"China has rapidly become Africa’s most important infrastructure builder, and
the footprint of Chinese construction companies is seen in cities, towns and
villages across the continent.
With the launch of Beijing’s “Go Global” policy in 2000, and President Xi
Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative in 2013, the volume of roads, bridges,
railways, power stations and other infrastructure built by China has increased
markedly. The number of overseas contracts signed by Chinese companies more
than doubled from just under 6,000 in 2004 to almost 12,000 in 2019.
In 2019, Chinese companies won over US$250 billion of infrastructure contracts
around the world, paid for by the Chinese government, international
institutions and host governments. Chinese firms won over 30% of public works
contracts funded by the World Bank, one of the world’s largest infrastructure
Chinese records also show that the number of Chinese citizens dispatched to
work on infrastructure projects increased almost five-fold, from a global total
of 79,000 in 2002 to 368,000 in 2019 (with a peak of 405,000 in 2015). Of
these, around one quarter were recorded in sub-Saharan Africa, while one-third
were in the Middle East and north Africa region.
The presence of large numbers of Chinese workers labouring on these projects is
one of the most controversial aspects of China’s economic engagement with
Africa and the wider world.
Chinese workers have been accused of taking job opportunities from locals,
undercutting labour standards by being willing to work for longer hours and
with fewer rest days, and being the source of culture clashes. A 2021
meta-analysis of Chinese labour practices in Africa found evidence of tense
labour relations driven in part by practices such as weekend work and dormitory
systems. These are common practice in China but not in many African economies.
However, the debate on Chinese workers underplays the agency of host
governments. After all, they make local laws and issue work visas."
*** Xanni ***
Chief Scientist, Xanadu
Partner, Glass Wings
Manager, Serious Cybernetics