China’s Twilight Years: The country’s population is aging and shrinking. That means big consequences for its economy—and America’s global standing.

“It really doesn’t matter what happens now with the fertility rate,” a demographer at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences told me. “The old people of tomorrow are already here.” She predicted that in another decade or two, the social and fiscal pressures created by aging in China will force what many Chinese find inconceivable for the world’s most populous nation: a mounting need to attract immigrants. “When China is old, though, all the countries we could import workers from will also be old,” she said. “Where are we to get them from? Africa would be the only place, and I can’t imagine that.”

Copyright The Atlantic – June 2016

On opposite sides of the globe, two debates that will profoundly affect the future of the United States, and indeed the world, are raging. One of them has become shrilly public, while the other remains almost secret. On the surface they might seem to have little to do with each other, but at bottom, they are inextricably linked.

The first debate, which is unfolding in America, concerns immigration. Republicans like Donald Trump and Ted Cruz have staked out some of the more radical positions in this debate, such as urging that the U.S. build a wall to keep out illegal immigrants and that it deport the millions who are already here. The other debate, which is playing out in Beijing, is about how big a navy China should build, and how much it should contest America’s primacy in the world’s oceans.

To a degree scarcely suspected by most people, both debates—and more generally, America’s chances of maintaining its standing in the world—are bound up in the two countries’ sharply contrasting population dynamics.

Under President Xi Jinping, China has until very recently appeared to be a global juggernaut—hugely expanding its economic and political relations with Africa; building artificial islands in the South China Sea, an immense body of water that it now proclaims almost entirely its own; launching the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, with ambitions to rival the World Bank. The new bank is expected to support a Chinese initiative called One Belt, One Road, a collection of rail, road, and port projects designed to lash China to the rest of Asia and even Europe. Projects like these aim not only to boost China’s already formidable commercial power but also to restore the global centrality that Chinese consider their birthright.

As if this were not enough to worry the U.S., China has also showed interest in moving into America’s backyard. Easily the most dramatic symbol of this appetite is a Chinese billionaire’s plan to build across Nicaragua a canal that would dwarf the American-built Panama Canal. But this project is stalled, an apparent victim of recent stock-market crashes in China.

Many economists believe that these market plunges are early manifestations of a historic slowdown in the Chinese economy, one that is bringing the country’s soaring growth rates down to earth after three decades of expansion. But the current slowdown pales in comparison with a looming societal crisis: In the years ahead, as China’s Baby Boomers reach retirement age, the country will transition from having a relatively youthful population, and an abundant workforce, to a population with far fewer people in their productive prime.

The frightening scope of this decline is best expressed in numbers. China today boasts roughly five workers for every retiree. By 2040, this highly desirable ratio will have collapsed to about 1.6 to 1. From the start of this century to its midway point, the median age in China will go from under 30 to about 46, making China one of the older societies in the world. At the same time, the number of Chinese older than 65 is expected to rise from roughly 100 million in 2005 to more than 329 million in 2050—more than the combined populations of Germany, Japan, France, and Britain.

The consequences for China’s finances are profound. With more people now exiting the workforce than entering it, many Chinese economists say that demographics are already becoming a drag on growth. More immediately alarming are the fiscal costs of having far more elderly people and far fewer young people, starting with the expense of creating the country’s first modern national pension system.

Unlike residents of China’s prosperous eastern cities, hundreds of millions of peasants and migrant laborers have scant personal savings and rudimentary retirement coverage, if any. “One goal is to extend pension coverage to everyone,” says an economist with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, in Beijing. “But that will be very expensive, because most people haven’t paid anything into the system at all. Basically, what this means is a wealth transfer.” Providing health care to these same disadvantaged classes will also be vastly expensive.Mark L. Haas, a Duquesne University political scientist, has for some time warned of a looming contest between guns and canes—a variant on the old idea of guns versus butter—as the world’s major countries grapple with demographic change. “China’s political leaders beginning in roughly 2020 will be faced with a difficult choice: allow growing levels of poverty within an exploding elderly population, or provide the resources necessary to avoid this situation,” Haas writes in Political Demography. If China’s government decides in favor of the latter option, Haas argues, American power will benefit. More broadly, he foresees a coming “geriatric peace,” as nations around the world find themselves too burdened to challenge America’s military preeminence.

