and much in between.
The exchange is sometimes unfair. Often, African governments don’t know the value of the natural resources underground, but mining companies from the West — and, increasingly, China — do. That knowledge asymmetry has cost African countries and their citizens as much as $1.4 trillion over the past 30 years.
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But a more level playing field may be in sight, thanks to a World Bank initiative that aims to compile Africa’s mineral maps into a single, public database: the so-called Billion Dollar Map. The goal is to give African nations as much information as possible about their natural resources so that they can earn a fair price for the minerals they sell, World Bank officials say.
While mineral maps of the African continent exist, most are private or piecemeal. The Billion Dollar Map is crucially different: Its contents will be available to the public. And that, experts hope, will minimize underpricing and corruption, and help governments get a fairer price for their countries’ resources.
Read the full story at OZY.com
In the nation’s public sector, there are huge disparities between the highest earners and the low. Now, Kenyans are fighting over who should take a cut.
Anthony Langat and Jacob Kushner
NAIROBI, Kenya—Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta ignited a nationwide debate over government employee wages this month when he surprised the country by announcing he would reduce his own salary by 20 percent.
The move signaled the beginning of a fierce debate over government wages, which are rising out of control: This year, public sector salaries are expected to eat up 54 percent of all tax revenue and equal 13 percent of the nation’s GDP, according to cabinet secretary in charge of the Treasury, Henry Rotich.
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“The recent growth in public sector wage bill is unsustainable and unacceptable,” Kenyatta said in a March 10 speech that sparked the wage debate. “If we maintain this trend we would be dedicating an ever larger share of the wealth we produce as a country to the remuneration of public servants.”
Read the full story at GlobalPost.