June 1st, 2011
11:58 AM GMT
Johannesburg, South Africa (CNN) – Strolling around my neighborhood high street in Johannesburg, one is struck by a disproportionate number of décor shops.
On just our small street there are at least five shops selling “French provincial” furniture and design accessories. Wedged between one of those shops and the DVD rental store is another design store selling “Balinese” furniture and gifts.
Of course, not much of this furniture actually comes from France or Bali. Instead, most seems to originate in China. Hopefully, most people buying from these stores realize they are paying for a “look” and not the real deal.
The proliferation of Chinese goods is not new. Neither is China’s growing business presence on the African continent.
What does seem to be changing is the terms of the relationship between Africans and the Chinese.
African leaders - and I’ve interviewed a number of them in recent weeks - all seem to be making tougher contractual demands on their Asian counterparts.
Whether or not the rules of the game are actually changing is one thing, however, there is at least a public shift in the dialogue, with the Africans pushing for a less “one-sided relationship.” South Africa’s Business Day newspaper recently ran a headline that said: “Zuma seeks ‘fair deal’ in Africa’s ties with China.”
South African President Jacob Zuma echoed what many other business and political leaders are saying on the continent. They seem determined to ensure that Chinese business deals in Africa are more equitable in terms of long-term investments, infrastructure maintenance, job creation and skills transfer.
Even though Africans are favorable towards this relationship there are serious questions being asked by leaders like President Zuma. “How do we trade with China in a way that benefits us as well as them?’ he recently said.
So it seems Africans are pushing back and insisting on tougher terms on contracts. One Rwandan I had a conversation with said that some other African leaders had been “stupid” when negotiating with the Chinese and that the Rwandan business elite had been “cleverer” when constructing their deals with China.
In other parts of the continent, people are questioning why they aren’t getting more for the mineral riches that lie in abundance beneath Africa’s soil.
There is a growing political pressure to leverage Africa’s wealth better and for Africans to rewrite the terms of their relationship with Chinese investors.
Ever sensitive to the image of the African with his arms outstretched, palms turned upwards, looking for handouts, many on the continent want to make sure that they aren’t thrown the scraps when it comes to apportioning the massive opportunities that lie ahead.
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