To see the entire article, please click here.

Dear Obama: Corruption Isn’t Just Africa’s Problem

Copyright Foreign Policy

What the U.S. president didn’t say in his big Nairobi speech.

For an American president celebrated by many of his listeners as a returning native son, Barack Obama’s recent speech in a Nairobi stadium was a strange way to promote what he called an Africa “on the move.”

Yes, there were plenty of feel-good moments in Nairobi, where a smiling Obama dined with family, dropped occasional phrases in Swahili, and danced with an easy grace to African rhythms before the cameras. It all thoroughly charmed an audience eager to embrace him.

But if one listened carefully, boiling down the message of the first Kenyan-American president (as he called proudly himself on this trip), what remained was an odd mixture of anachronistic and patronizing tropes plucked from the musty rucksack of American policy discourse toward the continent since the end of the Cold War.

Sure, there were lots of references to fighting terrorism and to other relatively recent U.S. priorities, including the highly laudable goals of educating more girls and giving them equal opportunity, and defending the rights of lesbians and gays.

Yet the themes he hammered away at most insistently stemmed from timeless caricatures of Africa.

Yet the themes he hammered away at most insistently stemmed from timeless caricatures of Africa.He spoke of wanting to do business with the continent on the basis of “trade not aid,” falsely furthering the old impression that Africa is a sinkhole for American development assistance, when in fact far more goes to other parts of the world. He repeated the almost insulting truism that things work out best when Africans strive to solve their own problems – as if Africans have not been striving to do so all along.

Obama’s speech presented two major problems. The first is that even Obama’s tentative efforts to praise the continent’s potential — he spoke, for example, of surging mobile phone usage rates — didn’t adequately convey the scale and pace of change that Africa has seen in the last decade or so. One would scarcely have gotten a sense of this from his words, or indeed from most American news coverage of Africa, but the last fifteen years has been a time of general reduction in conflict, of democratic consolidation in many places, and especially of economic growth. Far from waiting on the kindness of outsiders, who built few schools for them during decades of colonial rule, African countries are now, on average, investing impressive amounts(measured as a percentage of GDP) in education.

Second, and closely related to the president’s disappointingly traditional messaging, is the fact that the United States has remained relatively detached from and even irrelevant to many of these changes. A consistent question among Obama’s audiences in Kenya and Ethiopia, as well as among virtual ones across the continent, heard in journalists’ interviews, in fact, was, “Where oh where are the Americans?”

The continent has famously seen a huge boom in the presence of Chinese people and of Chinese business interests – both trade and investment – in the last decade or so. Less well publicized, but just as real, many African countries are drawing strong new interest from a wide variety of foreign governments and business people, including non-traditional partners like Turkey, Vietnam, Russia, Malaysia, and Brazil. During this same period, the American presence on the continent has flagged, and numbers measuring US economic engagement have stagnated. Obama himself spent less than 24 hours in sub-Saharan Africa during his first term, and put off what will likely be regarded as his most important visit to the continent until late in his second term.

By contrast, China’s top leaders – either its president or prime minister – have been visiting Africa on a near-annual basis.

By contrast, China’s top leaders – either its president or prime minister – have been visiting Africa on a near-annual basis. To read the whole article, please click here.

