China Invests in Africa's Natural Wealth Over the past decade, China and Africa have developed a strong relationship. Trade has grown to $40 billion. And Chinese investment has poured into copper mines and oil fields, helping to boost African economies.
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China Invests in Africa's Natural Wealth

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China Invests in Africa's Natural Wealth

China Invests in Africa's Natural Wealth

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Here's where some of China's money has gone in Africa. It has improved roads and infrastructure, it's poured into copper mines and oil fields, and it has boosted the economies of several African nations all in exchange for Africa's natural resources.

NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton reports on how this relationship looks now from Africa.

(Soundbite of movie fight scene)

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON: In most parts of Africa 20 years ago, kung-fu kick flicks like this movie and Chinese restaurants were the staple diet from China. But that changed with the arrival of Chinese traders. Adama Gaye, author of a new book called China-Africa: The Dragon and the Ostrich, remembers their arrival in his own country, Senegal, in the 1980s. He says now they're ubiquitous.

Mr. ADAMA GAYE (Author, China-Africa: The Dragon and the Ostrich): Contrary to the first wave of colonism by the Western nations and European nations through the barrel of the guns or by using the Bible to convert people, this time around, China came in a stealthy way in Africa with ordinary people who started coming to start more businesses. Everywhere, Chinese are around.

Unidentified Group: (Speaking foreign language)

(Soundbite of laughter)

QUIST-ARCTON: Traders compete with customers at the central market here in the Congolese capital, Kinshasa. On show are rows and rows of Chinese consumer goods you find stacked up on shop shelves all over Africa.

Ms. CHANTAL KALIBA(ph): (Speaking foreign language)

QUIST-ARCTON: China, China all from China, says Chantal Kaliba, a Congolese trader, sweeping her arms across the goods for sale on her market store: kettles, plates, cutlery and an array of cooking pots.

Ms. BEANA JOSI(ph): (Speaking foreign language)

QUIST-ARCTON: (Speaking foreign language) chips in another trader, Beana Josi, using a market expression meaning cheap fakes to describe the Chinese items on sale. That's one of the main concerns here in Africa, that cheap Chinese imports are flooding the continental market. Garth Shelton of South Africa's Wits University says there's a huge trade imbalance that favors China with a population double the size of Africa's.

Professor GARTH SHELTON (Professor of Strategic Studies, Wits University): We need to ensure that our relationship with China benefits both sides. We do find that China seems to have the major advantage. We're engaging a very large economy of 1.3 billion people. The advantage must be in their favor, so we need to be very careful in our engagement with China.

Mr. OFAH ADAMADAI(ph): They are smart partners; they are very clever. They're saying the nice things.

QUIST-ARCTON: Ofah Adamadai(ph) says China is virtually irresistible when it comes knocking at Africa's door, offering trade, low-level interest loans and massive investment.

Mr. ADAMADAI: They come in and they present their introduction to Africa in a diplomatic way, saying that we are here for mutual benefit, mutual profit. We are the biggest underdeveloped nation dealing with the biggest underdeveloped continent, and China is saying to start an east-south relationship.

QUIST-ARCTON: Across town from the central market here in Kinshasa, Congolese traders are selling brightly printed cloth popular throughout west and central Africa. Here, too, cheaper Chinese textiles have muscled in on what used to be a flourishing local industry. But that's globalization, says elegantly dressed Enriqueta Salvador(ph) as she selects from yards of patterned fabric on offer.

Ms. ENRIQUETA SALVADOR: (Through translator) Yes, these days you find lots of printed cloths from China all over Africa. That's free markets for you. People complain that it's poor quality; but if you know how to take care of this Chinese fabric, it lasts a long time.

QUIST-ARCTON: And China's new relationship with Africa looked set to last. But Africans are mindful of the continent's painful colonial past with current competing foreign interest here. Speaking at the African Union summit earlier this year, the U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan's words served as a reminder.

Secretary-General KOFI ANNAN (United Nations): The first scramble for Africa was for land, territories, natural resources and slaves. We are still feeling the devastating impact of that period. Let not history repeat itself.

QUIST-ARCTON: Ordinary Africans will be watching carefully to see how their leaders and China, the emerging superpower and the continent's newfound friend, behave.

Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News, Kinshasa.

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