One of the many simple, widely-believed narratives about the Chinese in Africa is that PRC businesses fuel corruption across the continent. That caricature, although overly-simplistic, is amplified by China’s insistence there be little to no transparency in most of its government and corporate transactions in Africa. So the combination of a Chinese veil over its business dealings with the prevalence of corruption that already exists in African societies creates a potentially toxic mix.
Chinese corporate corruption in Africa is well documented. From allegations of paying off corrupt officials in the Republic of the Congo to illegally log protected rain forests to reportedly bribing officials in the DR Congo a staggering $350 million as part of off-book fees to facilitate the multi-billion dollars mega-mining deal known as Sicomines.
Then there is the man known as “Sam Pa.” Although few people know his actual identity, what is known, according to Financial Times correspondent Tom Burgiswho documented much of this man’s notorious history in Africa in the 2015 book “The Looting Machine,” is that billions of dollars flowed through his network as part of shady operations throughout Africa to secure oil drilling rights, mining deals and countless other Sino-African business arrangements.
Pa was notorious for fueling corruption, so much so, that the scope and scale of his allegedly-illegal dealings in Africa seemingly became an issue for Chinese authorities in Bejing. Pa is now sitting in a Chinese jail on corruption charges, swept up as part of Chinese president Xi Jinping’s vast anti-corruption crackdown.
The case of Sam Pa and the billions allegedly doled out by Chinese corporations in places like the DR Congo exemplify the kind of corruption that many people associate with the Chinese presence in Africa. However that is only part of the story. While some major Chinese corporations have been linked to these kinds of illegal activities, smaller Chinese businesses throughout the continent often operate on the other end of the spectrum as victims of corruption.
Zander Rounds, Research Manager at China House Kenya in Nairobi, recently published a paper on the role that small-to-medium sized Chinese enterprises play in Kenyan corruption. Rounds conducted interviews with 25 Chinese business leaders in Kenya over a 10 month period, and what he learned over the course of his research is that as new immigrants in a country where they are forced to operate in an unfamiliar culture, language and legal system, Chinese business owners are easy targets for bribes.
Rounds’ research complicates the narrative that Chinese businesses are typically the instigators of corruption in Africa. He joins Eric & Cobus to discuss his findings and also to explore what, if anything, can be done to help correct the problem in Kenya.
- The Independent (UK): Sam Pa: The fall of China’s trailblazer in Africa by David Connett
- Chian Dialogue: Mozambique losing millions to illegal Chinese logging trade by Tom Levitt
About Zander Rounds
Zander Rounds is the Nairobi-based Research Manager for non-profit organization China House Kenya. Zander is a graduate of Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service and a recent Fulbright scholar. He has traveled repeatedly to China since 2007 and am currently lives and works with the Chinese communities in Nairobi. Zander writes and conducts extensive research on Chinese-African relations (economics, politics, people), democratization in Africa and international development.