NPR Series: China’s Rising Power in Africa

is broadcasting a five-part series about China’s pivotal new role on the African continent this week.

First is  a look at China’s historic ties to oil-exporting Sudan — ties that go back more than a century. Sudanese say their relationship with China is deeper than any oil well. 

The historic background provides some perspective on Sudan’s contemporary relationship with China, which revolves around oil and infrastructure. China does not get involved in domestic politics in its African partner-nations and has not used its diplomatic or investment weight to help resolve the conflict in Darfur, Sudan. The first part is now available on the NPR web site.

Despite its large investments in , China steers clear of moral issues, which is explored in Part 2. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Chinese have signed a multibillion-dollar agreement — dubbed the “deal of the century” — to develop the mining sector and build roads and hospitals, in exchange for minerals galore. Though many Westerners express suspicion about the Chinese deal, the Congolese say “tant pis” — pronounced “ton pee” — which means “too bad.” Instead of hemming and hawing on the sidelines about good governance and transparency, China came ready to play by Congo’s rules. Part 3 explores this relationship.

Part 4 looks at Zambia, where China is hungry for copper. The Zambian government is upbeat about Chinese investments and involvement. But there has been anti-Chinese unrest and rioting among Zambian copper workers over low pay, poor working conditions and alleged exploitation.

Lastly, Part 5 explores the other end of the story of how Chinese investment is changing Africa. China has funded huge infrastructure projects all over the continent. But the vanguard of China’s pioneers has been an army of small merchants fanning out throughout Africa, setting up “mom and pop” shops and market stores, selling cheap imports. Senegal, in West Africa, is one of the countries where they’ve settled, notably in one area of the capital, Dakar.

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