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China-Africa news: Obama, East Africa and China, BRICS bank, Ghanaian shark fin, Chinese loan protests

President Barack Obama greets embassy staff and their families during a meet and greet at the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, July 25, 2015. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

President Barack Obama greets embassy staff and their families during a meet and greet at the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, July 25, 2015. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Barack Obama, the United States president, is in Kenya, the first stop on his East Africa tour. A lot of the reporting around the trip has focussed on the fact that his father was Kenyan, making this a homecoming of sorts for the president. He’s been to Kenya before, but never as president: he is also the first American president to visit Kenya.

Another focus has been China in Africa (just like last year, when Obama hosted African presidents in Washington). This New York Time’s story, for example, says one of Obama’s missions is to shore up “the economic ties between the two nations in the face of competition by China.” Emile Simpson, writing for Foreign Policy, says Obama-led America should leverage its influence in the region to provide an alternative to “Chinese cynicism.”

Uganda’s Prime Minister, Ruhakana Rugunda also weighed in, saying what most African politicians and policy makers probably think of the relationship between Africa and the global powers. “China has been very strong coming in and embarking on projects, seeing the projects mature and bringing in results,” Rugunda told Bloomberg. The US, meanwhile, “has had good policies, good intentions, but when it comes to concrete tangible big projects, you look for them and you need to look very hard in order to see them.”

The interesting thing is, China was “coming in” even as Obama was boarding the plane to Kenya. It pledged $17 million to renovate the very stadium where Obama was to address Kenya, two days before Obama’s trip to the country.

Kenyan cartoonist Celeste Wamiru illustrates the relationship aptly.

BRICS bank ratified. The New Development Bank received the ratification that matters the most: that of China’s Parliament, and hence the Chinese state. It is “one of two international development banks that China is promoting as an alternative to western institutions such as the World Bank.”

What can a communication’s minister learn from China? South Africa’s Minister of Communications Faith Muthambi visited Beijing this week, taking with her a delegation of both officials and managers of government-owned media. Cue an opposition party asking what insights the minister and her delegation hoped to gain “from a one-party state that was ranked 176 out of 180 countries in the 2015 World Press Freedom Index.” It does not help perceptions that a recent newspaper report said a task team set up by the Minister recommended the establishment of a government television station and the sidelining of critical media.

Ghana and shark fin soup. Fishermen in Ghana are “targeting sharks for slaughter” to meet growing demand from Asia.

Angola opposition protests Chinese loans. The opposition in Angola boycotted debates and a vote in Parliament protesting the government’s refusal to supply information about new loan deals struck with China. “How much did our president get from China? Nobody knows. How will we pay for it? Nobody knows,” Reuters quoted an MP as saying.

Rand falls on weak Chinese growth. South Africa’s rand fell to its lowest level against the dollar in 14 years, mainly on account of slow growth in China. The rand was already under pressure from the country’s deteriorating terms of trade (mainly because of depressed global metal prices) and domestic economic problems. The negative effects of China’s slump are being felt across Africa, not just in South Africa, which is not surprising given how fast trade between the two has grown.

Botswana officials learn Chinese. Forty eight Botswana officials from Botswana Police Service, Ministry of Trade and Industry and the Ministry of Labour and Home Affairs started taking basic Chinese lessons at the Confucius Institute at the University of Botswana (CIUB). The course, which is supposed to help them communicate better with Chinese nationals in the country, is sponsored by the Chinese embassy in Botswana and the Confucius Institute at the University of Botswana (CIUB).

Meanwhile, the biggest Confucius Institute in Africa is to be built in Kenya at the University of Nairobi. The institute will be funded by a grant from China. The same grant will renovate a stadium (as noted earlier) and assist in the repatriation of Somali refugees.

A win-win solution for China’s overcapacity challenges. Some manufacturing sectors in China – coal, glassmaking, cement, aluminium, and steel for example – are producing more than can be absorbed or used in the country, leading to losses (and exacerbating worrying social concerns like pollution). A Chinese government official told Reuters that the Chinese government is asking some of the manufacturers to move their production to other countries. Hebei Iron and Steel is currently building China’s largest overseas steel mill  in Limpopo province, South Africa.

Uganda mines finally set to produce copper again. Company officials of the Chinese firm Tibet Hima, which acquired Kilembe Mines from the Uganda government in 2013, announced that they will start processing copper this October. The company is reportedly currently drilling rocks and replacing old machinery, and is set to commence hard rock mining at the end of July.

Chinese firm signs deal to build coal power station in Zimbabwe. Officials from PER Lusulu Power, a consortium of local and foreign investors, announced on July 23 that it had signed an agreement with China State Construction Engineering Corp. Ltd for the construction of a 600 megawatt $1.1 billion coal plant in north-western Zimbabwe, which is to be the first of four phases of a 2,000 megawatt project. The project, set for completion in 2019, will be funded by Chinese banks, while China State Construction Engineering Corp will design and construct the plant and build power lines.

Huawei to install 4000 km fibre optic cable in Guinea. A statement from the Guinean office of the presidency said Chinese firm Huawei will “roll out 4,000 km of fibre optic cable in Guinea over the next two years to offer high-speed Internet access to most of the West African nation’s people.” The project will cost $238 million.

Where will Africa’s Chinese-style growth come from? Manufacturing – as a driver of rapid economic growth (think China and the Asian tigers) – is shrinking, writes Noah Smith at Bloomberg View. What options, then, does this trend leave for the world’s remaining poor countries?

An opportunity: Stellenbosch University’s Centre for Chinese Studies is looking for a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in East Asian (Chinese) and African Studies.

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