Samori Tour̩ Рa quick reading list

I have long been fascinated with this figure, both in terms of the substance of the man’s life and in the way he has been treated or mistreated by history, and in popular culture. He easily ranks as one of the most interesting and important African figures of the second half of the nineteenth century, and yet substantive writing on him has always been scarce, especially in terms of what’s been written for general audiences. (What a great topic for a graphic novel, a comic book series, especially  for African audiences, for film.) I have written about him myself, briefly, in a piece of historically inspired fiction that I hope to soon publish (he is not a central figure, but rather an inspiration for more modern characters). What brought me back to the subject late in the evening, during my ongoing visit to Côte d’Ivoire, was the stumbling upon this archival piece from the New York Times, which dates to 1898 – extraordinary in its own right, for what it says, and what it doesn’t. Calling Touré an “African chieftain” exemplifies the casual and ever-present ways that African history and African agency have always been downplayed. The message is, the details don’t much matter. Move right along.

Anyway, with no further ado, the readings. The first two items are particularly essential. The others are listed in no particular order:

 

  • Person, Yves (1968–1975). Samori, Une révolution Dyula. 3 volumes,. Dakar: IFAN. p. 2377 pages. (review attached. This seems to be the most ambitious account of his life and era.)
  • Firearms, Horses and Samorian Army Organization 1870-1898
  • Martin Legassick
  • The Journal of African History
  • Vol. 7, No. 1 (1966), pp. 95-115 (Excellent and comprehensive on the military, including weapons supply and tactics.)

The French Conquest of Northwest Ivory Coast: The Attempt of the Rulers of Kabadugu to Control the Situation (La conquête française dans le nord-ouest de la Côte d’Ivoire. Tentatives des chefs de Kabadugu pour tirer parti de la situation)

Author

O’Sullivan, John M

Citation

Cahiers d’Études Africaines, 1/1/1983, ISSN: 0008-0055, Volume 23, Issue 89/90, p. 121

OCLC No. 35026587
Title L’Empereur Almamy Samori Touré [microform] : grand administrateur et grand stratège
Imprint [Conakry, Guinea : Imprimerie nationale, 1971]
Series Révolution démocratique africaine ; no 48
Physical description 243 p. : port. ; 24 cm

 

L’Almami Samori Touré Empereur : récit historique

Author

Fofana, Khalil I.

Published

Paris, France : Présence Africaine, 1998.

 

Kuma Malinke historiography : Sundiata Keita to Almamy Samori Toure

Author

Kai, Nubia

Published

Lanham ; Boulder ; New York ; London : Lexington Books, [2014]

 

  • Boahen, A. Adu (1990). Africa Under Colonial Domination, 1880-1935. Berkeley: University of California Press. p. 357 pages. ISBN 0-520-06702-9.

Déportés politiques au bagne de Ndjolé, Gabon, 1898-1913 : l’Almamy Samory Touré, Cheikh Amadou, Bamba Mbacké, Dossou Idéou, Aja Kpoyizoun, et les autres

Author

Mouckaga, Hugues, 1959-

Published

Paris : Harmattan, c2013.

  • Ajayi, J.F. Ade, ed. UNESCO General History of Africa, Vol. VI: Africa in the Nineteenth Century until the 1880s, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989).
  • Boahen, A. Adu, ed. UNESCO General History of Africa, Vol. VII: Africa Under Colonial Domination, 1880-1935. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985).
  • Gann, L.H. and Duigan, Peter, ed. Colonialism in Africa, 1870–1960, Vol. 1: The History and Politics of Colonialism 1870-1914, (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1969).

Centenaire du souvenir : Almami Samori Touré, 1898-1998 : symposium international de Conakry, du 29 septembre au 1er octobre 1998 : les actes du symposium

Author

Symposium international “Centenaire du souvenir, Almami Samori Touré, 1898-1998” (1998 : Conakry, Guinea)

Published

Conakry : Éditions Universitaires, 2000.

 

Should the United States Fear China in Africa?

