Chinese firms building up their image to halt criticisms of ‘colonialism’
Chinese power companies try to mingle with locals in Africa by creating more jobs and offering educational services.
criticized in the Western media for their role in Africa, Chinese companies have begun making changes to improve their image on the continent, increasingly creating jobs for local residents and offering educational opportunities to young Africans.
Sinohydro Corp Ltd, the international arm of the Power Construction Corp of China, is now seeing its first Chinaeducated Angolan graduates working at different construction sites in their home country and abroad.
The Chinese company has been paying the airfares, tuition fees and living allowances of 19 Angolans studying water resources and hydropower engineering at Wuhan University in Central China’s Hubei province over the past four years.
Half of them will begin work as assistant engineers at Angola’s $ 100 million water supply project started last year for five of the nine districts in the nation’s capital, Luanda. When completed, the 27-month project will provide drinking water to more than 1 million people.
“These projects are vital to the improvement of local people’s lives. Therefore we are warmly welcomed by locals,” says Zeng Xingliang, chairman of Sinohydro Corp Ltd.
Like Sinohydro, other Chinese civil engineering and infrastructure companies, such as China Gezhouba Group Co Ltd, China Communications Construction Co, China State Construction Engineering Corp and China Road and Bridge Corp, have been dominant players in Africa over the past decade or more.
“As companies from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, India and Spain try to increase their market share in Africa’s vast infrastructure market, we have to develop this dynamic market, not only driven by economic motivation but also by concentrating on how we can help and what we can offer to the locals,” Zeng says.
The other Sinohydro graduates from Angola will be assigned to new residential housing projects in Luanda and to its engineering, procurement and construction project in Uganda. A $ 1.69 billion contract for the Karuma hydropower project was signed with the Ministry of Energy and Mines of Uganda last month.
Located 270 kilometers from Kampala in the northwest of the country, construction work will include the dam, waterways, an underground powerhouse and an electricity output system. Construction on what will be the largest hydropower project in East Africa will take five years.
Sinohydro is also providing funding and scholarships to six primary schools and five high schools in the district where Sasuma Dam was built in Kenya. The Chinese company is also providing computers, sport equipment, teaching materials and books to schools close to Bui hydroelectric power station in northern Ghana, which was completed in June.
Zeng says foreign aid alone is not enough to boost African countries’ economic development. Modern technology is the key to solving many problems. China is also transferring this to African countries.
“However, Chinese construction companies are not good at launching public relations campaigns,” says Wei Ming, vice-chairman of Sinohydro’s workers’ union.
“Our business network has almost covered the whole continent. The reason why Chinese companies are here is because they have joined the global economy. The term ‘ new colonial power’ frequently used by Western media just shows how interest groups in developed markets loathe China breaking the economic monopoly held by Western powers for centuries.”
Sinohydro started to develop the African market in the early 1980s. It has so far completed more than 160 construction projects, including stadiums, hydropower stations, dams, bridges and various buildings in 25 African countries. It has about 12,000 Chinese and African employees in Africa.
The company’s worldwide revenue amounted to 18 billion yuan ($ 2.96 billion) between January and November. Africa accounts for more than 60 percent of the company’s global market share.
Wei says Sinohydro will pay for another two Angolan graduates to take postgraduate courses at Wuhan University over the next three years, and will help more African students undertake degrees in infrastructure or related subjects in China, because the company believes it will show the public in Africa the fundamental benefits Chinese companies can bring.
“We have found some excellent workers in Africa,” Wei says. “There are about 1,200 local workers who have been working with us in Ghana, Kenya and Angola for three or four years. We are willing to take them on to other projects, if they wish to go. We will sort out their working visa and they can pack their bags at any time.”
To improve its localization strategy, Sinohydro has been building closer relations with local labor and suppliers. The ratio between local employees and Chinese employees is about 26 to one. While offering locals jobs, the company focuses on developing their skills and management abilities. There are opportunities for promotion to jobs as team leaders or section managers.
Sinohydro also provides African governments with access to finance through institutions such as the Export-Import Bank of China and China Development Bank.
“This is an important factor in why we have won a number of projects in Africa,” says Sun Yue, senior consultant for Sinohydro. “We can discuss a particular project with a government and they show us why it is important. We can then have our own discussions with a Chinese bank. If they agree, we can continue, which definitely is a win- win situation.
“We are not only focusing on Africa’s fast emerging economies, but have also entered the markets in Liberia, Cameroon, Togo and Benin in the past two years, where there is a need to build more large civil engineering projects, ports and hydropower projects.”
In the long term, Sun says, China and Africa need to increase mutual trust in the infrastructure construction sector.
“We need to strongly implement the agreements on cultural exchange, international education, greener construction projects, quality training programs, investment assistance and the infrastructure commodities trade.”
Sinohydro Corp Ltd now has its first China-educated Angolan graduates working on construction sites in their home country and elsewhere.