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Sun, Mar 12, 2006 - Page 12 News List

China doing deals in African trouble spots, no questions asked


Xhu is using his arms more than his rudimentary English to haggle with two determined African women who want a discount on the hair extensions he sells in his busy but grimy shop in a suburb of Nairobi.

After his customers leave with their purchases, Xhu confides that his plastic extensions used by African women for braiding their hair are particularly popular, as is his Malaika (Kiswahili for angel) range of cosmetics for African women.

Xhu's African customers see nothing wrong in buying African products made in China.

"I prefer the Chinese to the Indian shops here because they are not as racist and give credit to their regular customers. We understand each other," says Mary Okello, one of Xhu's customers.

She lives in the sprawling slum of Kibera, said to be the largest in Africa with an estimated 1 million residents. She says she goes to see a Chinese acupuncturist when a member of her family falls sick.

"Her clinic is not far from my home and she is much cheaper than the hospital," Mary added.

Xhu's brother runs a general supplies store in Narok, a Masai town some 600km from the capital Nairobi. Both came to Kenya five years ago after quitting their jobs as small traders and taking out loans to seek their fortune in Africa.

"We believe more Chinese investments will come to Kenya due to the favorable business climate here, not only to increase employment and taxes for Kenya, but they also bring advanced technologies and management from China to Kenya," said Shao Weijian of the Chinese embassy's economic mission in Nairobi.

China's growing trade with Kenya in recent years not only cements its longstanding diplomatic ties with 47 of Africa's 53 states. As the world's second-largest consumer of crude oil, Africa's oil deposits are particularly high on Beijing's shopping list.

China is the world's second-largest economy after the US, and has a vast domestic market that consumes some 6 million barrels of oil a day.

Although trade with Africa only makes up 3 percent of China's total foreign trade, it was worth a record-breaking US$37 billion last year, according to Beijing's White Paper on Africa released in January.

Beijing says it seeks to establish "a new strategic partnership with Africa on a basis of `win-win' economic relationships with reinforced cultural exchanges."

China now gets 20 percent of all its total oil needs from the Gulf of Guinea and Sudan. But its relations with "rogue" African states have made the US and Europe suspicious.

Western nations, when giving aid to developing countries, often take into account the recipient's human rights and governance credentials. China's policy on Africa makes clear that it has no interest in mixing politics with business.

Sudan is a good example. Beijing bought 50 percent of Sudan's total oil exports last year, and its investments include 13 of the 15 largest foreign companies operating in the country.

The UN and a number of human rights organizations have repeatedly accused Khartoum of training and arming Arab militias known as janjaweed, who the US has accused of genocide in Sudan's western Darfur region.

China opposed a UN Security Council resolution authorizing sanctions against parties trying to disrupt the peace process in Sudan, despite being accused of acting only to safeguard its economic interest in the region.

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