The best reasons to pay attention to Africa are inherent to Africa itself. They go to extraordinary demographics, with an upside at least as full of opportunity as the downside is full of risk. They go to the immense opportunity for both Africans and Americans represented by economic growth on the continent, which needs to be enhanced and broadened.

Copyright The Washington Post

Should the West fear China’s growing influence on the African continent? While there is no question that China and Chinese companies are changing the way African politicians seek aid and investment, the relationship between the two sides is far more complicated than simple narratives about “democracy or dictatorship” or “trade not aid” suggest. Veteran journalistHoward W. French explores this complexity in his book, “China’s Second Continent: How a Million Migrants are Building a New Empire in Africa.” He graciously took the time to answer my questions about the book and China’s role in Africa.

LS: Much of the discourse in American politics is that the U.S. should be afraid of China’s role in Africa because China is undemocratic or “trying to take over.” Is this a fair approach? Why or why not?

HF: I’m afraid the American discourse on China and Africa is very confused and generally not very insightful. Part of that is driven by the recent, still startled realization in this society of just how serious a competitor China is becoming, and part of that reflects the baggage of very old and nearly immutable American attitudes toward Africa, which are bound up in paternalism and in using Africa as a kind of vanity mirror to help us brighten our own self-image and feel better about ourselves.

Make no mistake, China is competing with the United States, and an important element of that is going where its major rival, namely us, is thinly represented on the ground, lightly engaged in terms of political, economic and policymaking resources — in other words, places where the United States has been coasting or has simply not brought its “A Game.” This background has a lot to do with why China has made such a big and concerted push into Africa in the last 10 to 15 years, and why, not coincidentally, the United States didn’t really sit up and pay attention until fairly recently. Even with that, we are stuck with old policy paradigms in Africa that hark back to the Clinton administration, of favoring selected autocrats who can keep order locally in their regions, cooperate with the United States in its extra-African policy priorities, especially those related to radical Islam and the “war on terror,” and we do so, furthermore, in the naive conviction that the autocrats also offer a better chance at generating and sustaining economic growth. This is how, for example, Barack Obama came to announce Ethiopia as the political highlight of his coming, near-end-of-presidency visit to the continent, and adding a visit by the leader of democratic Nigeria, an immensely important country, only as an apparent afterthought and in response to a certain outcry.

In the final analysis, though, the reason to pay attention to Africa is not China. We need to get over the idea that one needs an excuse to pay attention to Africa. That, too, is a holdover from the Clinton era, when they came up with out-migration and the threat of epidemic diseases as an excuse to have a look in on the continent, perhaps as a response to Robert Kaplan. The best reasons to pay attention to Africa are inherent to Africa itself. They go to extraordinary demographics, with an upside at least as full of opportunity as the downside is full of risk. They go to the immense opportunity for both Africans and Americans represented by economic growth on the continent, which needs to be enhanced and broadened. They go to urbanization. And, finally, they go to matters of universal interest related to the environment, in other words, helping ensure that Africa, which is a late-starter in many economic processes, can both maximize its potential and get things right environmentally. As long as we cast our interest in Africa in negative frames, of security, or rivalry with China, we’ll continue to miss this hugely important big picture. Similarly, as long as we continue to play small ball, politically, calling an Africa policy the occasional gathering of “young entrepreneurs,” hosting four or five African leaders together at once for a photo op at the White House, and making a mere one or two visits to the continent at the presidential level per term, we’ll be failing to engage the continent’s potential and simply missing out.

To read the entire interview, please follow this link.

The Plunder of Africa: How Everybody Holds the Continent Back

African countries’ unequal relationships with powerful international financial organizations and large multinational firms help explain the “resource curse” so frequently lamented in discussions of the continent’s economies. Rather than issuing from some mysterious invisible force, the curse is to a large degree the product of greed and the disparities in leverage between rich and poor—and its effects are undeniable. Burgis quotes a 2004 internal IFC review that found that between 1960 and 2000, “poor countries that were rich in natural resources grew two to three times more slowly than those that were not.” Without exception, the IFC found, “every country that borrowed from the World Bank did worse the more it depended on extractive industries.” 


