Chinese businesses play a much more complicated part than many may think.
One of the many simple, widely-believed narratives about the Chinese in Africa is that PRC businesses fuel corruption across the continent. That caricature, although overly-simplistic, is amplified by China’s insistence there be little to no transparency in most of its government and corporate transactions in Africa. So the combination of a Chinese veil over its business dealings with the prevalence of corruption that already exists in African societies creates a potentially toxic mix.
Chinese corporate corruption in Africa is well documented. From allegations of paying off corrupt officials in the Republic of the Congo to illegally log protected rain forests to reportedly bribing officials in the DR Congo a staggering $350 million as part of off-book fees to facilitate the multi-billion dollars mega-mining deal known as Sicomines.
Then there is the man known as “Sam Pa.” Although few people know his actual identity, what is known, according to Financial Times correspondent Tom Burgis who documented much of this man’s notorious history in Africa in the 2015 book “The Looting Machine,” is that billions of dollars flowed through his network as part of shady operations throughout Africa to secure oil drilling rights, mining deals and countless other Sino-African business arrangements.
Pa was notorious for fueling corruption, so much so, that the scope and scale of his allegedly-illegal dealings in Africa seemingly became an issue for Chinese authorities in Bejing. Pa is now sitting in a Chinese jail on corruption charges, swept up as part of Chinese president Xi Jinping’s vast anti-corruption crackdown.
The case of Sam Pa and the billions allegedly doled out by Chinese corporations in places like the DR Congo exemplify the kind of corruption that many people associate with the Chinese presence in Africa. However that is only part of the story. While some major Chinese corporations have been linked to these kinds of illegal activities, smaller Chinese businesses throughout the continent often operate on the other end of the spectrum as victims of corruption.
Zander Rounds, Research Manager at China House Kenya in Nairobi, recently published a paper on the role that small-to-medium sized Chinese enterprises play in Kenyan corruption. Rounds conducted interviews with 25 Chinese business leaders in Kenya over a 10 month period, and what he learned over the course of his research is that as new immigrants in a country where they are forced to operate in an unfamiliar culture, language and legal system, Chinese business owners are easy targets for bribes.
Rounds’ research complicates the narrative that Chinese businesses are typically the instigators of corruption in Africa. He joins Eric & Cobus to discuss his findings and also to explore what, if anything, can be done to help correct the problem in Kenya.
Join the discussion. What do you think can be done to reign in corruption in Africa and what role do you think Chinese businesses can play? Share your thoughts and ideas with us: