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China-Africa news: Kenya & China vs Taiwan, Nigeria’s deals, abalone

In 2014, Kenyan authorities arrested 77 ‘Chinese’ immigrants found “operating illegal communication and command centres in Nairobi.” Given the big number of suspected culprits and China’s dodgy global reputation for hacking, the arrest made news around the world. Kenyan authorities believed the group had targeted crucial national communication systems, and included espionage among possible motives.

It was later established that not all 77 were from China. Twenty-seven were from Taiwan, while one was from Thailand. And, Kenyan authorities did not have a strong case against them – at least not strong enough to support the early accusations. Two weeks ago, 32 were released after court acquitted them.

Kenya has always maintained that the 77 were in the country illegally. So after court acquitted them, they had to go back where they had come from. And that’s where the trouble started. Twenty-three of the 32 who had been cleared were from Taiwan, but were sent back to China; the Kenyan government claimed that was their last port of departure before entering Kenya. But Taiwan and China have a testy relationship, and the former has reacted strongly to the deportations.

Taiwan has called the deportations an “extrajudicial abduction”. Kenya’s conduct in the deportations, additionally, weakens its case: it apparently ignored a court order that the passports of the Taiwanese be returned to them as they sorted their status in the country.  China, however, claims that the Taiwanese citizens are part of a larger crime ring that operated in the country and defrauded Chinese citizens. That could be the case, but it looks like weightier – and territorial – considerations were behind China’s wish in having the Taiwanese suspects.

President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria was in China for a state visit and, as expected, signed several trade deals. One of those was a currency swap deal, opening the way for China’s currency, the renminbi, to “flow among different banks in Nigeria” and be added to Nigeria’s foreign exchange reserves. Nigeria already converted a tenth of its reserves into yuan five years ago. Nigeria’s foreign minister also said China offered a $6 billion loan to fund infrastructure projects.

SAIS-CARI’s loan dataset. The China-Africa Research Initiative at Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) however takes issue with the $6 billion loan offer to Nigeria. Or, more accurately, the way it has been reported. That kind of reporting gives a distorted picture of Chinese lending to Africa; it is a story about what China might offer Nigeria – based on what optimistic politicians said – which in most cases is not what it will offer. SAIS-CARI is hosting a roundtable on 21 April to unveil a new dataset of Chinese loans to Africa between 2000 and 2014; loans that were actually made, that is.

A decade or so ago, China had less than five institutes offering African studies. Today they are more than 30. Courses on Africa are also taught in at least 150 Chinese institutions of higher learning.

The political quarrel over South Africa and China’s ICT pact. The opposition Democratic Alliance is demanding to know why the name of one of the three signatories in the deal – signed last June – is redacted. The DA expressed concern over the pact when it was signed, saying South Africa didn’t need such a deal with a country that “has earned a reputation for suppressing freedom of expression of its citizens by clamping down on social media sites, erecting firewalls to restrict citizens’ access to news and information from outside sources, and mounting cyber-attacks on Western corporations.”

Abalone poaching in South Africa. Roads and Kingdoms looks at abalone poaching off the coast of Cape Town. The main market for the shellfish is China, and one of the most coveted varieties is found in only South Africa. The pawns in the lucrative abalone trade are South Africans disadvantaged by the country’s Apartheid history, who sell to drug gangs in the Western Cape, who then sell to Chinese syndicates.

Is the next Walter Palmer Chinese? Hunting is a growing hobby among China’s rich. African locations like Kenya and Namibia are among their favoured destinations, leading to fears that the “burgeoning Chinese interest in hunting could wreak further havoc on vulnerable animal populations”.

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