From Africa, to Norway…

Does Africa still need charity, aid, development funds, assistance funds, all you name it, in this century? When you look out at how media often treats the continent – instead of looking it as ‘a continent of 54 nations with varying cultures, backgrounds, and differing interests and strengths’ – as some sort of ‘deplorable entity’, and how it desperately needs international communities for interference in even most basic fields, do we really assume that Africans are so ill-trained that they can even hardly control the most rudimentary needs in their lives?

There’s a wrong mindset that has been circulated for a very long time, and it continues to be perpetuated. Few reports tell us about how Nigeria and Senegal can successfully avoid Ebola cases into a massive outbreak, or how most of the continent remains safe from the pandemic (save for a few small countries in West Africa), or even how, despite a currently high malnutrition rate, the middle-class is rapidly rising in the whole continent? Are we doing all these things for the sake of Africa, or for the good sake of our own goodwill for international reputation?

Eh, okay, this sounds a bit too serious. Forget these words, just watch the video, released by SAIH, a Norwegian-based international development organization (with somehow satirical, farcical-looking videos). I don’t want this post ends up being something like Upworthy.

Bonus: Africans sing together for Norwegians affected by a longitudinal period of Arctic-like weather in this ‘Africa for Norway’ parody. Nah, just a bloke joke for self-serving people who ‘do good’ for the continent.

How Do You Say ‘Kimchi’ in Kinyarwanda?

korea in rwanda


Inspired by South Korea’s economic success, Rwanda, now under the leadership of strongman Paul Kagame (a.k.a. Africa’s Lee Kuan Yew), wants to emulate its experience. And here comes a Korean engagement in one of Africa’s fastest growing markets, not simply in terms of financial aids and project assistance, but also in foreign direct investment, and later on, a gradual emigration of Koreans to the country to set up new businesses and empower local population.

Read the full article in Foreign Policy.




To whatever degree that South Korea’s expanding Africa footprint has been informed by its own successes, the process also exposes some of the Korean growth model’s limitations. Aside from several oil and mining deals, much of Korea’s activity in Africa, including a major push by Samsung into the mobile phone market, can be linked to increasingly saturated consumer markets, and therefore limited growth potential, at home. From a workforce perspective, too, Korea’s hierarchical office culture and lengthy working hours have raised the attractiveness of overseas business and aid assignments. Jeong Jun-ho, chief strategy officer of Olleh Rwanda Networks, the KT-Rwandan joint venture, says he volunteered for his placement largely because it meant he’d have more time with his family. (He relocated with his wife and children.)

Then there are entrepreneurs like Shin Ji-yoon, who was driven to Africa in part by the influence of Korea’s chaebol, which, despite playing an essential role in driving the country’s growth, are increasingly blamed for inhibiting small and medium enterprises, discouraging entrepreneurship, and stifling innovation. “In the United States, everybody can be an entrepreneur and if they fail, oh OK, they can do another business,” Shin, 26, says over coffee at Rz Manna, a Korean-style cafe and pastry shop that he and five university colleagues opened in Kigali, Rwanda’s capital, last year. “In Korea, if I fail the first time, everybody will say, ‘You’re a loser.’ And if I succeed, and I invent a really good thing, a big company will just come and take it over.”

The New Colonialism: Foreign Investors Snap Up African Farmland

global land grab


One trend that has been below the radar of discussion on the media nowadays in land grab, mostly made by multinational, privately-owned corporations. They do not simply buy a small plot of land; they do it in millions of hectares, oftentimes buying up nearly the entire arable land of a nation, especially those of Third World countries in Asia and Africa.

For Africa, this phenomenon is particularly gaining some hard truth for much of the populace: despite under the promise of ‘enriching the population, triggering high economic growth’, governments are oftentimes powerless in the face of cash-flooded foreign investors. Some even begin to signal that ‘a new Scramble-for-Africa’ has begun, this time no longer in colonies, but in terms of massive land-leasing deals towards corporate behemoths, frequently below the supposed prices they pay.

Read the full article in Der Spiegel to find out more.




The most spectacular deals are not being made by private investors, however, but by governments and the funds and conglomerates they promote:

  • The Sudanese government has leased 1.5 million hectares of prime farmland to the Gulf States, Egypt and South Korea for 99 years. Paradoxically, Sudan is also the world’s largest recipient of foreign aid, with 5.6 million of its citizens dependent on food deliveries.
  • Kuwait has leased 130,000 hectares of rice fields in Cambodia.
  • Egypt plans to grow wheat and corn on 840,000 hectares in Uganda.
  • The president of the Democratic Republic of Congo has offered to lease 10 million hectares to the South Africans.

