Economy

China Investment In Africa And The Risks Of Savage Capitalism

Chinese firms setting up shop on the African continent must do their homework on more than just strictly business conditions.

The Africa pavillion at the Shanghai Expo
Han Wei

BEIJING - China’s investment in Africa has evolved from its original purpose of aid and assistance to a much more market-oriented economic approach. And now, it is changing again: beyond the large state-owned enterprises, an increasing number of private Chinese companies are also doing business on the continent.

As Chinese firms get involved more deeply and more broadly in Africa’s economic activities, the challenges regarding its market conditions, laws and regulations, and community relations are becoming increasingly evident. Companies with strong adaptability tend to perform better than those that are slow to adjust to the changing business landscape.

At the same time, some Chinese firms" approach is to take advantage of African countries' weak political systems, manipulating the conditions to suit themselves and becoming bad examples of foreign investment to locals.

Zhang Jianping, director of the International Cooperation Office of the National Development and Reform Commission’s Foreign Economic Research Institute, said Chinese firms entering Africa had lots of homework to do, especially in assessing "non-economic risk."

However, "up to now, whether at the governmental, entrepreneurial or academic level, China still largely lacks studies and guidelines of African countries’ market conditions and risks," Zhang said.

The Ministry of Commerce said that in 2011 trade between China and Africa reached a record US$ 166.3 billion. Meanwhile, China's investments in Africa reached US$ 14.7 billion in 2011, up from less than US$ 100 million in 2003. In 2009, China became Africa’s largest trade and investment partner.

“As a critical source of energy and mineral resources, Africa has strategic significance,” Zhang said. “China is an important global manufacturing center. This position will be maintained for a considerable period of time, which means that it requires a sustainable energy source."

Potential is "huge"

The development potential of Africa also attracts investors. The World Bank says that the middle class of the continent with a population of one billion will support future growth beyond simply being a supplier of raw materials.

"Though the scale of Africa’s market is not yet large, the potential is huge," Zhang said.

But as their operations expand, Chinese enterprises have confronted increasing challenges in Africa, such as labor conflicts and political risks. In Zhang's view, companies assess mostly commercial risks and mostly take profit into consideration, whereas social, political and environmental issues are often neglected.

"At present, China still lacks in-depth and concrete guidelines specific to each country to guide their enterprises,” he said. “This has led to setbacks for Chinese companies in countries such as Libya and Zambia.

“In places such as South Africa, labor-intensive enterprises should evaluate beforehand if they can withstand the minimum wage regulation. As for investment in mining, they need to look at whether or not they are able to meet the policy requirements of the invested countries and fulfill their social responsibilities. All this needs to be assessed by the firms instead of always trying to circumvent their responsibilities.”

Another key point is that foreign aid and foreign investment should be better integrated. Particularly in Africa, where most investments are in resources, private investments need appropriate infrastructure support and most of them require long-term commitment, such as with the construction of hospitals or schools. Were the investments better integrated with foreign aid, they would be more efficient.

Zhang said China has reached a stage where it can make large-scale foreign investments, and as the Western world grapples with the global financial crisis, China has an opportunity.

“It’s a good time for China to accelerate its foreign investment,” he said. “There are of course risks, but the judgment of entrepreneurs is to be trusted."

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Ideas

Reading Rumi In Kabul: A Persian Poet's Lesson For Radical Islam

Born some eight centuries ago, the famed poet and philosopher Rumi offered ideas on religion that bear little resemblance to the brand of Islam being imposed right now in Afghanistan by the Taliban regime.

The work of 13th-century poet Rumi still resonsates today

Mihir Chitre

Among the various Afghan cities that the Taliban has invaded and apparently "reclaimed" in recent weeks is Balkh, a town near the country's north-western border. Interestingly, it was there, about 800 years ago, that a man called Jalal ad-Din Mohammad Balkhi, better known as Rumi, was born.

Some see the grotesque exhibitionism of the Taliban advance as a celebration of Islam or a "going back to the roots" campaign. As if followers of Islam were always like this, as if every willing Muslim always propagated austerity and oppressiveness. As if it was always meant to be this way and any shred of liberalism was a digression from the quest of the religion.

In fact, a look at the history of the religion — and of the region — tells a different story, which is why there's no better time than now to rediscover the wisdom of the poet Rumi, but without doing away with its religious context.


In a world where Islam is a popular villain and lots of terrible acts across the world in the name of the religion have fueled this notion among the West and among people from other religions, it's paramount that we understand the difference between religion as a personal or spiritual concept and religion as an institution, a cage, a set of laws created to control us.