Copyright Foreign Affairs

The Plunder of Africa

How Everybody Holds the Continent Back

Discussions about the fate of Africa have long had a cyclical quality. That is especially the case when it comes to the question of how to explain the region’s persistent underdevelopment. At times, the dominant view has stressed the importance of centuries of exploitation by outsiders, from the distant past all the way to the present. Scholars such as the economist William Easterly, for example, have argued that even now, the effects of the African slave trade can be measured on the continent, with areas that experienced intensive slaving still showing greater instability, a lack of social trust, and lower growth. Others observers have focused on different external factors, such as the support that powerful countries offered corrupt African dictatorships during the Cold War and the structural-adjustment policies imposed by Western-led institutions in the 1980s—which, some argue, favored disinvestment in national education, health care, and other vital services.

At other times, a consensus has formed around arguments that pin the blame on poor African leadership in the decades since most of the continent achieved independence in the 1960s. According to this view, the outside world has been generous to Africa, providing substantial aid in recent decades, leaving no excuse for the continent’s debility. There’s little wrong with African countries that an end to the corruption and thievery of their leaders wouldn’t fix, voices from this camp say. Western media coverage of Africa has tended to provide fodder for that argument, highlighting the shortcomings and excesses of the region’s leaders while saying little about the influence of powerful international institutions and corporations. It’s easy to understand why: Africa’s supply of incompetent or colorful villains has been so plentiful over the years, and reading about them is perversely comforting for many Westerners who, like audiences everywhere, would rather not dwell on their own complicity in the world’s problems.

Reading about African villains is perversely comforting for many Westerners who, like audiences everywhere, would rather not dwell on their own complicity in the world’s problems.

One of the many strengths of Tom Burgis’ The Looting Machine is the way it avoids falling firmly into either camp in this long-running debate. Burgis, who writes about Africa for the Financial Times, brings the tools of an investigative reporter and the sensibility of a foreign correspondent to his story, narrating scenes of graft in the swamps of Nigeria’s oil-producing coastal delta region and in the lush mining country of the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, while also sniffing out corruption in the lobbies of Hong Kong skyscrapers, where shell corporations engineer murky deals that earn huge sums of money for a host of shady international players. Although Burgis’ emphasis is ultimately on Africa’s exploitation by outsiders, he never loses sight of local culprits.

GIMME THE LOOT

Sure signs that Burgis is no knee-jerk apologist for African elites arrive early in the book, beginning with his fascinating and lengthy account of “the Futungo,” a shadowy clique of Angolan insiders who he claims control their country’s immense oil wealth, personally profiting from it and also using it to keep a repressive ruling regime in power. The country’s leader, José Eduardo dos Santos, has been president since 1979, and in 2013, Forbes magazine identified his daughter, Isabel, as Africa’s first female billionaire. “When the International Monetary Fund [IMF] examined Angola’s national accounts in 2011,” Burgis writes, it found that between 2007 and 2010, “$32 billion had gone missing, a sum greater than the gross domestic product of each of forty-three African countries and equivalent to one in every four dollars that the Angolan economy generates annually.” Meanwhile, according to Burgis, even though the country is at peace, in 2013 the Angolan government spent 18 percent of its budget on the Futungo-dominated military and police forces that prop up dos Santos’ rule—almost 40 percent more than it spends on health and education combined.

