Thursday, April 2, 2009

The Chinese: Africa's Salvation, or Doom?

This kind of simplistic question dominated about a decade worth of news coverage of rising Chinese influence in Africa. Both answers, of course, are wrong. Chinese incursions, both economic and political, upended the old order but the influence was neither uniformly benign, nor entirely malign. That ship carrying guns and bullets to Zimbabwe's embattled government certainly was a low point, but Chinese money and skill also built plenty of road, port and rail projects. Plus many Africans I interviewed were pleased with the straightforwardness of their dealings with Chinese companies. They were about profit, not about "saving" Africa.... as the West has been trying to do with varying degrees of success for nearly two centuries.
One correspondent who consistently avoided the salvation-vs.-doom trap is Lydia Polgreen, the excellent West Africa correspondent for the New York Times. Her story this week out of Guinea reminds us the Chinese-Africa relationship, like all relationships, is complex.
It also reminds us, as the Post's Karin Brulliard did last week with her dispatch from Zambia, that when things in the world go wrong, Africans generally pay the price--whether or not they had any role in causing the problem.

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