As Africa welcomes more Chinese migrants, a new wariness sets in
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.

Read the full story as it appeared at the Christian Science Monitor. This story was adapted from the new e-book China’s Congo Plan.

 

Buy Now on Amazon

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.

Video produced by Emily Judem for GlobalPost.

Congo’s subsistence miners dig for their livelihoods
‘Artisanal’ mining is now the country’s leading profession — attracting adults and children alike. Chinese investment is driving its growth.

KOLWEZI, Congo — Patrick Bwana strains his body as he thrusts a full-sized shovel into a patch of rocky ground. He is 12 years old. He looks 9. He speaks with his eyes fixed on the ground. “I used to go to school, but my father died, and no one paid for my studies anymore,” he says.

Bwana works from around 6 in the morning to about 3 in the afternoon, lugging around bags of rock that seem to weigh as much as he does. He says he can earn $5,000 francs a day doing this. That’s about $5. He hopes he can save enough to pay his own school fees, and return to school.

Bwana is one of tens of thousands of child laborers estimated to work in Congo’s mineral sector. Most take to the work out of necessity, to help their parents earn enough to feed their family. Child labor is illegal in the Congo, as is much of the artisanal mining that takes place in and around Kolwezi on mineral reserves owned or leased by foreign or Congolese companies.

The forces that shape Congo’s artisanal mining sector are many: A worldwide demand for copper and other base minerals for manufacturing; the inability of many Congolese to find any other sort of lucrative work; the absence of government regulation. But ask any Kolwezi miner who’s responsible, and you’re likely to hear just one answer: “The Chinese.”

Read the full story at GlobalPost or NPR, or at the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, which provided funding for the project.