August 27, 2007

Zambia’s economy is booming: NYT

It's not everyday that Zambia makes headlines in the international media, even less so when it coincides with something I'm doing at work. So when the New York Times busted out a 1000-plus word feature on China's role in Zambia, they had a captive audience (procrastination warning: they'll make you pay to read it in a couple days).

It's come at a good time because I've just been brought on as a consultant to help PANOS organize an international conference on this very topic. We're supposed to be bringing together journalists from China, Africa and Britain to improve coverage of Sino-African relations in all three media markets. The idea is to encourage more nuanced debate around Chinese involvement in Zambia's extractive industries (as the Times did predictably well), because current reportage oscillates between sugar-coated grip n' grins and polemic assaults on everything Asian.

But it's a political minefield: the project is being funded by the UK embassy and one of its expected outcomes is to "manage Chinese influence" (read: limit) in Africa so that it "reflects UK priority messages." This presumably means greater respect for workers' rights and environmental protection, but also implies a certain condescension towards the "Chinese model of development."

Equally frustrating has been the stonewalling coming from the Chinese embassy. They don't want anyone - their journalists, officials or academics - to have to sit through three days of paternalistic scolding. They wouldn't even respond to the Times, so I doubt I'm going to convince them to agree to open dialogue on the human rights situation in their mines.

But they're right to rebuke the disingenuity of the project proposal. It's not that Chinese influence doesn't need a harder look - Lord knows they have co-sponsored the Darfur genocide and provided markets for all manner of poached animal products - but the British government seems more a jealous bridesmaid than a willing partner.

4 comments:

Bryn said...

consultant eh... is this considered moonlighting or is it part of your JHR role? Any signing bonuses or 'cadeaux'?

Chris said...

The whole "China in Africa" issue is really picking up steam, especially in terms of an issue of journalistic influence. Due in no small part, likely, to the Vanity Fair article in its Africa issue.

Consultant, eh? Do you get to charge $150/hour and get a per diem? No?

B. Scott Currie said...

Haha, I haven't suckled from the sweet teat of per diem since pre-departure training.

No, there's no direct monetary benefit from my participation in this program, just a free trip to the scenic industrial heartland of Zambia for the conference.

Kevin Hill said...

Hey Brandon,
lovin' the blog.

China is on the scene here in Ghana, too.
They've just paid the lion's share of 4 new football stadiums to be used during the Cup of African Nations tournament. Including one that's going up in my little metropolis!

Like to do some inter-continental research on the subject at the end of January, perhaps?