Lo­cal push

Chi­nese firms build­ing up their im­age to halt crit­i­cisms of ‘colo­nial­ism’

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FRONT PAGE - By ZHONG NAN zhong­nan@chi­nadaily.com.cn

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.”

PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

Si­no­hy­dro Corp Ltd now has its first China-ed­u­cated An­golan grad­u­ates work­ing on con­struc­tion sites in their home coun­try and else­where.

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