Second, there's still an ongoing debate about China's role in Africa. Some see it as neo-colonization, with the white man's burden being replaced by the yellow man's burden. Others believe in China's professed third world solidarity in bringing its "Beijing Consensus"-style development elsewhere. I tend to think the reality lies between these two extremes. While there is certainly a lot of self-interest involved in, say, China building football stadiums all over the continent, the Chinese tend to pay more attention than their colonial predecessors to infrastructure. That is, the Chinese are keen on putting up ports, roads, and other things that can facilitate commerce.
Of course, there's another debate as to whether China's construction projects benefit the local population since a lot of labour is often imported from China instead of being sourced locally. OTOH, Chinese officials I ask about this always mention that there is often a limited pool of local workers able and willing to help in construction projects. At any rate, what is described below is the emergence of an export processing zone (EPZ) near the capital of Lagos broadly modelled on China's exceedingly successful experiment with EPZs. If the Lekki Free Zone provides Nigeria with some diversification away from energy, hey, why not?
Nigeria is building a multi-billion dollar free trade zone with Chinese investors on the edge of its commercial capital Lagos to try to develop a local manufacturing base and help reduce its import dependence. The $5 billion first phase of the Lekki Free zone, a 3,000 hectare site on the eastern fringe of the city, is 60 per cent held by Chinese investors and 40 per cent by the Lagos state government, the deputy head of the project told Reuters.There's a slick promotional video too if you're further interested. Like China, Nigeria should be so Lekki...Lekki, Lekki, Lekki.
The consortium will provide basic infrastructure including roads, power plants and water plants before manufacturing firms are invited to set up business, Lekki Free Zone Development Co (LFZDC) deputy managing director, Adeyemo Thompson, said.
"We have a number of Chinese companies which are coming in the manufacturing area," Thompson said in an interview. "They are coming to produce furniture, electronics, pharmaceuticals and heavy machinery. We are having a fair in November, that is when we kick off operations."
The Chinese shareholders in the project include China Railway Construction Corp., the China-Africa Development Fund Ltd and the China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation Ltd. A total of 16,500 hectares of land bordered by the Atlantic Ocean and the Lagos and Lekki lagoons has been earmarked for the whole free zone, which will include a deepwater sea port and a new international airport in close proximity.
The aim of the free zone is to make it easier for foreign investors, particularly manufacturers, to build a foothold in sub-Saharan Africa's most populous nation and second-biggest economy while still owning 100 per cent of their firms. It is modelled on free zones around China which have helped the Asian giant to develop its manufacturing base and economy over the past three decades.
"We have a one-stop shop ... No investor has to deal with any government agency directly. We license the enterprises. You can register your enterprise within a week, get permits and everything you need to run your business," Thompson said. "The free zone allows you to attract foreign direct investment into the country and investors are given some incentives ... It helps boost production, manufacturing, create employment and is a basis for sustainable infrastructure."
The manufacturing and agricultural sectors have been neglected since the 1970s oil boom, when Nigeria began making easy money from crude oil sales. Oil accounts for more than 80 percent of revenues and more than 60 percent of exports.
UPDATE: Also see this earlier interview regarding the hopes placed on Lekki. Apparently, it's been on the drawing boards for some time now. The key part concerns the role the PRC played in inspiring this EPZ and in funding initial outlays. Note the emphasis on hiring 4 Nigerians per Chinese worker to address concerns noted earlier:
How did the Chinese get involved with the free zone?
As you know, when the Chinese opened up their economy in the late seventies and early eighties, they established a number of free zones or economic zones to improve economic activity in their country. These zones helped to encourage investments into the country and improve the level of employment. My predecessors went round and talked to various people, looked at what was available and they were happy with what they saw in China. Four Chinese firms then came together to form a consortium and here they are now.
Lagos State Government is providing the land and this forms our equity. The Chinese consortiums are bringing in funds for the basic infrastructure for the first phase which will cover power, water, sewage and some roads and then the land will be leased to prospective investors. Proceeds from the land will be used for further development of the zone. Also, some money will be raised from local investors in due course.
The agreement we have with the Chinese is that there has to be some form of skill transfer to local Nigerians. For every Chinese, there should be four Nigerians working with him to acquire the necessary skills. Whatever jobs can be given to the local community will be given to them. One of the benefits of this project is employment creation and we will start with the local communities to garner their support for the FTZ.