China's Environmental Footprint in Africa

A new report written by your blogger discusses China’s environmental footprint in Africa. Are Chinese investors Africa's new colonizers? Are they simply following the mold of Western investment? Or does China's investment offer new opportunities of South-South cooperation? This is a hot topic, and my report has already triggered controversial reactions.

Chinese companies are building large mines and hydropower plants, textile factories and cell phone networks throughout Africa. Their projects include 26 large dams (and counting). China’s environmental footprint in Africa has stirred a heated debate on the continent and in Western countries. Some observers have denounced China as a new colonizer whose “ravenous appetite” is devouring Africa’s resources. Others have rejected such concerns as “a frightening heap of nonsense”, and have pointed out the parallels between the Chinese and the Western role in Africa.

Over the last few months, I have written a paper which looks beyond the stereotypes. China’s Environmental Footprint in Africa examines China’s Africa strategy, and analyzes similarities and differences with the Western approach. The paper elaborates the environmental impacts of China’s strategy, describes the evolving response of the Chinese government, and identifies challenges for actors in Africa, China, and the West.

Earlier drafts of the paper have brought me invitations to publish newspaper articles and make presentations from San Francisco to Washington, from New York to Toronto. They have sparked a lot of comment, including some controversy. Readers from NGOs in China and Africa, US universities and the World Bank praised the report as balanced, thorough, and convincing. A retired Chinese-American entrepreneur, on the other hand, called the paper “sensationalist” and told me that “from the severity of the commentary, I almost expected you to call China the evil empire”.

A “nicely balanced piece”, or a “sensationalist” effort at China bashing? Find out for yourself! My paper is being published as a Policy Brief of the South African Institute for International Affairs, and as a Working Paper of the School of Advanced International Studies of Johns Hopkins University. A Chinese version of the paper will soon be published by Fahamu in South Africa. You can already download the paper from our website (in English and Chinese), and order it from Enjoy reading, and we look forward to your comments.

Peter Bosshard is the policy director of International Rivers. His blog, Wet, Wild and Wonky, appears at