Those who tend to blame Africa’s woes on elite thievery seize on such examples with relish. But Burgis tells a much fuller story. Angola’s leaders may seem more clever and perhaps possess more agency than other African regimes—and indeed, other African states seem to be eagerly adopting the Angolan model. But the regime relies on the complicity of a number of actors in the international system—and the willful ignorance of many others—to facilitate the dispossession of the Angolan people: Western governments, which remain largely mute about governance in Angola; major banks; big oil companies; weapons dealers; and even the IMF. They provide the political cover, the capital, and the technology necessary to extract oil from the country’s rich offshore wells and have facilitated the concealment (and overseas investment) of enormous sums of money on behalf of a small cabal of Angolans and their foreign enablers. Because Angola’s primary resource, oil, is deemed so important to the global economy, and because its production is so lucrative for others, Angola is rarely pressed to account for how it uses its profits, much less over questions of democracy or human rights. Burgis shows how even the IMF, after uncovering the $32 billion theft, docilely reverted to its role as a facilitator of the regime’s dubious economic programs.

 

Angolan President Jose Eduardo dos Santos leaves a meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, April 2014.

 

For those who insist that foreign aid to Africa compensates for the role that rich countries, big businesses, and international organizations play in plundering the continent’s resource wealth, Burgis has a ready rejoinder. “In 2010,” he writes, “fuel and mineral exports from Africa were worth $333 billion, more than seven times the value of the aid that went in the opposite direction.” And African countries generally receive only a small fraction of the value that their extractive industries produce, at least relative to the sums that states in other parts of the world earn from their resources. As Burgis reveals, that is because multilateral financial institutions, led by the World Bank and its International Finance Corporation (IFC), often put intense pressure on African countries to accept tiny royalties on the sales of their natural resources, warning them that otherwise, they will be labeled as “resource nationalists” and shunned by foreign investors. “The result,” Burgis writes, “is like an inverted auction, in which poor countries compete to sell the family silver at the lowest price.”

Meanwhile, oil, gas, and mining giants employ crafty tax-avoidance strategies, severely understating the value of their assets in African countries and assigning the bulk of their income to subsidiaries in tax havens such as Bermuda, the Cayman Islands, and the Marshall Islands. Some Western governments tolerate and even defend such arrangements, which increase the profits of Western companies and major multinational firms. But these tax dodges further shrink the proceeds that African states earn from their resources. According to Burgis, in Zambia, one of the world’s top copper producers, major mining companies pay lower tax rates than the country’s poor miners themselves. Partly as a result, he reports, in 2011, “only 2.4 percent of the $10 billion of revenues from exports of Zambian copper accrued to the government.” Ghana, a major gold producer, fared slightly better, with foreign mining companies paying seven percent of the revenue they earned in taxes—still a tiny amount, Burgis points out, “compared with the 45 to 65 percent that the IMF estimates to be the global average effective tax rate in mining.”

A RACE TO THE BOTTOM

African countries’ unequal relationships with powerful international financial organizations and large multinational firms help explain the “resource curse” so frequently lamented in discussions of the continent’s economies. Rather than issuing from some mysterious invisible force, the curse is to a large degree the product of greed and the disparities in leverage between rich and poor—and its effects are undeniable. Burgis quotes a 2004 internal IFC review that found that between 1960 and 2000, “poor countries that were rich in natural resources grew two to three times more slowly than those that were not.” Without exception, the IFC found, “every country that borrowed from the World Bank did worse the more it depended on extractive industries.”

A case in point is the arid, Sahelian country of Niger, which for decades has served as a major supplier of uranium to France, its former colonial master. According to Burgis, the French company Areva pays tiny royalties for Niger’s uranium—an estimated 5.5 percent of its market value. And the details of the company’s contracts with Niger’s government are not publicly disclosed. Reflecting on this situation during an interview with Burgis, China’s ambassador to Niger adopts a posture of moral outrage, proclaiming that Niger’s “direct receipts from uranium are more or less equivalent to those from the export of onions.”

Rather than issuing from some mysterious invisible force, the “resource curse” is to a large degree the product of greed and the disparities in leverage between rich and poor.

