BEIJING â€" China has received a string of recent visits from African government and business officials, including Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, in April, and Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi, who came in May accompanied by officials from his national petroleum company. The president of the Algerian national oil company also made a trip to China of late, as did the minerals ministers from Sudan and South Sudan.
All of these officials have the same objective: to deepen cooperation with China in the energy sector. The countries they represent have been hit hard by low oil prices, and they're desperate for greater Chinese investment. The situation is a favorable one for China. To make the most of the opportunity, however, China needs new thinking and new measures.
China began its cooperative development of oil and gas in Africa in the mid-1990s. Things expanded quickly. Investment rose, new reserves were identified and tapped, production levels surged, pipelines were opened, and overall trade increased â€" all to the point that by the first decade of this century, oil and gas became the cornerstone of Sino-Africa cooperation as a whole.
More recently, however, that momentum has been curbed somewhat by political turmoil in both West and North Africa, and by the independence of South Sudan. Still, Chinese oil companies now have a total capital expenditure in Africa of more than $35 billion, and an annual production capacity of 50 million tons of oil and gas.
State oil operators in China tend to work in a coordinated and "integrated" way with the producer countries. But China also provides these countries with "package solutions" to help them improve their oil industries. PetroChina has followed this investment model in places like Sudan, Chad and Niger.
In the coming years, African countries will continue to seek Chinese investment money. Chinese oil companies should oblige, but also improve their investment approach and expand it to other countries, such as Mozambique, Tanzania, Uganda and Algeria.
In doing so, they should keep in mind the particularities of the various countries and areas, which differ not just in terms of resources, but also things like language and religion.
Africa is divided into five areas that are not very interrelated. North Africa is composed of Muslim countries where people mostly speak Arabic. Egypt is the area's dominant nation. But Algeria, Libya and Sudan all have key oil and gas resources.
Most West Africans are also Muslim, but tend to be French speaking. Nigeria is the area's most resource-rich country, followed by Niger and Chad.
The largest country in Central Africa is the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It is French-speaking and mainly Catholic, and has rich oil and gas resource potential.
East and South Africa are made up of mostly English-speaking countries and are Catholic or Protestant. East Africa's leading country is Kenya. The richest in terms of resources, however, are Mozambique and Tanzania. South Africa, a political and economic powerhouse, has only limited energy resources
In the next five years, China should adopt the aforementioned "integrated" and "packaged" approach to North and West Africa, where the industrial base is obsolete and the market is underdeveloped.
In Nigeria and Angola, where China has already made significant inroads, it should enhance cooperation in downstream refining and natural gas.
And in East African countries like Kenya and Mozambique, where the oil and gas market is relatively high-end, China can actively explore the engineering services market. One good option may be to enter into joint ventures with large multinationals.
China should be wary of the so-called "resource curse," which refers to the high levels of corruption and relatively low levels of economic growth of some resource-rich countries. When doing business with those countries, Chinese oil companies should abide by international norms and local laws to ensure compliant operations.
China will also have to tread carefully when it comes to France and the United States. France, once the dominant foreign player in much of Africa, continues to maintain major business and political interests there. Ideally, China should adopt a joint venture model with French and local companies, and set up tripartite consortia in French-speaking countries to share risks and revenue.
With regards to the United States, currently the most authoritative and influential power in Africa, competition with China is inevitable. But rather than challenge U.S. companies head on, China might want to enter into joint projects with the American oil giants.
The confinement experience could turn brutal for those forced to live with relatives who would not tolerate a member of the family living their sexual orientation openly as a young adult. Here are stories from urban and rural India.
Abhijith had been working as a radio jockey in the southern Indian city of Thiruvananthapuram when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March, 2020. When the government imposed a nationwide lockdown, Abhijith returned to the rural Pathanamthitta district , where his parents live with an extended family, including uncles, cousins and grandparents.
Eighteen months later, he recalled that the experience was "unbearable" because he had to live with homophobic relatives. "Apart from the frequent reference to my sexual 'abnormality', they took me to a guruji to 'cure' me," Abhijith recalled. "He gave me something to eat, which made me throw up. The guru assured me that I was throwing up whatever 'demon' was possessing me and 'making' me gay."
Early in 2021, Abhijith travelled back to Thiruvananthapuram, where he found support from the members of the queer collective.
Inspired by their work, he also decided to work towards uplifting the queer community. "I wish no one else goes through the mental trauma I have endured," said Abhijit.
Abhijith's story of mental distress arising from family abuse turns out to be all too common among members of India's LGBTQ+ community, many of whom were trapped in their homes and removed from peer support groups during the pandemic.
Oppressive home situations
As India continues to reel from a pandemic that has claimed more lives (235,524) in three months of the second wave (April-June 2021) than in the one year before that (162,960 deaths in March 2020-March 2021), the LGBTQ community has faced myriad problems. Sexual minorities have historically suffered from mainstream prejudice and the pandemic has aggravated socio-economic inequalities, instigated family and institutionalized abuse, apart from limiting access to essential care. This has resulted in acute mental distress which has overwhelmed queer support infrastructure across the country.
