Tuesday, January 13, 2015

On recent post-colonial immigration to Africa

The ever-interesting blog 3 Quarks Daily linked earlier today to another article by Jenni Marsh in the South China Morning Post Magazine, "The town that China built: tourism boom at Zambia's Victoria Falls thanks to Chinese makeover".

"My husband is the best Chinese chef in Zambia," says Liu Xiuyi, a former takeaway employee from Chongqing. "Whenever the president has Chinese guests in Lusaka, my husband is hired to cook for them."

Twenty years ago, with no savings or formal education, the couple emigrated to Zambia when Liu's husband was hired as a chef by a Chinese state-owned construction company contracted to build roads in dusty Lusaka.

Now in their 50s, the Lius have just built a 15 million kwacha (HK$18.3 million) three-star hotel and restaurant, called the Golden Chopsticks, in the former British colonial outpost of Livingstone. They also own property in the Zambian capital; employ about 100 staff, local and Chinese; and rub shoulders with presidents and diplomats.

The Lius are among the estimated 20,000 to 100,000 Chinese living in the copper-rich southern African nation - weak census practices mean precise figures are elusive - and were among the first wave of daring migrants who sought their fortune here.

This Chinese immigrant presence in Zambia is part of a much larger wave of Chinese migration towards Africa. Yoon Jung Park and Anna Ying Chen's recent article "Recent Chinese Migrants in small Towns of Post-apartheid South Africa" takes a look at this migration in connection to South Africa. Much more broadly, Chinese migration to Africa is explored at length in American journalist Howard French's excellent recent book China's Second Continent, excerpted at Quartz and reviewed in The Economist. Substantial Chinese investment has been accompanied by substantial Chinese migration.

For more than a decade, the Chinese government has invested hugely in Africa. The foundation for this partnership was laid in 1996, when President Jiang Zemin proposed the creation of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) in a speech at the Organization of African Unity headquarters in Addis Ababa. Four years later, FOCAC convened triumphantly for the first time, gathering leaders from forty-four African countries in Beijing. China pledged, among other things, to double assistant to the continent, create a $5 billion African development fund, cancel outstanding debt, build new facilities to house the OAU (later replaced by the AfricanUnion), create “trade and economic zones” around the continent, build 30 hospitals and 100 rural schools, and train 15,000 African professionals. Fitch Ratings estimated that China’s Export-Import Bank extended $67.2 billion in loans to sub-Saharan African countries between 2001 and 2010—$12.5 billion more than the World Bank.

Although there are no official figures, evidence suggests that at least a million private Chinese citizens have arrived on African soil since 2001, many entirely of their own initiative, not by way of any state plan. This “human factor” has done as much as any government action to shape China’s image in Africa and condition its tics to the continent. By the timeI met Hao, in early 2011, merchants in Malawi, Namibia, Senegal, and Tanzania were protesting the influx of Chinese traders. In the gold-producing regions of southern Ghana, government officials were expelling Chinese wildcat miners. And in Zambia, where recent Chinese arrivals had established themselves in almost every lucrative sector of the economy, their presence had become a contentious issue in national elections.

As we left the capital, we passed the new national stadium, nearing completion by Chinese work crews at the edge of town. Built to support the country’s bid to host the 2013 continent-wide Africa Cup of Nations, it was a showcase gift from the Chinese government,intended as a statement of generosity and solidarity. China has become an avid practitioner of this kind of prestige-project diplomacy. I asked Hao whether a $65 million stadium was the best sort of gift for Mozambique, one of the ten poorest countries in the world.

“Chinese government projects in Mozambique have all failed,” he said. “That’s because the Chinese ganbu [bureaucrats] don’t know how to communicate on the same level with the blacks.” He shook his head and wagged a stubby index finger excitedly.

I asked him about his early days in the country. A prior attempt to do business overseas,in Dubai, had gone bad. Chinese agricultural experts there who had been on African aid missions planted a very powerful idea in his mind: Go to Africa, where you can acquire good land cheaply. He had flown to Maputo alone, and no one had greeted him at the airport. “I didn’t understand a fucking word thatwas being said to me.” On his own, he made his way into town and found a flophouse. Making little headway—he spoke neither Portuguese nor English—he soon gave in to the temptation to call up some fellow Chinese he had found online while still in China.

