Kirkus Reviews QR Code


How a Million Migrants Are Building a New Empire in Africa

by Howard W. French

Pub Date: May 21st, 2014
ISBN: 978-0-307-95698-9
Publisher: Knopf

Frank, straightforward reporting of a key, though largely ignored, element in African development, for better or ill.

Former Washington Post and New York Times writer French (A Continent for the Taking: The Tragedy and Hope of Africa, 2005, etc.), who was based in Africa for years, clearly sympathizes with underdeveloped, poverty-entrenched, war-torn countries in Africa like Mozambique and Liberia, whose enormous resources, cheap labor and “fire sale” prices attract entrepreneurs from China’s own burgeoning economy. Are these restless Chinese immigrants, to the tune of approximately 1 million since the 1990s, helping Africa catch up to the West, or are they contributing to a new colonial-minded economy of exploitation and despoilment? While French skirts the question in his introduction, his hard-hitting interviews with various Chinese farmers, shopkeepers and factory owners reveal these entrepreneurs as brutally single-minded in the pursuit of profit, mostly ignorant of African history and racist in their views of Africans. The Chinese immigrants have spilled over from their overburdened, overcompetitive homeland, and they are often little-educated businessmen resolved to take up then–head of state Jiang Zemin’s challenge to “go out” in search of new opportunity. They have certainly found it in Africa, which contains 60 percent of the world’s uncultivated land, huge stores of natural resources in minerals and forests, newly democratic regimes and a per capita gross domestic product that is less than half of that in Latin America. Moreover, governments eager for the Chinese revenue and aid in building infrastructure and universities often overlook corruption and abuses, such as labor safety and fair wages for Africans. With his language skills, especially in Chinese, French was able to infiltrate both the world of African workers and that of their new Chinese bosses.

A unique and unsettling study of what many in the West do not want to see.