China’s role in Africa under scrutiny

Published Jun 9, 2013


Dozens of Chinese nationals face expulsion from Ghana for illegal gold mining and prostitution in a case that’s drawn new focus on China’s rush to tap African resources and ramp up investment on the continent.

Ghana would expel 166 Chinese citizens who were detained over the last week in the country’s gold-producing regions, Francis Palmdeti, the head of public affairs for Ghana’s Immigration Service, said on Thursday. Many lacked resident permits, he added.

The arrests highlight how thousands of ordinary Chinese have travelled to Africa in search of opportunity as China’s state companies tap the continent’s natural resources to power the world’s second-biggest economy. That has strained ties as African leaders voice new caution over investment from China, the continent’s biggest trading partner since 2009.

“If you have gold, then Chinese want to go there to mine it – it’s like the American gold rush,” He Wenping, the director of the African Research Section at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said from Beijing. “Many times they are not clear about Ghana’s laws since there are middlemen who bring them over and help them sign a contract.”

Trade between Africa and China has doubled since 2007 to more than $200 billion (R2 trillion) and Chinese investment stands at $20bn, according to Standard Bank.

While African nations welcome the investment and job creation that Chinese investment brings, leaders from Botswana’s Ian Khama to Nigerian central bank chief Lamido Sanusi have questioned whether the relationship has benefited Africa as much as it has China.

Africa needed to “wake up” to the realities of the relationship, Sanusi wrote in the Financial Times in March. The Chinese sell manufactured goods to Africa and buy resources, which was the essence of colonialism, he wrote.

In February, Zambia revoked the mining licence for a coal mine after workers rioted there in November and killed a Chinese manager. The mine, owned by a family of Chinese citizens, had failed to comply with at least 15 legal provisions, the country’s Minister of Mines Yamfwa Mukanga said.

China is also facing competition in Africa from other nations. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledged ¥3.2 trillion (R323bn) in public and private support to Africa during a conference in Tokyo last week.

The Chinese county of Shanglin issued a warning on Thursday against gold mining in Ghana and said it would help the miners return home by paying for their plane tickets, Xinhua News Agency reported. About 12 000 people from Shanglin county have engaged in gold mining in Ghana, Africa’s second-largest gold producer, since 2006, according to Xinhua.

“After Ghana’s government began to manage illegal gold mining, China’s embassy in Ghana has several times requested law enforcement authorities enforce laws in a civilised manner and stop certain individuals from robbing Chinese personnel,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said at a briefing on Friday.

China is investing heavily in the country’s resource sector since oil reserves were discovered offshore in 2007. In August 2011, Ghana approved a $3bn loan, the biggest in the country’s history, from the China Development Bank for projects including a natural gas plant.

The influx of illegal Chinese miners has angered Ghanaian farming communities who say their land and sources of drinking water are threatened by their activities. The Chinese use high-end industrial machinery including excavators to dig, while Ghanaian small-scale miners mostly use shovels and pickaxes.

The Chinese were welcome as long as they “come through the regulatory framework”, Isaac Kojo Abraham, a senior public relations officer at the Ghana Minerals Commission, said. “If they come to do illegal mining, the nation loses the fees and taxes they would have paid for their activities.” - Bloomberg

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