NGOs to China: Don't Repeat the West's Mistakes in Africa

Monday, May 14, 2007

As the African Development Bank convenes in Shanghai for its annual meeting, African and international civil society groups call for greater public accountability in China’s relations with Africa China’s expanding role in Africa may represent a great opportunity for development, but only if China is careful not to repeat the errors that Western powers made in the past.

A delegation of African and international non-governmental organizations are currently visiting Shanghai and Beijing for a dialogue with Chinese government officials, academics, and civil society groups. They presented their concerns and recommendations at the beginning of the African Development Bank’s annual meeting.

Peter Bosshard, the policy director of International Rivers, said:

"As a developing nation, China is in a unique position to offer advice and support to African countries. China should learn from the mistakes of Western governments, and should not turn a blind eye to corruption and environmental destruction in the projects it promotes."

Today, International Rivers in Shanghai released a report that outlines civil society concerns surrounding China’s role in financing African infrastructure projects.

Chinese companies are currently building the Merowe Dam in Sudan. The project is displacing 70,000 people from the fertile Nile Valley and moving them into the Nubian Desert. Peaceful protests against the project have been violently oppressed by the Sudanese authorities. Ali Askouri, a leader of the affected communities and president of the Piankhi Research Group, said in Shanghai:

"Projects that do not address the needs of the affected people will fuel conflicts and social disintegration. China should consult African civil society groups and affected communities in the projects it finances."

Daniel Ribeiro, a water expert with Justiça Ambiental, a Mozambiquan NGO, is in Shanghai to raise concerns about the Mpanda Nkuwa Dam which China plans to finance on the Zambezi River in Mozambique. The dam will have major environmental impacts on the Zambezi Delta, a protected Ramsar site. Daniel Ribeiro said in Shanghai:

"Chinese banks should only finance projects that comply with international environmental standards. The Mpanda Nkuwa Dam should be put on hold until the costs and benefits of the project and potential alternatives have been thoroughly addressed."

Nikki Reisch, the manager of the Bank Information Center’s Africa program, emphasized that civil society needs to be part of the rapidly growing cooperation between China and Africa. Reisch said in Shanghai:

"Plans by the African Development Bank and China to intensify investment in the extractive industries and infrastructure in Africa could pose significant risks to people and the environment. Civil society organizations in China, Africa and abroad should work together to hold their governments accountable."