A new slave empire and its masters

October 10, 2008 at 2:00 am 6 comments

My last post was about China and so I can keep the Chinese “internet police” in a job, today’s post is also about China and its creation of a new slave empire. Frankly, the economic invasion of Africa by China, bringing with it a new imperialism, is not something I’ve thought about. Guess we’re all too busy with our hedonistic lifestyles to pause for a moment and consider that this is supposed to be the 21st Century, not the 19th Century.

My RSS feeds delivered a truly disturbing article, which I’ll get to in a moment. But first: it’s no secret that China is a rapidly expanding power and it needs resources not only to feed its huge population but to sustain its rapid growth.

It’s also no secret that Africa, despite being pillaged by colonial powers of the 19th Century, is a continent still rich with oil and raw materials. But did you know any of the following?

  • China is the second largest consumer of oil behind the US
  • Africa has 9% of the planet’s proven oil sources but analysts believe there are undiscovered oil reserves
  • one third of China’s oil imports is from Africa
  • from 2002 to 2003, trade between China and Africa doubled to $18.5 billion; by 2007, it had reached $73 billion
  • China also imports non-oil commodities from Africa, such as diamonds, copper, timber and metals.

Okay, so China is simply trying to secure for itself what France, England, Belgium and other “colonial powers” secured. But it is when you read an article that vividly describes the wretched, bent over lives of poor, hopeless Africans slugging it out for hours in hot, filthy, unsafe copper mines or being beaten viciously by Chinese supervisors that you start to say, hang on, what the?  That is what happened to me when I read this article by Peter Hitchens in the Mail Online.  I want you to take the time to read it – superbly written and at the same time dragging out of the shadows sordid facts that the Chinese would rather remain in the deep shadows.

I won’t rehash everything from this article. I know your curiosity will be piqued and you’ll read it. But here are some highlights:

  • out of desperation, to alleviate poverty and put food on the table, Africa is selling itself to China
  • in exchange for Chinese investment in Africa, countries such as Zambia are turning a blind eye to regulation and safety. Whereas Western countries demand tougher rules and regulation in return for aid and investment, China has cancelled Zambia’s debts; is busy building hospitals, sports stadiums and anti-malaria centres and sending Chinese agricultural experts.
  • meanwhile, Africans are dying in Chinese factories and mines with lax safety standards.
  • Chinese restaurants, clinics and housing compounds abound in countries like Zambia, with the Chinese living separately from the populace
  • lowly, poor Chinese workers are dispatched to work in Zambia. The rumour being they are convicted criminals who China wants to offload (clearly, they learnt a lesson from the British dispatching convicts to Oz).
  • in the “Democratic Republic of Congo”, the Chinese allegedly pay huge bribes to officials so their products can zoom through customs whilst Western businessmen have to wait for weeks.
  • there are accusations of Chinese overseers beating up Zambians and treating Africans “like dirt”.

These are just some of the highlights from the article.  Unsavoury, wicked, shameless exploitation are all words that came to mind when I read it. Is this slavery or is this development? Were Britain, France, Belgium or Portugal benevolent colonial powers?  Probably not. But colonialism is dead and best left back in the 19th and early 20th Centuries.

Image credits: Getty Images and abovetopsecret


Entry filed under: China. Tags: , , , .

Chinese Big Brother Nothing more to say

6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Andrew Hill  |  October 10, 2008 at 4:23 am

    Hi Kim,

    Maybe its my dark mood, but I really feel you can do better than just point out the problem without providing some form of remedy (like Fatty O’Barrell). It seems to me that with your knowledge of complexity theory it would show that Knowledge Management is a panacea for much more than the economic bottom-line of an organisation (my family is an organisation, my organisation is a family). Don’t make me more depressed, give me the wings to soar.

    As you point out, China is merely following the model of colonialism as it embraces a market economy in order to raise its standard of living; albeit at the expense of those black fellas’, and they aint like us, so we can dismiss their feelings and needs. Isn’t this the same argument the Nazi’s used with the Jews, and the slave owners in America before them? You could follow that right back to the first tribes, and why its hardwired into us to group. Only if you look from the moon, like the first astronauts, you realise that we are all one group. Hopefully the silver lining to the global financial meltdown is the wake-up call it will give to us all (I always wondered why somebody didn’t do something about that, until I realised I was somebody – Lilly Tomlin) in terms of hoarding, greed and the impact this has on the planet.

    Isn’t it time Social Capital ceases to be a dirty word, one that classifies you as a dreamer or a marxist? Wouldn’t it be useful if we frame the impact of our decisions and choices through this paradigm? I actually saw some light in your post when you referred to the hospitals and infrastructure projects that were being implemented in return for cancelling foreign debt. Maybe we might be all be a little less materially wealthy, but at least we wouldn’t need to spend money on locksmiths.

    If I really got all soft and exposed myself to criticism, I’d put forward my belief that Love, and Compassion through Understanding are the keys to solving most problems; those with the biggest problems need the most of it. Taking a hard line only increases resistance. I’m not suggesting criticism is bad, conflicting ideas are to be encouraged – or managed well to create dialogue rather than discussion. And sanctions do need to be imposed on transgressors. The trick is getting them to agree to them in the first place.

