Chinas Resource Diplomacy in Africa: Powering Development? (International Political Economy Series)
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Contrary to the dominant assertion that Chinese companies operating in Africa tend to rely on labour imported from China, in most of the 85 Chinese enterprises we studied in Ghana and Nigeria, a substantial proportion, and often the majority, of the workforce was African. This was seen at a range of scales, from the independent Chinese traders in markets in Lagos and Accra who generally employ at least a couple of local assistants all the way through to the largest Hong Kong Chinese-owned industrial groups that employ thousands of African workers.
Chinese entrepreneurs often emphasized that employing African labour was central to their business strategy and sustainability; it was not only seen to be considerably cheaper than bringing in workers from China, but was also deemed essential to understanding the local market. For instance, the two Chinese managers of the Nigeria office of a Chinese quarry machinery manufacturing company argue that beyond the highly competitive price of their product range, it is their two Nigerian sales directors that have been key to the rapid success of the outlet.
Furthermore, the Nigerian sales directors built on this by contracting some of the initial cohort of satisfied customers to act as sales agents for the company, thereby establishing a wide-reaching marketing network. While management positions tend to be dominated by Chinese staff, having at least some locals in these roles is often considered useful, particularly in negotiating the demands of government agencies and officials and in recruiting, managing, and motivating local workers, agents, and subcontractors.
In one of the Chinese-owned manufacturing companies we visited in Tema, for example, the factory manager is a Ghanaian who has worked there since the company was founded some 30 years ago. As this example suggests, African workers have carved out significant opportunities for their own advancement. This is especially apparent in Golden Telecoms, one of the three major Chinese telecommunication companies that have entered the Nigerian market since the late s.
Golden Telecoms has explicitly pursued a strategy of recruiting a high proportion of local staff. Former and current local Golden Telecoms staff report that as a result of this strategy the company has developed the reputation as a good place to launch a career in Nigeria's rapidly growing telecoms industry and wider corporate sector. Indeed, with the intensive, often hands-on training programmes that it offers its local staff, Golden Telecoms is regarded as something of a commercial finishing school, particularly for those interested in gaining specialized telecoms knowledge or more general expertise in marketing and project management.
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Furthermore, some Nigerian Golden Telecoms staff have used the skills and experience they have acquired at the company to establish or significantly augment dynamic new Nigerian companies both in and beyond the telecoms sector. For example, a former Golden Telecoms senior staff member argues that the knowledge and experience he gained at the company enabled him to establish a fast-growing telecoms engineering services firm in The Chinese trained me.
Such cases support Brautigam's assertion that contact with Chinese businesses can enable African entrepreneurs to develop new skills and capabilities and establish spin-off ventures of their own. While some African actors have actively assisted, and carved out opportunities from, the Chinese presence in Ghana and Nigeria, others have felt that it damages their interests and have sought to contest it. As elsewhere in Africa, the growing Chinese presence has excited considerable public debate and even protest.
They argued that the importation of cheap and often sub-standard Chinese goods was fatally undermining local producers. Indeed, this agitation only increased as the new complex became more popular with Chinese traders and African consumers alike. So it was bad … What they do is they go to the authorities, right from the presidency to every arms of the government, to say look at these people … their product is not good, their business is not right, cross check very well. The impact of this action was considerable. The vast majority of the Chinese traders lost most or all of their stock.
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Some simply went out of business and returned to China. Many others moved to another country or attempted to relocate within Nigeria.
With a reduced quantity and range of goods on offer, the remaining Chinese traders complain that the complex has won back few of its old customers. While Nigeria's manufacturers have enjoyed some success in encouraging the state to disrupt the activities of Chinese traders operating in the country, less elite groups have gained little state support in their attempts to contest the Chinese presence.
In late , the second in what was planned to be a nation-wide series of protests was held to challenge the growing tendency of major international and Nigerian firms to employ large numbers of foreign workers, particularly from India and China. Organized by a group of trade unions and civil society organizations, one of the campaign's main targets was the Nigerian-owned Dangote Group, which stood accused of employing 3, Chinese workers in the construction of its new cement factory, many apparently doing low- and semi-skilled jobs for which Nigerians could have been found easily.
Despite their well-publicized public protests appealing to the President and ministers, the campaigners failed to elicit any government response. It appears that the Dangote Group has continued unhindered in its utilization of Chinese labour: Chinese workers were conspicuous at the recent opening of one of its new cement factories. Africa cannot be seen as simply a passive space increasingly subject to intervention by China.
While we must be wary of reversing the analytical lens too far, reinserting African agency into the dominant discourse of China-in-Africa reveals Sino-African relationships that are more locally driven and mediated than is generally recognized. Just as Kobena Mercer noted that identity only becomes an issue when it is threatened, agency becomes important where it is denied.
This agency is found at the individual level, but also within more organized civil society activity and within parts of the African state. Indeed, the African actors that appear to benefit most are often political and business elites and this might reinforce unaccountable modes of political and economic governance as well as highly uneven distributions of wealth and power. Oxford University Press is a department of the University of Oxford. It furthers the University's objective of excellence in research, scholarship, and education by publishing worldwide. Sign In or Create an Account.
Close mobile search navigation Article navigation. Existing explanations of China—Africa politics: The power of Angola's state elites.
China's Resource Diplomacy in Africa - Powering Development? - Open Research Online
African social agency in action: Abstract Most analyses of China's renewed engagement with Africa treat China as the driving force, and little recognition is given to the role of African agency, especially beyond the level of state elites. See Ted Fishman, China, Inc.: The interlocking of theory and practice in social research and development Routledge: London, , p.
Warner, The 88 Queensway Group: A rising power and a continent embrace Hurst, London, , pp.
Palgrave Macmillan, London, China and other emerging powers in Africa Fahamu, Oxford, , p. Interview, Chinese factory owner, Lagos, 20 December This is our interpreter's translation from the Chinese. African views on the growing Chinese presence in Africa: The names of individuals and companies have been changed to protect the identity of respondents. Interview, 9 September Interviews, Chinese factory owner and Ghanaian factory manager, Tema, 23 August Chinese imperialism or South—South mutual partnership?
Interviews, Nigerian traders' association official and Chinese textile outlet manager, Kano, 18 December Interviews, two male Nigerian leaders of the campaign, Lagos, 30 September and 4 October Community, culture, difference Lawrence and Wishart, London, Add comment Close comment form modal. I agree to the terms and conditions. You must accept the terms and conditions. You have entered an invalid code. National Library of Australia. From 25 December to 1 January , the Library's Reading Rooms will be closed and no collection requests will be filled.
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