Law in Contemporary Society
[Reading Uchenna and Alfain’s essay and edits on the investment relationship between China and Africa, I wanted to offer my insight—and maybe play the Devil’s Advocate. ]


I have followed China’s increasing investment in Africa for several years now. They have made major investments in places like Sudan, Nigeria, and Zambia—promising to develop the countries in exchange for access to natural resources. Most recently, China made a $22 million donation in aid to Tanzania and gifted a $150 million conference center for the African Union headquarters. In doing so, China has demonstrated its commitment to investment in Africa. However my concern is, at what costs?

Unlike other funding sources such as the World Bank or International Monetary Fund (IMF), China signs contracts over to African countries with no strings attached. They do not require transparency, democracy, or minimum standards for human rights. Instead, they are solely interested in Africa’s abundance of resources and purposely avoid involvement in internal affairs. As a result, African leaders are jumping at the “no strings” attached funding and we now see modern hospitals, fútbol stadiums, roads and railroads developed throughout Africa. Personally, I do not believe these are equitable deals for African counties, because without conditionalities African leaders will not be held accountable for maintaining the new facilities. I fear these new structures will soon become relics of the past.

[Perhaps, China’s non-involvement stance is a breath of fresh air to African nations who believe that the World Bank and the IMF paternalistically try to control all aspects of their governance.

It is no surprise that the long history of colonization has left many nations skeptical about the “strings attached” (loans with astronomical rates that are likely to ever be paid back) obligation of the Bank and IMF’s aid. Furthermore, the role of the Bank and IMF as primarily aid organizations is not as attractive in comparison to China’s investment opportunities, which are independent, wealth creation mechanisms.

While many African nations have significant problems with governance and corruption of their country’s valued resources, should the solution be that the Bank, IMF and Western corporations monopolize the investments because their money sometimes comes attached with human rights standards? As Time Magazine’s “China & Africa: Growing Pains” article states:

But many Western concerns are absurd. As a huge buyer of commodities, China has powered some of Africa's strongest growth since independence — hardly a negative trend. Cheap Chinese consumer goods have also stretched African shoppers' small budgets. Meanwhile, for a nation like France to complain about China's human-rights record on Africa seems beyond a pot-kettle comparison — France has long sponsored African "democrats" like former Central African Republic leader Jean-Bédel Bokassa, who was ultimately convicted of at least 20 murders. Likewise, the U.S. has close ties to Ethiopia's abusive regime, and to oil-rich kleptocracy Equatorial Guinea, whose dictator was welcomed to Washington in 2006 as "a good friend" by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. (,9171,1736583,00.html)

I think that the West is feeling a little uncomfortable with the new geopolitical order—where countries that were once exploited by the West are now gaining their own power and voice by coming together. ]

So how do we define China’s presence in Africa? Is it a swindle or a contract? And if it is a swindle is China the con man? Or is this title more appropriate for the African leaders who agreed to these deals?

Advantages and Disadvantages of Chinese Investment

The advantages of Chinese investment are clear. African nations gain much-needed infrastructure and amenities that they otherwise would not be able to 1) provide for themselves or 2) receive assistance from funding sources such as the World Bank and IMF. Because it is much easier to qualify for Chinese investment, one could argue China’s presence is helping African countries become developed. As they provide for jobs, both during and after construction, and lead to increased trade between the countries. Once more, China’s success in Africa is bringing attention to the continent and attracting foreign investment.

However there are disadvantages to Chinese investment, because China does not require African countries to meet certain standards. In particular, they do not require a system to preserve these new projects. Without actively creating plans to maintain the new facilities and training African citizens to fill the skilled positions that come with modern facilities, it will be impossible for these developments to have long-lasting effects. In addition, these investments are completely Chinese-owned. The funding, labor, and materials are Chinese and the jobs available to locals are limited. In instances where jobs are available, they are the low-level positions and pay as little as $2US per day.

