An attitude adjustment

Howard French, once a New York Times journalist and now an associate professor at Columbia has a great new post on AfricaPlus called “The China-Africa Convergence: Can America Catch Up?”  He wrote one of my favorite books on Africa a couple of years ago called A Continent for the Taking: The Tragedy and Hope of Africa.  I’d highly recommend it for anyone interested in development.

He has been working more on China (and the China-Africa connection) these days and has a new book coming out in 2014 called “China’s Second Continent: How a Million Migrants Are Building a New Empire in Africa.”  He makes some great points in the blog post on the issue of Chinese versus American attitudes about Africa.  He writes:

“More than a million Chinese have moved to Africa in the last decade, largely because they see the continent as an arena of almost limitless opportunity. This holds true from big company executives to mom and pop entrepreneurs from China’s inland, second tier cities. Americans, meanwhile, despite their far deeper historical associations with the continent, including 13% of the population that traces its ancestry to Africa, cling to deeply engrained attitudes toward this part of the world, as a place of war, of misery, of strife, etc. For this reason, and because we cannot get over a long-running sense of Africa as a place to be aided, we are ill equipped to see or appreciate the opportunities that Africa offers.”

He goes on to note that American embassies across Africa are shutting down their “commercial sections, which historically have researched African economies and provided helpful information and contacts to American businesses looking for opportunities.”

He makes a good argument that the US needs an attitude adjustment about Africa and I couldn’t agree more.


One thought on “An attitude adjustment

  1. I will think it has more to do with the fact that Chinese companies are more familiar and comfortable maneuvering their way through poor institutions found in most African countries, contrary to their US counterparts. In other words while Chinese companies may see the poor institutions in Africa as opportunities, US companies probably will see them as obstacles. In fact there is this study, “Transforming disadvantages into advantages: developing-country MNEs in the least developed countries” by Cuervo-Cazurra, A., and Mehmet Genc, which shows that MNCs from developing countries fare relatively better doing business in other developing countries than those from developed countries doing business in developing countries.

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