In the past decade the international media first focused on China’s economic boom, which was then followed by the ‘Africa is rising’ narrative. The latter partly as a result of China’s investments. Many have wondered whether China’s interest in Africa would trigger a new wave of colonialism and exploitation of mineral resources, needed to keep Chinese factories going.
On regular occasions one would find media analyses of the China-Africa romance (like here, here and here). And like a mother not too happy with her daughter’s choice of partner, the experts tended to be wary of the authenticity of the cute new couple. Even when South Africa became the ‘S’ in BRICS, the rest of the world (read: the West) had its doubts. Was South Africa ready to play with the big boys?
As it now turns out, what the West, and Europe in particular, have been afraid of all the time is how much the “Old World” would lose because of the new relations between China and the African continent. A documentary on Dutch public television by broadcaster VPRO, that premiered recently, painfully shows the consequences for Europe now that it virtually has closed its borders, while China is welcoming African migrants with open arms.
The 45-minute documentary entitled “Zwart geld: De toekomst komt uit Afrika” – “Black money: The future comes from Africa” (one could question the title) examines two things.
First, we see how migrants live in ‘Nigeria Town’ in the Chinese city Guangzhou.
Four Africans – three Nigerian men and one Mozambican woman – serve as living examples how life is like after having roamed across the globe in the hope to find employment or to do business. (Usually the latter.) It’s intriguing to watch the easiness with which the main subjects go about their daily life and interact with their Chinese business partners; there seem to be no signs of racism, a subject that inevitably needed to be covered by the filmmakers. It’s a totally different picture of the loneliness and hardships endured by African immigrants who came to Europe as seen for example in the documentary series Surprising Europe.
African migrants in China are far better off as we learn that one can make $5,000 a week in China, that an individual can make it in China and that on a daily basis twenty to thirty million dollar is sent from China to Nigeria in cash.
The second narrative of the documentary focuses on the losses for Europe as a result of the economic romance. This time no European experts, but South African economist Ian Goldin and Cameroonian historian Achille Mbembe. Goldin, the former Director of Development Policy at the World Bank and now Director at the Oxford Martin School paints a clear picture for Europe: “I predict that in 2030, Europe will be saying desperately: ‘we want more Africans’.” A pretty grim picture for those political leaders in Europe who in recent years have been working hard to build the European fortress.
A lot of the analysis and facts Goldin presents about the economic dawn of Europe are not new. However the connection he draws between the liberal economic policies that have enabled free flow of people and goods in Europe for the economic good of the continent and the liberal politicians that have drafted these policies while also being the ones responsible for the strict immigration laws might be the most interesting.
As the main focus of the documentary is on the economic consequences (positive for Africa and China, negative for Europe), Mbembe seems to be given an appreciative nod rather than adding something substantial. His role here is merely to question “Why is Europe unable to understand that the world we live in is a totally different world. And that the future of the world more and more won’t be decided in the West.”
Watch it here (interviews are in English).
* Photo: Pieter van der Houwen.