  • 2. creativespark  |  October 10, 2008 at 6:46 am

    Hi Kim

    Photographer Paolo Woods has an awesome photo essay here:

    It’s a collaboration with journalist Serge Michel so if you click through to the pics there’s text to tell the story.

    =) Marc

  • 3. thinkingshift  |  October 10, 2008 at 7:52 am

    Hi there Andrew

    How you going? well, I share your dark mood so perhaps I shouldn’t attempt to answer. I think this week has been a shocker with the global financial meltdown – but you know what? I share your thoughts that our material wealth may be in for a dramatic about face. I’ve long wondered how long the world could party on with credit, McMansions, The Brands etc.

    I think this meltdown will all make us take stock and be financially cautious moving forward. I know it has already had this affect on me. But I digress.

    China: yes, there was that glimmer when I read that hospitals were being built, debt forgiven. There is a suggestion that social capital and infrastructure is being built. But…the dark side…I don’t have an answer for. My dark mood this week leads me to suggest that mankind has always profited from the situations of the less fortunate. This is what’s happening here – China sees resources and a way to boost its developing status. If this is done at the expense of Africa and its people – well, the UK did the same thing, as did Portugal, as did France. I guess there’s an argument to say that at least with the British they left behind some good things, particularly in India.
    The answer might be that global entities examine what’s going on in Africa and ensure the Chinese are doing it right – caring for the environment, respecting its people, ensuring that cultures and traditions remain undisturbed.
    It could very well be that that the Chinese would accept regulation if other “powers” intervened. Much as Bush (idiot that he is) is calling for a global convention of heads of state to address the financial meltdown, a global discussion about Africa and how to leverage its resources whilst still leaving the environment and its people with dignity is necessary.
    Let’s hope we’re both in a less dark mood next week Andrew!

  • 4. thinkingshift  |  October 10, 2008 at 8:06 am

    staggering Marc! what awesome photo essays..I encourage everyone to check every single photo & read the text behind each photo. I was particularly discouraged by #967, the photo of a Congolese worker sawing down a 22-meter moabi tree. This is the text –

    “In the Cotovindou logging concession a Congolese worker for the Chinese timber company Sicofor saws down a 22-meter moabi tree that will be loaded the same day on a truck bound for Pointe Noire. From there it will be embarked for China. It will probably end up as luxury furniture in Europe or the States. Moabi (baillonella toxisperma) takes about hundred years to reach maturity. Its fruits are edible, its bark has medical applications and the oil its seeds produce is very sought after on the African markets. The droppings of elephants, that love the Moabi fruits, are the main mechanisms for spreading the seeds and therefore of its reproduction. Due to poaching, elephants are getting rare, due to logging Moabi is getting rare. In the Congo forest elephants and Moabi could disappear at the same time. Moabi has been included in the red list of IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources) in 2004.”
    And photo #987 showing how the Chinese view their compounds as “Chinese territory”.
    So yep, whilst the Chinese might be building apartments for housing, roadways and canals, Chinese restaurants and so on – at what cost to Africa and its people?

  • 5. Andrew Hill  |  October 13, 2008 at 7:05 am

    Hi Kim,

    I think Marc sort of answered the dark side question, and why I have followed your privacy concerns with interest – as I must say I don’t really agree with an argument for privacy. I’ve always believed that evil finds a conducive environment in secret places, my priviso to your privacy argument is that its all or nothing. Without full transparency from all parties it cannot work.

    Some of the Social (Capital?) Web 2.o tools are great for breaking down these barriers. I used Google Earth to try and look at the Congolese forest (Found lots of conservation societies doing it, which was a bit of serendipity), and this forum is a great way to spread the word, i.e. a lot of people have commented positively on those YouTube videos (the one where the teacher posted the matrix diagram showing the risk of not acting) after I posted them into our Wiki, as we have a corporate sustainability agenda.

    The reason I was dark on Friday was because of abuse of power issues. I won’t go into it further – it wasn’t to do with Black Friday. That’s the joy of not having bucket-loads of assets. But after reading the report on the attack of marginalised minorities in todays SMH (http://www.smh.com.au/news/opinion/whats-waiting-when-markets-settle-down/2008/10/12/1223749846530.html) it struck home how inter-connected things really are. Already I have received a chain email where Robin Williams outlines his plan for recovering – its all the illegal immigrants fault. Those bloody cab drivers bring down Wall Street, imagine the nerve! So I guess social media swings both ways.

    But to answer your original question, I’m very good thank-you. I guess its not good to get angry and type with the red mist clouding your judgement, but at least it spurs you to action, and it’s very cathartic – even if you have to spend the rest of the week apologising!


  • 6. thinkingshift  |  October 13, 2008 at 7:33 am

    Glad to hear you’re feeling a bit lighter in spirit Andrew and think the link that Marc provided us answered a lot for both of us! I must say that you’ve triggered me now to go off and use Google Earth to check out what the Chinese are up to in Zambia and the Congo.
    It’s really great to hear that you have a wiki at your workplace and that you’re using it to such commendable affect Andrew.
    Sometimes when we don’t have any resources (and believe me I’m there now in my current work environment) it’s pretty tough going but you keep at it knowing that you’re on the right track. You and I have had many a discussion and your vision is a good one, so keep at it Andrew!! Good luck. Kim


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