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Howard W. French, previously of The New York Times, delivers a reportorial tour de force on the migration of Chinese entrepreneurs into Africa. All over the continent, China barters infrastructure for resources – building stadiums, bridges and airports in exchange for iron, copper and lumber. More than a million Chinese migrants overstay their project work visas and remain as entrepreneurs, acting in their own interests rather than as part of any overall strategic vision China has in Africa. How Africans view these immigrant businesspeople will shape the continent’s future. In a presentation as streamlined as a travelogue and steeped in history, French interviews an impressively broad range of Chinese business owners, African policy makers, diplomats and social activists in an equally broad range of languages, including Mandarin and Portuguese. From serving as a correspondent in Central Africa to leading a news team in China, French’s editorial and linguistic talents uniquely qualify him to tell this tale. Any reader who appreciates a good story will relish the anecdotal flavor of French’s writing and his poignant conclusions. getAbstract strongly recommends French’s insightful, layered and perceptive report to policy makers, investors and executives concerned about Africa’s socioeconomic landscape.


Isolated Africa

After the Battle of Mogadishu and the famous Black Hawk Down rescue mission in Somalia, Americans regarded Africa as hopeless. American foreign aid became the moral penance for a national unwillingness to engage. Europe focused on problems in its own backyard. The fall of the Iron Curtain left countries in the Eastern bloc rudderless in a transition to democratic capitalism. Africa was not a priority.

Africans were weary of Western paternalism – foreign aid arriving wrapped in sharp rebukes over corruption, poor governance, environmentalism and human rights violations. The promises of globalization remained unfulfilled in Africa, where many countries appear on the list of the world’s poorest. As African nations turned the page on violent chapters in their histories, they sought capital investment to harvest the wealth of their natural resources. Enter China.

Toward the end of the 20th century, China made a historic outward turn by encouraging its business interests to pursue investment opportunities wherever they yielded the best returns. In an astute reading of the geopolitical terrain, Chinese companies quickly identified Africa as a source ...

About the Author

Howard W. French, an associate professor at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism, worked for The New York Times in Central Africa, Central America, the Caribbean and in China as Shanghai bureau chief.

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