Saudi Arabia is one of the biggest and most aggressive buyers of land. This spring, the king attended a ceremony where he took delivery of the first export rice harvest, produced exclusively for the kingdom in hunger-stricken Ethiopia. Saudi Arabia spends $800 million a year promoting foreign companies that cultivate “strategic field crops” like rice, wheat, barley and corn, which it then imports. Ironically, the country was the world’s sixth-largest wheat exporter in the 1990s. But water is scarce and the desert nation aims to preserve its reserves. Exporting food also means exporting water.

Eritrea: the North Korea of Africa



Eritrea, as most people have barely heard about, is one of Africa’s fastest growing nations in terms of population number, and at the same time, also one of the world’s poorest. The country, throughout its independence, has been faced with wars with virtually all of its neighbors: Sudan, Ethiopia, Yemen, and a tiny country hosting a huge US military base, Djibouti. Nonetheless, it is the all-out war with Ethiopia that affected this country very severely. All able-bodied men, and even women, were enlisted for military service, leaving the nation completely paralyzed, in terms of economy, social progress, and political dynamism.

As the war ended, with 100,000 casualties on Eritrean-Ethiopian War, the country was completely devastated. Hundred thousands of refugees flooded neighboring countries, and some of them, probably as many as 40,000, even sought refuge in Israel. To stop the migration flows, though, Eritrean government imposed very harsh sentences for the populace, restricted their movements, and even inhibited them from going overseas. The economy was totally put to centralized control by the state, and they now mostly depend on scrap metal to keep the bustle going.

Now led by strongman Isaias Afewerki, Eritrea now solidifies itself as a totalitarian state, whose brutal uniformity, as media would like to refer, matches only that of North Korea.

French photographer Eric Lafforgue visits the country and summarizes what he finds out in his website.

Bonus: a 2010 Foreign Policy article highlights this African nation. Click this link to read more.




So though Asmara today looks like a charming Italian hill town circa 1930, that Soviet feel is never far away: shops full of empty shelves, citizens lining up with ration cards, shortages of basic goods, and a government dedicated to sustaining a military machine it cannot afford. With the economy stagnant, there is no hard currency to buy imports. Corner stores stock the same paltry selection of shoddy domestic goods: cleaning detergents, old fruit, a few bottled drinks, perhaps some canned food.

Restaurants are able to serve only a handful of items on their menus, and Coca-Cola halted local production a few years ago for lack of syrup. The bicycles that crowd the streets betray the desperate shortage of fuel; hiring a car to leave Asmara requires at least a day’s notice so that gas can be arranged. Hospitals have reportedly run out of essential supplies; a friend working for the United Nations asked me to smuggle in basic antibiotics no longer available in town. At a popular market that specializes in recycled goods, I watched one metalworker transform castoff artillery shells into coffee urns.

Before the Columbus




Far before Christopher Columbus discovered America in 1492, a Ming-era Chinese naval commander had led a fleet of full-fledged armada, stretching from Southeast Asia, India, Middle-East, and further into the long-stretching coasts of Africa, and unexpectedly, created a whole new Afro-Chinese tribe in an isolated island in Kenya. This was the story of Zheng He.

Released in June 1999, this long-form article was written by one of the world’s best journalists: the New York Times’ award-winning Nicholas D. Kristof.  Read the full story here.




Pate is off in its own world, without electricity or roads or vehicles. Mostly jungle, it has been shielded from the 20th century largely because it is accessible from the Kenyan mainland only by taking a boat through a narrow tidal channel that is passable only at high tide. Initially I was disappointed by what I found there. In the first villages I visited, I saw people who were light-skinned and had hair that was not tightly curled, but they could have been part Arab or European rather than part Chinese. The remote villages of Chundwa and Faza were more promising, for there I found people whose eyes, hair and complexion hinted at Asian ancestry, though their background was ambiguous.

And then on a still and sweltering afternoon I strolled through the coconut palms into the village of Siyu, where I met a fisherman in his 40’s named Abdullah Mohammed Badui. I stopped and stared at the man in astonishment, for he had light skin and narrow eyes. Fortunately, he was as rude as I was, and we stared at each other in mutual surprise before venturing a word. Eventually I asked him about his background and appearance.

”I am in the Famao clan,” he said. ”There are 50 or 100 of us Famao left here. Legend has it that we are descended from Chinese and others.

”A Chinese ship was coming along and it hit rocks and wrecked,” Badui continued. ”The sailors swam ashore to the village that we now call Shanga, and they married the local women, and that is why we Famao look so different.”

A costly romance epic titled ‘China and Africa’ (maps)

Pictures worth 1000 words, thus save my energy in describing the enigmatic love story between the two giants.

China's grab on Africa



China's interest in Africa



China's investment offers in Africa



China's planned projects in Africa



china's projects in DRC


Ugly rumor: Chinese companies are making use of extensive labor force (often with low pay and pot-luck safety guarantees) in Democratic Republic of Congo. Don’t say that’s another conspiracy theory formulated by the Americans.


China hydroelectric projects in Africa



China projects in Africa



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