Speaking to queer collective representatives across India, I learned that the heightened levels of distress in the community was due to longstanding factors that were triggered under lockdown conditions. Family members who are intolerant of marginalized sexual identities, often tagging their orientation as a "disorder" or "just a phase", have always featured among the main perpetrators of subtle and overt forms of violence towards queer, trans and homosexual people.
Calls from lesbians and trans men to prevent forced marriages during lockdowns.
Sappho For Equality, a Kolkata-based feminist organization that works for the rights of sexually marginalized women and trans men, recorded a similar trend. Early in the first wave, the organization realized that the existing helpline number was getting overwhelmed with distress calls. It added a second helpline number. The comparative figures indicate a 13-fold jump in numbers: from 290 calls in April 2019-March 20 to 3,940 calls in April 2020-May 2021.
"Most of the calls we have been getting from lesbians and trans men are urgent appeals to prevent forced marriages during lockdowns," said Shreosi, a Sappho member and peer support provider. "If they happen to resist, they are either evicted or forced to flee home. But where to house them? There aren't so many shelters, and ours is at full capacity."
Shreosi says that the nature of distress calls has also changed. "Earlier people would call in for long-term help, such as professional mental health support. But during the pandemic, it has changed to immediate requests to rescue from oppressive home situations. Often, they will speak in whispers so that the parents can't hear."
Lack of spaces
Like many of his fellow queer community members, life for Sumit P., a 30-year-old gay man from Mumbai, has taken a turn for the worse. The lockdown has led to the loss of safe spaces and prolonged residence at home.
"It has been a really difficult time since the beginning of the lockdown. I am suffering from a lot of mental stress since I cannot freely express myself at home. Even while making a call, I have to check my surroundings to see if anybody is there. If I try to go out, my family demands an explanation. I feel suffocated," he said.
The pandemic has forced some queer people to come out
Sumit is also dealing with a risk that has hit the community harder than others – unemployment and income shortage. He's opened a cafe with two other queer friends, which is now running into losses. For others, pandemic-induced job losses have forced queer persons from all over the country to return to their home states and move in with their families who've turned abusive during this long period of confinement.
Lockdowns force coming out
According to Kolkata-based physician, filmmaker and gay rights activist Tirthankar Guha Thakurata, the pandemic has forced some queer people to come out, succumbing to rising discomfort and pressure exerted by homophobic families.
"In most cases, family relations sour when a person reveals their identity. But many do not flee home. They find a breathing space or 'space out' in their workspaces. In the absence of these spaces, mental problems rose significantly," he said.
Not being able to express themselves freely in front of parents who are hostile, intolerant and often address transgender persons by their deadname or misgender them has created situations of severe distress, suicidal thoughts and self-harm.
Psychiatrist and queer feminist activist Ranjita Biswas (she/they) cites an incident. A gender-nonconforming person died under suspicious circumstances just days after leaving their peer group and going home to their birth parents. The final rites were performed with them dressed in bangles and a saree.
"When a member of our community asked their mother why she chose a saree for someone who had worn androgynous clothes all their life, she plainly said it was natural because after all, the deceased 'was her daughter,'" Biswas recalls.
The Indian queer mental health support infrastructure, already compromised with historical prejudice, is now struggling
In India, queer people's access to professional mental healthcare has been "very limited," according to community members such as Ankan Biswas, India's first transgender lawyer who has been working with the Human Rights Law Network in West Bengal.
"A large majority of the psychiatrists still consider homosexuality as a disorder and practice 'correctional therapy'. It's only around the big cities that some queer-friendly psychiatrists can be found," Biswas said. "The pandemic has further widened the inequalities in access to mental health support for India's LGBTQ community."
Biswas is spending anxious days fielding an overwhelming amount of calls and rescue requests from queer members trapped in their homes, undergoing mental, verbal and even physical torture. "We don't have the space, I just tell them to wait and bear it a little longer," he said.
Medical care is dismal
Anuradha Krishnan's story, though not involving birth family, outlines how the lack of physical support spaces have affected India's queer population. Abandoned by her birth family when she came out to them as a trans woman in 2017, Anuradha Krishnan (she/they), founder of Queerythm in Kerala who is studying dentistry, had to move into an accommodation with four other persons.
Isolation triggered my depression
"I am used to talking and hanging around with friends. Isolation triggered my depression and I had to seek psychiatric help." Living in cramped quarters did not help with quarantine requirements and all of them tested positive during the first wave.
What is deeply worrying is that the Indian queer mental health support infrastructure, already compromised with historical prejudice, is now struggling, placing more and more pressure on queer collectives and peer support groups whose resources are wearing thin.
During the 10 months of the first wave of the pandemic in India in 2020, Y'all, a queer collective based in Manipur, received about 1,000 distress calls on their helpline number from LGBTQ+ individuals. In May 2021 alone, they received 450 such calls (including texts and WhatsApp messages) indicating a telling escalation in the number of queer people seeking help during the second wave.
As India's queer-friendly mental health support infrastructure continues to be tested, Y'all founder, Sadam Hanjabam, a gay man, says, "Honestly, we are struggling to handle such a large number of calls, it is so overwhelming. We are also dealing with our own anxieties. We are burning out."
Sreemanti Sengupta is a freelance writer, poet, and media studies lecturer based in Kolkata.
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