Chinatown, Freetown

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Writing in the latest issue of Granta, Lindsey Hilsum has a fascinating piece on Sierra Leone and the "new pioneers" of global capitalism in Freetown: the Chinese. While infusions of Western aid go unnoticed, Hilsum says, Chinese companies are building and investing. Her conclusion:

Like most Western journalists and aid workers who have spent time in Africa, I frequently despair at the continent's problems, veering between blaming the aid donors, the African governments, and even at times the people. Western aid hasn't worked, so why was everyone demonstrating near Gleneagles so convinced that sending more would make things better? It cannot be good that African governments persist with human rights abuse, or perpetuate their rule against the desires of their peoples, but poverty remains Africa's greatest problem, and liberal concerns have not helped Africa's poor.

The Chinese come to Africa as equals, with no colonial hangover, no complex relationship of resentment. China wants to buy; Africa has something to sell. If African governments could respond in a way which spread the new wealth—a large if, of course—then China might provide an opportunity for Africa which Europe and America have failed to deliver.

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