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Congolese sceptical of Jinping visit

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New Chinese leader Xi Jinping. File photo: AFP

 Brazzaville - Congolese awaited a visit from China's new President Xi Jinping to the impoverished Republic of Congo starting on Friday, with many expressing doubt that he will bring job opportunities with him.

“Let him bring work! The majority of young people here are unemployed,” said Edgar, a 34-year-old carpenter in the capital Brazzaville, in an effort to be hopeful.

But others bitterly noted that was not the pattern for Chinese investment.

When Chinese companies install themselves in Africa, they often bring Chinese workers with them at the expense of the local workforce.

“What's this going to change?” asked a taxi driver when he heard of Xi's visit. “Whether he comes or not, what do I get out of it? I have nothing to gain,” said another driver.

Xi on Wednesday attended talks in the South African port city of Durban, where the BRICS group of emerging economic powers Ä

Brazil, Russia, China, India and South Africa Ä agreed to launch a new development bank, but failed to set up an infrastructure fund at their summit.

The Chinese leader addressed concerns that trade with his country was seen as too much of a one-way street and insisted that China was “committed to making our economy more open.”

In Brazzaville in front of Edgar's mother's store, where unemployed men loitered, drinking beer, Edgar said there was little choice for work.

“There are only two options that work: soldiering or being a chauffeur,” he said, pointing to the ranks of green and white taxis on the avenue bearing the name of the Republic of Congo's first president, Father Fulbert Youlou (1960-1963).

The Chinese leader's visit Ä the third stop on his African tour Ä will boost relations between Beijing and Brazzaville, which are already strong. Deals worth several billion dollars are due to be signed, including one to finance building more than 500 kilometres (310 miles) of highway between Brazzaville and the economic capital on the Atlantic Coast, Pointe-Noire.

One hotel worker saw it as good news. “This is going to bring a lot of work to the Congo. That's the most important thing,” said Rosine, 32.

But while many people in Brazzaville dream of more jobs, they regret that China “imports” its labour from home, placing the labourers in accommodation near their construction sites. This has happened close to Maya Maya airport, where Xi is scheduled to inaugurate new buildings. Some call the facility the “jewel” of Congo Ä or even of central Africa.

“It's like we don't have able hands in the Congo. If you import labour when there are no able people or specialists, that's OK. But they even bring their chauffeurs. There's no transfer of abilities,” said Lewis, 46, a teacher at a training college.

“They should recruit Congolese people as a priority,” adds Edgar, wearing a Che Guevara pendant.

Another source of frustration is that the few Congolese who are employed get meagre wages. Most of them blame the government for failing to fix a decent minimum wage for work that is often tough.

“We have oil, we have wood, we're surrounded by the river. We have everything! There's no need for us to suffer,” said a civil servant close to President Denis Sassou-Nguesso's regime.

He added that the average monthly salary in Congo was about 50,000 CFA francs (75 euros / 97 dollars).

The government worker had seven friends with him. “We have all studied and yet only one of us is a civil servant,” one said. “ We're beggars, tramps.” - Sapa-AFP


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