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Lusaka — Chinese shopkeepers have barricaded their properties against gangs of looters in Zambia’s capital, Lusaka, as a presidential election sparked a backlash against Beijing’s growing influence in Africa.
Michael Sata, an opposition candidate, won 29 per cent of the vote after accusing China of “exploitation” and turning Zambia into a “dumping ground”.
Although President Levy Mwanawasa was re-elected with 43 per cent of the vote, Mr Sata won in areas most affected by Chinese investment. In Lusaka, he polled almost three times as many votes as the president.
China has become one of the key foreign powers in Africa as it searches for raw materials.
Chinese immigrants have opened shops in Lusaka, where their community has grown tenfold to about 30,000 in the past decade. But their presence has sparked great resentment.
Chinese businessmen are accused of underpaying workers, ignoring safety rules and driving local companies out of business with cheap, shoddy goods.
Last year, 46 miners died in an accident at Chambishi, a copper mine owned by Chinese investors. Three months ago, its workforce rioted over low wages and poor conditions.
“We want to work with the Chinese, but they must change,” said Mr Sata, the leader of the Patriotic Front.
“Their labour relations are very bad. They are not adding any value to what they claim is investment. Instead of creating jobs for the local workforce, they bring in Chinese workers to cut wood and carry water.
“We don’t want Zambia to be a dumping ground for their human beings.”
When it became clear that Mr Sata had lost the election, riots broke out in his Lusaka strongholds. Mr Sata said the Government had “robbed” him of victory by “stealing votes” from under the noses of “timid and toothless” election observers from the European Union.
Resentment over what his supporters believe was a rigged election caused the unrest. But looters soon began targeting Chinese-owned shops.
In Kamwala market, the Chinese owner of a clothes store locked his heavy metal door as looters ran down the street.
All the shops nearby, many of them Chinese-owned, were empty, their windows shuttered, their closed doors reinforced with metal bars.
People vented their anger over the Chinese in the nearby town of Garden. “Wherever you go — the market, the town centre — the Chinese are there and they are putting Zambians out of business,” said Joe Mamba, a 27-year-old cobbler.
“I make shoes with genuine leather. The Chinese people make bad shoes very much cheaper, so people go to them and I have no business.”
TIES THAT BIND
- China’s enthusiasm for Africa dates back to the 1950s when Chairman Mao presented himself as a spokesman for the developing world.SOURCE: TELEGRAPH
- Beijing is full of large embassies for small, once-socialist African states. China now has a pressing need for oil and minerals.
- China’s trade with Africa has quadrupled to $A55 billion in the past five years. Almost one-third of China’s oil comes from Africa, mainly from Angola, where a deal to develop a new field was signed in May, and from Sudan, where Beijing built a 1400-kilometre pipeline and invested at least $A20 billion.
- China has given Zimbabwe fighter and trainer jets and helped President Robert Mugabe build his retirement palace.
- In Sierra Leone and Angola the willingness of Chinese companies to do business without conditions has been blamed for encouraging corruption.
- In Gabon, Sinopec, China’s largest oil company, was last month ordered to stop prospecting for oil after being accused of blowing up protected rainforest.
(Posted on October 4, 2006)