Saturday, April 30, 2011

China Meets Angola in an Oil Field

Two passages in this piece over at Guernica on Chinese investment in Angola and its oil struck me.

The first:

The Chinese, in turn, wanted little to do with the ordinary people whose country they had come to salvage from the wreckage of the last forty years. One day I met Xia Yi Hua, a middle-aged CEO from Beijing who had been in Angola for the last year and a half. He had contracts with the government to build a hotel in Baya Falte for some of Dos Santos’ most loyal military generals and a police academy in Baya Azul. He welcomed me into a spare waiting room and sat down comfortably in a stiff-backed chair. He got his chicken locally, he told me, but received regular shipments of packaged goods from China. His company sent him food. Everything in his office building, a set of low-rise prefab construction at the end of a highway leading out of Lobito, was either assembled in China, or made by Chinese laborers in Luanda. The wooden coffee table at which we were sitting was made of a rare and beautiful dark-colored Angolan wood, but Xia Yi Hua had brought a Chinese carpenter in to assemble the table. He had his own set of rules. No one from his construction company, China Jiang Su, was allowed to have romantic or sexual ties with Angolans.

“The chief for Jiang Su says that the Chinese who have wives in China, they don’t have the right to be with Angolan girls.”

Anyone caught frequenting local girls, he said, gets sent home. “Yes, fired.”

The gap between the two cultures was too vast, he explained, unbridgeable even in matters of the heart.

“For an Angolan to marry a Chinese girl is very bad too.”

What he wants most, it seems, is more Chinese workers.

“We can’t expand fast enough,” he laughed. “I need more Chinese.”

The second:

Zulu is the one bar in Lobito where everyone goes — the Chinese, the American oil workers, the journalists — and it sits on a wide strip of sand that looks out over the bay and the calm gray waters of the Atlantic. There’s a thatched roof hut with a bar serving tropical drinks, and several wooden tables outside. One afternoon I met Zhou Zhenhong at Zulu. He had been in Africa for five years; two in South Africa, which he found too dangerous, and two in Zambia, which he found too slow and too poor. Angola, on the other hand, was safe enough and rich enough to make it worth his time. When I met him, he hadn’t seen his family in two years and didn’t know when next he would. He used to work for CIF, but in 2006 they pushed him out and told him to start his own company. He started with $1 million in loans and since then has made several million more. “It’s a hundred percent per year,” he said. “That’s unique to this country. You don’t see that anywhere else in Africa. Why? Because the Angolans are pushing like mad to have everything done by tomorrow. They want the best and the fastest. If they want a hotel, they don’t want a three-star, they want a five-star.”

Great piece. Read the whole thing.


  1. Just spent the last half hour going through the posts on this page... I love your blog. I'm planning on doing my dissertation on Modern Sino-African relations so this is really interesting to me... These Chinese people aren't playing at all. Off to read the rest of the article...

  2. Thanks!

    No, the Chinese aren't playing. I'm struck by how much similar to other expatriate communities they are in not wanting to "touch" the locals and their point of view on them.

    Al-Jazeera has a great documentary on Chinese in Senegal. Check it out at the blog here.

  3. I'm always fascinated by Sino-African relations (both historical and modern), I wrote my dissertation on modern Sino-African relations too. That was almost 2 years ago and I remember how difficult it was coming across real academic material on the subject. I've watched as information (and interest) on Sino-African relations has increased in the past few years.

    I haven't had the time to go through the entire article but it is interesting that they (the Chinese) do not want to "touch" the locals, this is actually the first time I'm coming across this. Most of the work I've read suggest that the Chinese are more down to earth than other expatriates and are willing to work hand in hand with locals. Note that this opinion differs largely from country to country as can be expected.

    I tend to go on when it comes to Sino-African relations so I'll stop typing here :D