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May 10, 2016

China-Africa news: Malaria, vehicle plant, bamboo, stadium diplomacy

China has some pretty serious chops when it comes to fighting malaria. Its first Nobel Prize winner in a scientific field, Tu Youyou, won the Nobel Prize for medicine in 2015 for her role in anti-malarial drug research; the drug she helped create, artemisinin, is now in wide use across Africa as one of the more effective anti-malarial medicines.

Malaria is however still a deadly and expensive problem across much of Sub-Saharan Africa, decades after the drugs' discovery. And China is still playing a role in combating the disease.  In Uganda, a $2.3 million mosquito net factory built by Chinese entrepreneurs was commissioned recently. The Chinese government has also promised to supply five million artemisinin-based malaria kits to African countries, in line with one of the 10 areas of China-Africa cooperation over the next three years announced by President Xi Jinping at last year’s FOCAC conference in Johannesburg.

In Cameroon, China has built four hospitals, including two gynaeco-obstetric and paediatrics hospitals completed in 2002 and 2015. These hospitals treated over one million Cameroonians between 1965 and 2015.

It's not just modern medicine flourishing; traditional Chinese medicine is in high demand in Cameroon, as this story from one of our grant-recipients shows. These healers not only administer well-known treatments like acupuncture, but are also competing with African native doctors in offering mystical "solutions." However, the healer's methods and claims have attracted attention from medical supervisors in the country. (We published a similar article, on herbal Chinese medicine in Uganda, two years ago.)

Vehicle manufacturing plant for Port Elizabeth. The $760 million project - whose construction starts later this year - is the result of an agreement between South Africa's Industrial Development Corporation and China’s fifth-largest vehicle manufacturer‚ the Beijing Automobile International Corporation (BAIC). The plant will manufacture pickup trucks‚ sport utility vehicles (SUVs) and sedans for sale in Africa.

Understanding Chinese manufacturers in Nigeria. A sample of 20 Chinese manufacturers found that most of them are private investors without financial ties to the Chinese state. They have backing from local political actors, rely on local distributors to sell their products, and most of their workers - 80% - are Nigerian. However, they import most of their raw materials from China, citing the poor quality of local materials. These discoveries are findings from a new working paper on Chinese Manufacturing Investment in Nigeria published by the  SAIS China Africa Research Initiative (CARI).

Stadium diplomacy gets a monument in Ghana. President John Dramani Mahama recently commissioned a new stadium constructed with a $30 million grant from the Chinese government to mark 55 years of China-Ghana diplomatic relations. The stadium is an interesting monument given what it commemorates, considering the roles stadiums have played in China's soft power push in Africa.

Uganda's proposed city for agricultural produce and factories. The Ugandan government wants to turn a district in the central part of the country into an agricultural park. It is counting on a Chinese firm to help it do that. The multi-million project will involve rice farming, poultry, horticulture, and fish farming, according to Uganda's agriculture minister.

The questions around Kenya’s ivory burn. Kenya recently burned more than 100 tonnes of ivory, the largest ever stock to be disposed of that way - and representing 5% of the global ivory stock. The aim of the action to draw attention to elephant protection efforts. Even then, some conservationists have expressed concern at the effect this could have on the global ivory market, spurring more elephant poaching to fill the gap. Some argue that the spectacle will do nothing to protect elephants, and that it would have been beneficial to conservation efforts to sell the ivory. The Kenyan government might also be more complicit in the ivory trade than it lets on.

China is non-confrontational, making it a better partner for Africa. George Rautenbach argues in Business Day that China's traditional preference for harmony and minding its own business, in contrast to the West's world-conquering ambitions, is similar to African cultures emphasis of societal needs over individual needs. China's approach therefore makes it a better partner for Africa, he argues, because it is "less prescriptive and patronising."

East Africa looks east for railway operator. Rift Valley Railways - which currently operates the Kenya-Uganda railway - has lost the priority to run Kenya's newly built standard gauge railway to a Chinese firm. The decision was made by regional presidents; the railway is expected to be extended to Uganda and Rwanda. China Communications Construction Company is the same firm currently constructing the railway.

Bamboo farming has taken off in Uganda, all because of China. The Uganda government signed an agreement with China in 2015 to "collaborate in bamboo technology transfer, research and information sharing;" a result is a $6 million grant to Ugandan institutes and authorities to train, advise, and offer extension services to bamboo farmers.

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