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05/01/2013

Chinese foreign aid in Africa

Nigeria_China

Chinese aid projects in Nigeria (China.aiddata.org)

A new opera house in Algeria. Traffic lights in Liberia’s capital city. A malaria prevention centre in Mozambique.

These are some of the aid programs China has financed in recent years in Africa.

A new study and database released by the Center for Global Development in Washington and AidData, a research group at William and Mary College, has turned up details on 1,673 Chinese development projects worth $75 billion in 50 African countries between 2000 and 2011.

The data’s release comes after years of China refusing to release details of its aid activities. That lack of transparency has worried some aid critics, who say China’s aid to Africa is growing by leaps and bounds as the continent has become a significant source of oil and mining riches.

China, which like western countries use aid to bolster influence in Africa’s 54 countries, is often criticized for offering aid without demanding local governments improve human rights.

China’s projects have also typically been built with Chinese labour and focus on benefitting China’s voracious appetite for oil, gas and minerals.

Criticism of China’s tactics were enough to prompt Lu Shaye, the director general of the Department of African Affairs at the Foreign Ministry, to defend his country’s practices in Africa, suggesting sending Chinese workers are more effective than locals.

“They work in three shifts a day and work all day and all night to speed up project schedules,” Lu said of Chinese workers. “Take government assistance projects as an example. China spends 95 percent of the money on the project and on the recipient countries, while the West may spend 80 percent on their own staff.”

The newly released data, however, shows that China is active the health and education sectors, and help build up government capacity and civil society, contrary to the public perceptions in the west that it is exclusively focused on natural resources.

Researchers found almost 1,000 projects worth $48.6 billion are underway or complete, according to a report in The Guardian newspaper. The rest either are still in the pipeline or won’t happen.

Rick Westhead is a foreign affairs writer at the Star. He was based in India as the Star’s South Asia bureau chief from 2008 until 2011 and reports on international aid and development. Follow him on Twitter @rwesthead

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