Sunday 2 January 2011

Africa at last

It is very difficult to avoid the Chinese in Africa. They have been there a long while. Graham Greene mentioned the British Intelligence Service’s neuroses over Chinese activity in Zanzibar in The Human Factor. I passed the faded TAZARA railhead in Dar this morning, a 1970s Chinese gift to the peoples of Zambia and Tanzania, or more strategically a route for copper exports out of landlocked Zambia that bypassed apartheid South Africa.

Now it’s business. Scarcely a development goes up without a Chinese name on the construction boards. Take an African flight and the chances are you will be sharing it with a posse of immaculately dressed Chinese businessmen or officials. They drive a bargain as sharp as their suits. The Chinese are here for very self-interested purposes, recognising the long term economic potential of “undiscovered” Africa.  They have of course drawn ire from the Western poverty lobby for their rampant commercialism. I wonder how things will look in fifty years’ time? The selfish Chinese would have to have done remarkably badly to match the disasters of half a century’s Western attempts at development in Africa. We may find that the inscrutable men in suits deliver a lot more to the average African than all the pampered, Land Cruisered poverty parasites we send. 

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