Thursday, August 07, 2008

ABC Primetime Special on China- with Angola!

Last night ABC did a special on the growing importance of China. Any conversation about China’s expansion must include Africa, and where else to start but Angola. ABC sent their man to Luanda to check out the Chinese. It was both infuriating and bittersweet for me to watch.

Infuriating because, for one, they really didn’t do more than a superficial investigation of the relationship between the Chinese and Angolan governments. They showed our dear friend Aguinaldo Jaime, the Prime Minister who got his knickers in a bunch when Bob Geldolf said Angola was ruled by thieves, speaking the praises of the Chinese government. PM Jaime cried and cried about the cruel, inflexible Western donors who wanted to put horrible restrictions on the Angolan government- like transparency and semi-responsible investing! The nerve! Luckily for them, the Chinese came along and were willing to give them multi-million dollar loans with few strings attached.

The report also pointed out that Angola is recovering at an amazing pace. This is true. During my time in Angola I saw a great deal of rebuilding going on; my Angolan coworkers can testify to even more progress seen since the end of the war. But what about the quality of the work being done? The Chinese company hired to repave the streets of Benguela in time for AfroBasket paved them in record time- one week there was a dirt and rocky road, the next week there was pretty asphalt! Pretty asphalt, I might add, that two months later had collapsed into a sinkhole bigger than any pot hole that had been there before.

What really made me angry was when they started talking about the hard work the Chinese were doing. They pointed out that on the reconstruction projects being done by the Chinese, over 70% of the employees are Chinese. Immediately after they said that Angolan firms do not have the capacity to do the work. This is true, but is doesn’t explain why the Chinese must import laborer to do the most manual of jobs. I was struck by the number of Chinese workers I saw in Angola doing manual labor- ripping up railroad tracks, laying asphalt, etc. I cannot be convinced that: a) only Chinese workers know how to do those jobs; or that b) it is cheaper to import Chinese workers than hire Angolans. In one interview on the program a Chinese project supervisor admitted that the workers work from 7 am to 5 pm for 7 days a week- something that is explicitly against Angolan labor law. Angolans are some of the hardest working people I have met. I know that there are plenty of Angolans who would be willing to do the work of those Chinese laborers- and in turn provide more for their families and contribute to the local economy. The Chinese workers tend to live in compounds and are very isolated form the local communities and economies. A Newsweek article from earlier this year explains how one Chinese company imports even its food from China.

One last thing to complain about, mostly superficial… In the introduction to the segment, they played some African music that was definitely NOT Angolan. Angola has great musical traditions, how hard could it have been to get a Bonga clip and use that? Africa is a big continent, ABC, and- shockingly- has different cultures! It was as if they went into the stock audio file marked “African Children Singing” and stopped there.

There’s a lot more I could say about the report- I was cursing and rolling my eyes at the TV as it was airing, but I would have to see it again in order to give a more informed opinion. But overall, it wasn't a bad piece.

I must admit that seeing the images of Angola actually made me miss the place. Now that I’ve had a few months of separation and time to recover from Angola, I can look at it again and see beyond the evil SME agent who extorted money from me. I guess moving from frustration to nostalgia is a good thing. There was one thing said by one of the Chinese workers that I agreed with; when asked what he thought of the Angolan people, he said that they were wonderful people.


Anonymous said... I was listening to the interview, at one point I realized my mouth had dropped and was like that for awhile.

Leslie said...

Heh! I think I did the same thing- when I wasn't rolling my eyes, that it. As someone who has lived there, I got really worked up while watching it. I admit that I do have a bias, but I really felt like it was just skimming the surface of the China/Angola relationship.