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I very rarely have found myself spending several hours on a single magazine article, but Richard Behar‘s report on China in Africa from June issue of FastCompany is very much worth you invest that time too.

This illustration probably recaps the “what” part of the story:

The Race for Raw Materials

In a word, the chair you sit on and the computer you’re using to read this post more likely than not come from China, no surprise there. What we probably have noticed less as a trend as consumers is that the basic components for making these things, from timber to cadmium, increasingly get shipped to China from Africa.

But what is much more revealing, interesting and depressing in the same time is the “how”.

Post colonial times Europe and the US have kept investing in Africa attaching a lot of soft values to the cold hard cash as conditions: human rights, transparency, saving the environment, democratic values, public education, whatnot. (There is a lot of hypocrisy involved in that too – read part 5 on the US in Equatorial Guinea) Changing whole African societies towards this “western thinking” has slowed the inflow and efficiency of these investments down, feeding in many cases the NGO-s of the donor more than the target countries.

And now imagine that enters a player with a different valueset (communism!) and priorities (feed a double-digit economic growth of a billion+ citizens) and willingness to compromise (bribes, the Earth) … and with a wallet like this:

Beijing's Leverage

This report on what China has done in Africa over just 5 years should give you some food for thought on how the world will look like over next 50. Read it..

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