This is a telling exchange, since many Africans believed that Chinese investment and influence on the continent would offer a way to lift the resource curse. Many greeted the arrival of the Chinese as big economic players in the region, which began in the mid-1990s, with great enthusiasm—especially the leaders of states whose economies depend heavily on minerals. China’s share of the global consumption of refined metals rose from five percent in the early 1990s to 45 percent in 2010; its oil consumption increased fivefold during the same period. In 2002, Chinese trade with Africa was worth $13 billion; a mere decade later, that figure had soared to $180 billion, three times the value of U.S. trade with 
the continent.

The hope was that with China directly competing with Africa’s economic partners in the West, African countries would win better terms for themselves. But as Burgis makes painfully clear, what has happened more often is a race to the bottom, in which Chinese firms focus their attention on African countries that face sharp credit restrictions or economic boycotts from the West, owing to coups d’état or human rights abuses. In many such countries, including Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Guinea, the Chinese have extended easy financing to governments, crafting secretive deals that reward Chinese investors with even more lopsided terms than Western governments and firms tend to enjoy. “Access to easy Chinese loans might have looked like a chance for African governments to reassert sovereignty after decades of hectoring by the [World] Bank, the IMF, and Western donors,” Burgis writes, but, “like a credit card issued with no credit check, it also removed a source of pressure for sensible economic management.” In addition to this, critics point out that Chinese companies frequently bring in their own workers from China, providing little employment for Africans and few opportunities for Africans to master new skills and technologies.

 

DAVID LEWIS / REUTERSAn open-pit mine outside the southern Democratic Republic of Congo copper town of Lubumbashi, February 2006.

Some of Burgis’ strongest work follows the dealmaking of a shadowy Hong Kong–based outfit called the 88 Queensway Group, which was founded by a man sometimes known as Sam Pa, whose background is reportedly in Chinese intelligence. By tracing a complex web of corporate relations, Burgis shows how Pa’s group has put together lucrative deals in one African country after another, since starting seemingly from scratch in Angola during the early phases of China’s push into Africa.

In Burgis’ telling, one mission of Pa’s 88 Queensway Group and its associated companies, including China Sonangol and the China International Fund, seems to be offering the Chinese government plausible deniability when it comes to major transactions and contracts with some of Africa’s most corrupt and violent regimes. But some African elites at the receiving end of Pa’s entreaties have been left with little doubt that dealing with Queensway would in fact put them in contact with the highest levels of the Chinese state. Mahmoud Thiam served as the minister of mines in Guinea under President Moussa Dadis Camara, a junta leader who faced international outrage after his forces opened fire on a peaceful opposition rally in September 2009, killing at least 150 and gang-raping many who tried to flee the assault. In 2009, Thiam traveled to China at Queensway’s invitation and later told Burgis about being whisked around Beijing by Pa’s associates. “If they were not a government entity, they definitely had strong backing and strong ties,” Thiam recalled. “The level of clearances they had to do things that are difficult in China, the facility they had in getting people to see us [and] the military motorcade gave us the impression that they were strongly connected.” In the case of Guinea and other places, Burgis reports that Queens­way was able to provide tens of millions of dollars to African governments on short notice, with virtually no strings attached, sometimes to help bail out leaders presiding over economic crises and sometimes merely to prove the company’s bona fides.

The hope was that with China directly competing with Africa’s economic partners in the West, African countries would win better terms for themselves. But what has happened more often is a race to the bottom.

In the hands of a less astute observer, Pa could come off as something like a Bond villain. But Burgis rightly reminds readers that it hardly takes a conniving mastermind to profit off the inequities and shortcomings of African political systems. “If it weren’t him, it would be someone else,” as a U.S. congressional researcher puts it to Burgis. The researcher adds that even if Pa’s operation were shut down, “the system is still there: these investors can still form a company without saying who they are, they can still anchor their business in a country that is not concerned about investors’ behavior overseas, and, sadly, there’s no shortage of resource-rich fragile states on which these investors can prey.”

To read the entire article, please proceed here.