Earlier this month, Aljazeera screened a movie titled The Colony by Brent Huffman and Xiaoli Zhou. Huffman and Zhou explored the “onslaught of Chinese economic might and its impact on long-standing African traditions.” This economic colonization, hence the title of the film, is not without its pitfalls with minimal assimilation, integration, or perception of mutual benefit. As Huffman notes,
Although there is communication between the two sides at a certain level, it is rather limited. Despite various differences in language, culture, and work ethics, the Chinese are not making enough of an effort to integrate into Senegalese society.
Although the Chinese businesses have brought some benefits to the local low-income consumers, their overall presence is viewed with suspicion and hostility by many Senegalese.
The Chinese community, which Huffman describes as unapproachable without a Chinese fixer, imports all the comforts of home and fail to integrate with the local economy. This complete ignorance of the economic and social costs (call it public diplomacy if you want) creates a lopsided engagement that will, if it is not already, undermine Chinese efforts and aspirations. The result will be opportunities for others (ahem) to move in. The defect in the Chinese policy and practice is captured in interviews with Senegalese leaders:
[The Chinese] live in their stores. They don’t open bank account. They don’t buy our food. They don’t participate in building the Senegalese economy at all.
If the Europeans colonized us by overpowering us, the Chinese are colonizing our economy.
Huffman describes what he sees as the result of Chinese community’s insular colonial practices:
I fear that if the hostile backlash in the business community keeps growing, a violent inciting incident, like the murder seen in our film but on a larger scale, might occur.
Such an event would further polarise the two communities and could potentially end friendly collaboration. I foresee the Chinese will have to eventually ramp up private security, a practice already in place in some African nations, in order to protect their investments.
Watch the Aljazeera episode below: