Hoover Institution Publishes New Papers About China’s "Sharp Power" On The Continent Of Africa

Friday, January 28, 2022
Hoover Institution, Stanford University

Hoover Institution (Stanford, CA) – The Hoover Institution’s Project on China’s Global Sharp Power (CGSP) has published a series of papers that detail how China leverages its economic resources to coerce and corrupt public officials in African democratic nations, undermine these countries’ sovereignty, and create financial and legal conditions that disproportionally favor Chinese companies over local competitors.

The papers were introduced in a two-part virtual program hosted by Research Fellow Glenn Tiffert, cochair with Senior Fellow Larry Diamond of CGSP. Tiffert explained that this virtual program is a sample of the knowledge acquired from a year of seminars, which featured thirty academics, journalists, and civil society leaders from twenty-four Sub-Saharan African countries.

Distinguished Visiting Fellow Jendayi Frazer, former ambassador to South Africa (2004–5) and assistant secretary of state for African Affairs (2005–9) posed questions to each of the presenters, all scholars from African countries.

The Trappings of the Mauritius Safe City Project

On Tuesday, January 18, Roukaya Kasenally, associate professor at the University of Mauritius, presented her paper, “The Trappings of the Mauritius Safe City Project.”

Kasenally explained how in 2015 the government of Mauritius, a small island nation east of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean, received an unsolicited bid from Chinese state-owned tech giant Huawei to upgrade its police department’s closed-circuit television network, as part of a program that is innocuously termed “The Mauritius Safe City Project.” However, she described that beneath the Mauritius government’s official narrative was a series of red flags.

To start, she explained, public safety was less of a priority than other concerns of the island, including issues related to sources of water, road infrastructure, hospitals, and housing.

Then, what the government advertised as a public safety initiative started to appear as the groundwork for a surveillance state. Huawei had provided the local police force with 4,000 cameras, of which 2,500 were installed and operational in public areas. The police were also equipped with facial recognition technology, and there was a lack of clarity on who was authorized to access and review data collected from citizens.

Moreover, Kasenally said, the police department’s acquisition of equipment was facilitated by the island’s principal telecommunications company and financed by China’s Exim Bank in confidential deals that had skirted existing laws mandating transparency in the government procurement process. Details of these agreements were sealed from the public on the grounds that they contained information that, if released, would compromise national security.

Kasenally concluded that the Mauritius Safe City Project is a cautionary tale on how a nation’s governing elites can collude with foreign actors—such as China—to limit government transparency and undermine the will of citizens.

Click here to read Roukaya Kasenally’s paper, “The Trappings of the Mauritius Safe City Project.”

Corruption in the Zambian Construction Sector

Kasenally was followed by anti-corruption advocate and researcher Rueben Lifuka, who presented his paper, “Corruption in the Zambian Construction Sector: The China Factor.”

Lifuka described how the construction industry has become a dominant feature of the Zambian economy—a reality that is evident in its Link 8000 road rehabilitation and expansion initiative. He said that in this initiative’s large-scale projects, Chinese contractors have gained an outsize presence in recent years. (Sixteen out of the twenty-three firms contracted for Link 8000 are Chinese owned.).

Chinese contractors operate in Zambia with access to low-cost capital and the capacity to mobilize large numbers of personnel, enabling them to make bids for projects at significantly lower prices than those of their local competition. Thus, Chinese firms have been able to increasingly dominate the procurement process and, in some cases, influence their government counterparts to approve projects with little regard for their feasibility.

Moreover, Lifuka described certain situations in which Chinese contractors have lobbied the Zambian government on projects of less priority. When the Zambian government has been unable to pay for such projects up front, Chinese contractors have brokered loans supplied by their partner financial institutions, such as the previously mentioned Exim Bank.

Lifuka explained that, as in the Mauritius Safe City Project, the loan terms and conditions from Chinese banks to Zambian government agencies are not transparently disclosed. Many of these funding agreements contain confidentiality clauses and the right of Chinese banks to cancel loans at any time.

Lifuka advocated that the Zambian government improve its negotiating positions with Chinese firms to ensure that they comply with internationally accepted procurement and financing standards. He also called on the administration of President Xi Jinping to investigate the corrupt practices of Chinese companies abroad just as robustly as it does within mainland China.

Click here to read “Corruption in the Zambian Construction Sector: The China Factor.”

China Explores South Sudan Oil Sector without Environmental Care

On Tuesday, January 25, Mary Ajith Goch, director of the Catholic Radio Network in South Sudan and Sudan, gave a presentation about her paper, “China Explores South Sudan’s Oil Sector without Environmental Care.”

Goch described how South Sudan’s economy is disproportionately dependent on oil production. Oil accounts for 90 percent of the national income, and 42 percent of oil production is generated by Chinese energy companies.

The government of South Sudan has retained contracts with Chinese firms, which it inherited after its independence from Sudan in 2011. Desperate for revenue, the government has allowed these firms to continue extracting oil at little cost and without regard for environmental protection or waste-management standards.

These environmentally degrading practices have had disastrous consequences, Goch explained, on the health and safety of South Sudan’s population. It has led to the contamination of water supplies, the proliferation of unknown diseases, and the physical deformities of 218 children in the Upper Nile region.

At the conclusion of her presentation, Goch challenged the concept that oil production provided significant benefits for her country’s economic development and advocated that the government commission environmental audits of its oil fields before it permits companies to resume oil extraction and related activities.

Click here to read “China Explores South Sudan’s Oil Sector without Environmental Care.”

China’s Domination of Distant-Water Fishing

The final presentation was given by Agnes Ebo’o, an international law expert from Cameroon, who discussed her paper, “China’s Domination of Distant-Water Fishing: The Impact on West and Central Africa.”

Ebo’o explained that China and other largely populated nations engage in fishing in waters far away from their own shores, in order to meet high levels of domestic consumption. China, which has depleting local fish stocks, has dominated the distant-fishing sector with a worldwide fleet of 3,000 to 6,000 vessels. By comparison, the twenty-seven European Union member nations have a combined fleet of just 250 vessels.

China conducts a large proportion of its distant-water fishing activity in the Gulf of Guinea, which borders Ebo’o’s home in Cameroon and is an important food source for the nations of West and Central Africa. 

She described how Chinese firms have forged imbalanced agreements with their host governments, which undercut local fishers who already face the daunting challenge of competing with large-scale commercial fleets. Moreover, Chinese vessels have, with impunity, illegally encroached in waters reserved for these local fishers.

Ebo’o asserted that distant-water fishing doesn’t benefit local consumers either. While quality seafood products are brought by Chinese vessels back to Asia, West and Central Africans are left with lower-grade alternatives.

Ebo’o said that the negative effect posed by China’s distant-water fishing on the livelihoods of Africans is an opportunity to mobilize civil societies and draw global attention to this unregulated and in many instances unlawful activity.

Click here to read, “China’s Domination of Distant-Water Fishing: The Impact on West and Central Africa.”

Click here to learn more about the Hoover Institution’s Project on China’s Global Sharp Power.