Putting Chinese investment into perspective
There is no doubt China’s economic influence is spreading in Africa – and Zambia – leading to a great deal of anxiety amongst our typical cooperating partners, who fear they are loosing important opportunities to a country playing by its own rules. The general perception is that a horde of Chinese state-owned companies are driving a second wave of colonialism in Africa, only thinking about exploiting the continent’s natural resources, with no regard to labour standards, good governance and environmental protection. However, a closer look at Chinese investment in Zambia paints a different picture. Let’s start with my own neighbourhood along the Mungwi Road. Here, alone, we have more than 10 Chinese investors. Their investment portfolio includes quarrying, chickens and other farming activities, steel, roofing sheets and other building materials, recycled paper, salaula (second-hand clothing), kitchen utensils – and perhaps a few activities hidden from the public eye behind walls. However, not only have they invested in a vast array of things, these companies are all privately driven, they employ hordes of Zambians and they are even building a clinic. The picture is also more nuanced when we look at our mainstay: copper. In fact, Chinese investors only accounted for 11% of Zambia’s copper production in 2013, according to the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, and the share is likely to have fallen since then as other non-Chinese projects have come online. Thus, it may be fair to say that the net-benefit of Chinese investment in Zambia is in fact benefitting the country.
Camilla Hebo Buus, Editor Zambia Weekly