Why do you stop praying?

To begin with, and largely due to the film Rockstar, the most famous Rumi quote known to Indians goes like this: "Out beyond the ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there's a field. I'll meet you there."

Rumi's original Persian verse, however, uses the words kufr (meaning infidelity) and Imaan (meaning religion), which was translated as "wrongdoing" and "rightdoing." To me, the original verse surpasses the translation with a vital, often missed, often deliberately forgotten, interpretation, which is to highlight the fact that there is humanity, love and compassion or a certain kind of mystical quality to life beyond the concept of religion and that is the ultimate place, the place where Rumi invites us to meet him.

It would be incorrect now to read this and think of Rumi as irreligious. In fact, he was quite the opposite. But his interpretation of religion was personal, spiritual and not institutional or communal or exhibitionist.

In one of his poems, translated by Coleman Banks as "Love Dogs" in English, a man who has stopped praying to God because he never got a response meets "Khidr," an angel messenger, in his dream:

Why did you stop praising (or praying)?

Because I've never heard anything back.

This longing you express is the return message.

To me, through this poem, it's clear that Rumi advocates for a personal relationship with God. In fact, he goes on to say that being true to God is to long for his validation or nod, that life is longing.

A copy of Rumi's spiritual couplets at the Mevl\u00e2na Museum in Konya, Turkey

A copy of Rumi's spiritual couplets at the Mevlâna Museum in Konya, Turkey — Photo: Georges Jansoone/Wikimedia

Don't sweep the history of Islam with the broom of radicalism

For those familiar with the European literature of the 20th century, I could say that this echoes the ideas of Samuel Beckett. But remember: Rumi lived 800 years ago, at the heart of what we call the "Muslim world." To equate Islam on the whole with repressiveness and hostility, as many of us do today, might just be a criminal contradiction then.

It's also interesting to note that after the Quran, Rumi's is probably the most widely read work in the Islamic world, which suggests that Rumi's ideas, which may sound too progressive for anyone remotely associated with Islam in today's world, have, in fact, been accepted and cherished by the Islamic world for centuries. Sweeping the whole history of the Islamic world with the broom of radicalism wouldn't then be the fairest assessment of either the religion or of radicalism.

This physical world has no two things alike.
Every comparison is awkwardly rough.
You can put a lion next to a man,
but the placing is hazardous to both.

(From the poem: "An Awkward Comparison")

It's tragic that the Taliban has ravaged the same place with their own power-hungry, totalitarian interpretation of the religion which once produced a mind that embraces it with wide arms of warmth and peace and refuses to be compared with other followers of the same.

How to cure bad habits?

It is vital for us to separate groupism or communalism, which often escalates to barbarism, from the thought it is based on. It is vital then to read and reread that what Rumi sees as religion is the private association with God. It is also vital to mark the emphasis on individuality in Rumi's thought.

All the Western ideas of liberalism are based on the idea of individuality, which in turn is based on post-renaissance European thought. Asian philosophy is contrasted with its Western counterpart in the fact that it is rooted in mysticism as opposed to individuality.

Islam itself has long had a tradition of mysticism that is known as Sufism. Sufism is a sort of an inward dimension of Islam, a practice that encourages a direct, personal connection with the divine, a spiritual proximity to the omniscient that transcends the physical world and temporarily subverts immediate reality.

Sufism is the quest for the truth of love and knowledge, without necessarily always distinguishing between the two. Rumi was known as the Mevlana (Maulana) and his poetic collection Masnavi meaning "the spiritual couplets" is known as the Persian Quran. He was no doubt a mystic, a Sufi, and one who strongly endorsed the personal, for the most intimately individual is the truly spiritual.

Rumi might remain unparalleled in not just the Islamic world but also in the world of philosophy and poetry across the globe. Another thing that he will remain is dead. The Taliban, on the other hand, at least for now, looks rampant and alive.

It is now up to us, the other people who are alive, and the ones who are going to be born — not just Muslims but everyone else as well — to choose which interpretation of Islam we uphold or react to, how we read history, and what we borrow from it.

How to cure bad water? Send it back to the river.
How to cure bad habits? Send me back to you.

(From the poem: "My Worst Habit")

I think what we, as a world, need now more than ever is to be sent back to Rumi.

https://thewire.in/culture/re-reading-rumi-in-the-time-of-the-taliban
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