[While the above points are true, I think that the relationship btwn China and Africa is providing Africa with leverage. Knowing that Africa can go elsewhere to sell their natural resources (and buy China’s goods), has made the West scared and potentially more willing to listen to African nations and meet their demands. China knows that they were not at the table during the Berlin Conference. African nations know that too. I think both participants are fully aware that their blossoming relationship is cracking away at the old establishment of Western-dominated power.]

The Difference Between a Contract and a Swindle

There is little difference between a contract and a swindle, as both require a “deal” to be struck and a cooperative relationship. The distinction is the end result. If the end result is one party essentially got something for nothing, then there is a swindle. However, if both parties achieve what they agreed to, then the relationship is a contract.

Here, China’s growing presence in Africa is characterized as a swindle and China is the con man. As described in A. Leff’s Swindling & Selling piece, a con man is one who swindles another out of something of value in exchange for nothing (or at least something significantly lower in value). China needs resources to feed its fuel burning economy and African countries desperately need foreign investment to create infrastructure and necessary services. It is only together that the two can maximize their total utility in their joint system (Leff p14). On its face, it seems that various African countries are attaining new facilities, roads, etc. upfront and that there is a mutually beneficial exchange. But when looking at end results, we learn these developments are temporary. Moreover, because there is no system in place to maintain these new facilities, it is likely they will become dilapidated. Nonetheless, in exchange China gains long-term access to oil in Angola and Sudan and minerals from Zambia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, among other things.

Feelings of Relatedness—Two-Fold

The idea of “feelings of relatedness” is that human relationships are being exploited because of their desire to “belong.” As discussed in class, for the same reasons that commercial retailers prey on people who spend money on items to “belong.” China is preying on African leaders who desire to live lavishly and for their country to “belong.” China is exploiting the African leaders feelings of relatedness, and in turn conning them, in order to further their agenda to become “developed.” Along those lines, the spark for China’s action is also a result of feelings of relatedness. China wants to become recognized as a regional power and wants to have more global influence, hence the answer is to modernize their country and strengthen their economy. The problem is China does not have enough natural resources to fuel this ambition, so in order to gain access they exploit Africa. China constructs new facilities and makes large donations, which are trivial in comparison to the exponential and long-lasting returns on their investment.

[I think that using the con/swindle structure detracts from the nuisances of the situation and once again plays into the paternalistic mindset that is all too common when discussing problems within Africa. Africa should not be victimized or placed in the limited “swindled” characterization.

To me, the only people with the wool covered over their eyes (those being “swindled”) are the people who refuse to see the nuisance in the conversation concerning the hypocrisies of the West as well as the oversimplification of the “African leaders = corrupt” equation.

Photo Essay from Time:,29307,1884396_1854944,00.html]

-- JStHill - 20 Apr 2009

  • Adding interlinear comments here didn't really achieve the goal of practicing your editing. What you've said is worthy of thought, and makes a contribution to the conversation, but it not only doesn't render the point of view being expressed in the original draft more coherent, by virtue of adding skeptical comments it necessarily renders the entire text less coherent. Interlinear commentary is important when you are helping others to edit their own work, but when you are the editor yourself, the goal is to produce a text which better communicates the ideas of the draft from which you begin, or coherently presents an alternative idea or ideas necessary to the improvement of the edited draft. If the goal here is to strengthen the original draft's analysis by presenting the alternative views, they needed to be worked in and dealt with, rather than being merely juxtaposed.

  • From a substantive point of view, it seems to me that your version of the story presents the same problem that Uchenna's original draft did: the Chinese campaign to purchase natural resources was a phenomenon linked to the "Chimerica" bubble that has now unquestionably popped. Chinese manufacturing capacity is no longer connected to an inexhaustible reservoir of American consumer demand, and the capital flows that saw China investing surplus value in competition with the "economic development" racket of the US are no longer headed for Africa and South America: they are urgently needed to maintain social stability inside a Chinese Empire whose growth rate has crashed. Whether the phenomena you are discussing were good or bad matters not at all: they are now over, and the situation of the Africans, whatever it might have been under other circumstances, has not now been made less dire because the Chinese poured a great deal of unserviceable concrete before they left.


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r4 - 08 Jan 2010 - 22:32:45 - IanSullivan
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