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Strengthening Africa-China relations through accurate reportage




A report by an international confederation of charitable organizations focused on the alleviation of global poverty, dated March 2, 2016 indicate that the economic ties between China and Africa has witnessed rapid and continuous growth in the last decade.
Specifically, bilateral trade volume has increased from US$10.59 billion in 2000 to US$210.5 billion in 2013, a phenomenal increase within 14 years. More recently, Chinese enterprises shifted their focus from trade to investment in Africa. 

According to the Chinese Ministry of Commerce database, there were only 888 enterprises registered to invest in Africa before 2010. However, from January 2010 to January 2015, 2161 firms had registered their outward investments in Africa. The implication of this statistics is that the number of Chinese investments in Africa within the past five years more than doubled the total number of investments from previous years.
Correspondingly, the stock of Chinese outward foreign direct investment (FDI) in Africa also rose form US$ 0.618 billion in 2003 to US$ 26.19 billion in 2013. Nigeria ranks fourth on China’s top trading partners in Africa while South Africa, Angola and Sudan are in the first, second and third positions respectively. Other African countries like Libya, Algeria, Liberia, Congo and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are also on the train.
While the business services sector forms the fulcrum of Chinese investment in Africa, other sectors like wholesale and retail, import and export, construction, transportation, mineral products, machinery and electronics textile sectors also form substantive bulk of China’s interaction in Africa.

Specifically, Chinese investment in Nigeria as at September 2016 was put at US$ 2.5 billion. The bilateral trade volume between China and Nigeria from January to July 2016 stood at US$ 6.46 billion, which represented 7.6 percent of the total trade volume between China and Africa and 36.4 percent of total trade volume between China and ECOWAS.

Investments and bilateral relationships between China and Africa has, however, not been translated to good news all round. The complaints across Africa has always been the low standard of service delivery and the exportation of fake and substandard goods by Chinese to Africa. The same cannot be said of China’s exports to Europe and America as Chinese products found in those climes are of highest standards.

The issue of the level of reportage of China’s activities in Africa has also been a major concern to stakeholders, as the media has not beamed its searchlight enough on them to warrant serious interrogations and also change the narratives.

In order to fill this gap, the Africa-China reporting project domicile at the Department of Investigative Journalism, University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa, was established seven years ago to examine the perspectives on Africa-China reporting. The project, over time, had finance stories pitched by both African and Chinese journalists on stories around the activities of Chinese in Africa and those of Africans in China.

The project seeks to balance the assessment of Africa-China relationship, encourage and facilitate a constructive engagement of journalists from the continent of Africa and China. At the Africa-China journalists’ forum held on November 10, 2016 at the university, participants shared their experiences in the day-to-day reportage of Africa-China relationships.

Dr. Bob Wekesa, who is a postgraduate fellow, Wits journalism, South Africa, said journalists should look beyond investment of China in Africa and begin to interrogate other perspectives.

His words, “The Chinese are saying look, ‘we are not interested in your politics, diplomatic issues or religious affiliations; all what we want is to trade with you.’ That is one perspective. Another perspective is they are saying, ‘look, you have been with the West since; what has that brought to you? Why are you still poor with low level of literacy, with low level of economic growth and suffering?’
“’In any case, look, as Chinese, we have been in the continent for a very short time and your economies have started growing because we are coming with lots of cash, which is our money as it were, and are coming to invest in your infrastructure, buy into your mineral resources like copper in Zambia, the oil in Nigeria, etc. So, we are much better.’” 

He went further, “So it looks like Africans were lost. On one side, they are thinking that things such as democracy, human rights seem very nice because we can then put our leaders to account; we can ask for transparency and so forth. But on the other hand, these are soft issues that will not buy our natural resources and that will account to nothing. So it would appear that from a very broad perspective, these two ports are on opposite sides like they are two pendulums on both sides.

“Africans are wedged in-between, including making their choice so much so that while Western media is very critical, Chinese media is very optimistic and Africa media, for those who have done content analysis, are neither too positive nor too negative.”

Wekesa proposed that weather Western journalism are negative as it were and if Chinese journalism is overly positive, vaguely critical not looking at things in a way that is nuance and balance and fair as it were, if these are the two ports and Africa is in the middle, Africa might be practicing the best form of journalism compared to the two.  He therefore suggested that Africa journalism can offer some lessons to Western and Chinese journalism.