Post-colonial migration to Africa is not a new phenomenon. Even immediately after decolonization, large French communities grew in the politically stable and closely France-linked Côte d'Ivoire and Gabon, as did British immigration to South Africa. Elsewhere in Africa, Ghana came to host a relatively large community of African-Americans, attracted to Ghana by that country's early self-positioning as a home for the African diaspora.

More recently, European immigration to Africa has grown sharply, propelled by hard times in southern Europe as much as by African prosperity. Portuguese migration to oil-rich Angola and even Mozambique exploded after the beginning of the Great Recession. Most recently, there has even been migration south across the Strait of Gibraltar, from a recession-prone Spain to a Morocco that is at least experiencing some growth.

Morocco may seem like a strange preference for a Spaniard. With its GDP one-sixth of Spain’s and an unemployment rate estimated at 30 percent, “Morocco is in a deeper crisis than Spain,” says Mehdi Lahlou, an economics professor at Morocco’s National Institute for Statistics and Applied Economics. Still, Mr. Lahlou says it makes sense that Spaniards would consider moving to Morocco for work.

Spaniards do not need a visa to enter Morocco for a stay of up to three months, and only need to step on Spanish soil – which includes Spanish enclaves in Morocco, such as Ceuta and Melilla – to renew their stay. (Moroccans, on the other hand, must receive a visa to legally enter Spain.)

Plus, with the euro to Moroccan dirham exchange rate currently at 10 to 1, Lahlou says Spaniards who work for European companies in Morocco or come with savings from home can “live like kings” in the country. These advantages, he says, allow Spaniards to easily move back and forth between continents looking for work wherever it may arise.

Moving to Morocco was his best opportunity for employment, according to Martinez. But it has come at a price.

Martinez’s family has lived in Galicia, a region of northwest Spain, for generations. Rubbing his thumb on the heel of his hand, Martinez says Galicia is like a stain on the skin. “Moriña,” he said, a Galician word that means an intense longing for one's homeland. No matter where you go in the world you will always be Galician, says Martinez.

Though Tangier is only eight miles away from Spain, Morocco is “a world away,” says Martinez. From the call to prayer projected over loudspeakers five times per day to the disapproval of alcohol consumption, Martinez says Morocco feels very different from Spain.

Migration isn't simply a matter of people moving from poor countries to rich countries. It bears noting that migration in fact involves individuals who move from one area of the world to another in pursuit of opportunities. There's absolutely no reason why a stable Africa might not offer people with useful skills or experience more lucrative opportunities than in their homelands. Does Africa has a skills deficit? There may be plenty of people living around the world who would have these skills. Back in 2012, Hein de Haas wrote about what this migration, a reversal of the direction of migration we're used to, means.

This portrayal of "Africa = misery" is misleading in the first place, and goes back straight to colonial times, when Europeans fabricated stereotypes about African "backwardness", tribalism, chaos and poverty as a justification for their "civilizing" colonial mission.

Although violence and poverty have frequently occurred in several places and regions, other parts of Africa have been relatively prosperous and peaceful, and have in fact attracted migrants.

What many people ignore on top of that, is that some African economies are growing fast, and can nowadays offer better opportunities to skilled, entrepreneurial Europeans than the stagnating economies of Southern and European Europe. In addition, many African economies have been sheltered from the worst effects of the Global Economic Crisis because their banking sectors are less liberalized and therefore better protected.

It is impossible to predict what the future holds. Of course, if European economies pick up again, it is likely that emigration will fall and immigration increases again - Although it remains a question to what extent and when economic recovery occurs, as the current crisis seems to be a protracted one, and may last for many more years. It would also be dangerous to exaggerate African growth and to deny that many Africans continue to live in conditions of extreme poverty insecurity. And it would also be naive to think that Africans will stop migrating themselves.

However, it is important to go beyond colonial stereotypes of Africa as a continent of misery and to stop thinking that the whole world wants to come to Europe. In fact, this hardly concealing the idea the Europeans are superior.

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