Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Importance of Immigration

Henry Hall, editor of the wonderful blog China Africa News, just wrote a fascinating piece on The Christian Science Monitor that looks at the impact of Chinese immigration on the African continent.

He begins by saying:
An increasingly common complaint emanating from the African media is that Chinese immigrants in Africa are having a negative impact in their host economies.

Recent studies suggest that the population of Chinese in Africa now stands at close to 1 million. The chief concern is that Chinese small businesses, often run by Chinese families, are capitalizing on their better access to Chinese markets, more advanced techniques, or superior access to capital, to make profits in key industries in which Africans seek employment – namely petty trading, agriculture, mining, and building work.
The piece really should be read in full, but these are the points I want to highlight:
  • Hall gets the Chinese population right, which does not always happen when writing about the numbers of Chinese in Africa. Right now, it stands at about a million.
  • The piece mentions that Chinese and African labor do compete in certain sectors, "namely petty trading, agriculture, mining, and building work." That is an important point, because one of the differences in how the Chinese live and work in Africa versus Americans or Europeans is that the latter are not competing for the same sorts of jobs with the locals. 
  • Hall explains how Chinese market traders are so successful compared to their African counterparts due to"their superior access to Chinese markets and capital," though I would like more of an exploration of the work schedules of traders.
  • He sets up an interesting frame of analyzing Sino-African relations by asking whether Chinese wealth leaves the country or not. Most of the time if China generates wealth it is viewed as somehow illegitimate, that they are taking something from the African peoples. Perhaps that is the case, but it would probably be more helpful to see if Chinese money stays in the locality in which it was generated.
  • Hall highlights areas that China could really benefit Africa, notably transferring skills, employing locals with successful businesses, and setting up manufacturing.
  • Hall concludes by emphasizing the importance of African governments in regulating immigration. The proverbial ball is mostly in Africa's court on this issue, and it is up to African governments to enforce immigration or at least think about immigration.
Chinese immigration to Africa has a huge impact on how everyday people in African countries view China and they are an important component of Sino-Africa relations too often lost in the gaudier discussion of national diplomacy. Hopefully more people take notice of their importance.


  1. Winslow, thanks for the analysis. At 1 million Chinese, spread throughout the African continent of 54 countries, the figure doesnt seem daunting to warrant a crack-down on immigration. With increased North South and South South globalization and migration, driven mainly by the search for "greener pastures", the numbers are going to swell. There is a school of thought that the World's most populous country is trying to encourage her citizens to migrate to other countries via overseas investments and hence China usually hires Chinese nationals on her projects in foreign countries, who end up staying in these countries, as investors once the projects are completed. Whatever the case, I support open borders, in all countries. Why not? How else are we going to trade and live as the world continues to shrink?

  2. Rachel, I agree with your assessment about not needing to crack-down on Chinese immigration and the need for open borders. I have heard about China encouraging its people to settle in Africa, but I have not seen much proof of those claims (sometimes I read that China is trying to settle 300 million of its citizens to alleviate overpopulation, which is a pretty crazy accusation)...