Philip De Wet, journalist and associate editor, Mail & Guardian, South Africa spoke on the many roots of Africa’s mistrust of China.  He described the relationship of Africa and China at governmental level as moonshine and roses while the same cannot be said to be with the ordinary Africa and Chinese on the street with a warning that such edge relationships should not be ignored.

‘On a government to government level, it’s all moonshine and roses.  But for people of countries like South Africa, the love affair with China is a lot more complex and tingled with a great deal more mistrust.  Not all of that mistrust is recorded as fact and much of it is entirely unfair, but we ignore it at our peril’.

Itunu Ajayi of the Guardian Newspaper Nigeria delivered a paper titled ‘Chinese operational mechanism in Africa: The Nigeria journalists’ experience’.  She attributed the intervention of China in Africa Nigeria inclusive to two major reasons, cheap services and the willingness of china to fund infrastructures.  Although this she said is not devoid of setbacks as questions of quality and standards has continually become a concern and the repatriation of certain percentage of loan given by China including interest.  The consequences of which she said allows jobs to be created for Chinese while local companies suffers.   

Laudable as China intervention to Africa is, Ajayi posited that Africa cannot continue to put up with the dumping of substandard goods on its shores while standard goods are shipped to Europe and America by the same Chinese.  She blamed the overbearing attitude of China in Africa to corrupt African leaders and the insatiable appetite of Africans for foreign goods noting that China may be leveraging on this to hold Africa to ransom.

She suggested that Africa should begin to look inward even as China are aware that Africa is its market and may not be able to run a successful economy without Africa.
Her words, ‘From personal experience on my beat as business correspondent, I have seen severally that getting information from them is a tough one, even when it is glaring that they are not doing things right but one cannot heap the blame on them as only the things you permit can stay with you.

I want to believe that the corruption status of Africa, Nigeria inclusive is a major challenge and has not helped matters as policy makers most times collects bribes and kick- backs from Chinese contractors and when the contract is not well executed, eyes are turned the other way. 

Interestingly, this is not applicable in their country as they treat corruption with utmost seriousness.She went further, ‘It not deniable that Chinese interventions are helping in no small measure because most African countries including Nigeria cannot finance capital projects and critical infrastructures, so the assistance of China is a welcome development.  But what about their sincerity.
It is a global village, we need one another.  China itself is aware that Africa is its market, they need us much as we need them and on the strength of that, things should be done with conscience.

I have seen products in China that are specifically made for the Africa market, this is to run their economy and avoid recession.  So if they have the consciousness that they need Africa markets, then mutual respect should be our watchword’.
She said Africa is capable of closing its borders adding that if China could do same in the past, look inward and build its economy, then the continent of Africa can do the same.
At the African investigative journalism conference held between 7th to 9th November, journalists were taken through the rudiments of investigating stories with 21st century tools and techniques.  Ron Nixon of the New York Times taught data journalism and coding using the python program.  He said all journalists should as a matter of urgency learn data and phrases such as data journalists should be abolish as every journalists should be able to interpret data in order to be relevant in the 21st century journalism.

There was a panel discussion on how interesting and powerful working uncover can be.  Shane Bauer (US), Christian Locka (Cameroon) and Stephen Nartey (Ghana) all agreed that this genre of journalism is powerful tool for investigative journalist, they explain the circumstances under which going undercover is desirable and when not to use it with tips on how to prepare to go undercover.
Seamus Reynolds taught on reporting with mobile phones.  A development he said is fast taking over the place of conventional cameras.  He said it is possible to tell a story from start to finish, conduct interview, record protest and events with mobile phones with other accessories that could fix perfectly into a journalists small bag or pocket. Reynolds said becoming a mobile journalist or mojo should be the desire of every investigative journalists noting that they carry exceptionally powerful computers and smartphones in their pockets with few of them knowing how to fully exploit these devices to produce any form of journalism imaginable. 
Raymond Joseph and Zoe Flood talked on how to survive as freelance journalists.  They explained how freelance journalists can build their profile, market themselves and find stories that media desire and would pay for.  They also discussed other options of making money like writing for Non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

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