PRC Football Diplomacy & Africa Cup of Nations

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in ,,,, at 2/19/2010 01:01:00 AM
I've just emerged from a most interesting lecture here at the LSE featuring the prominent sportswriter and leading IPE of sports commentator David Goldblatt. The name should be familiar to those of you who've studied IPE in Britain as one of the co-authors of the earlier editions of the standard IPE textbook Global Transformations. I also own his nearly 1000-page magnum opus on the history of football, The Ball is Round, though I must sheepishly admit that I haven't gotten around to reading it yet as free time is hard to come by for me nowadays. He has since given up academia to become a sports journalist, and his many travails were the subject of his just-concluded lecture.

One of the things I deeply regret is not covering Africa closely. While listening to Goldblatt, he mentioned how sports is an often overlooked aspect of IPE. As an example, he brought up Angola. Long beset by civil war, the country's situation is not entirely resolved. However, there is a reason why great powers care much about Angola: it is rich in crude oil, diamonds, iron, and other natural resources. Now, I have dedicated many posts about the role of China in Africa [1, 2, 3, 4, 5] and will probably have more in the future. China likes to portray its role positively. Unlike Western exploiters of the past, the Chinese like saying they're just an LDC like African countries who know what it's like to be under the white man's thumb. What's more, China highlights its interest in building useful infrastructure--roads, bridges, and so on unlike Western colonizers who just extract and leave a mess behind.

Regardless of China's ultimate intentions in Africa, Angola suddenly sprung four brand spanking new stadiums on an unsuspecting world in time for the biennial, just-concluded 2010 Africa Cup of Nations. Mostly remembered for the ambush of Togolese footballers en route to the event, there's an interesting backstory to how Angola came up with the resources to host it. Where exactly did the money come from to put up these stadiums? The answer, of course, is China. Not only did the PRC front the money, but it's also had to provide the construction crews to finish the job. According to Sue Branford:
The four new football stadiums, built at a cost of US$600m, have delighted Angolans. They are aesthetically pleasing and reflect the country's rich cultural heritage. They are a far cry from the ugly old cement buildings in which Angolans and many other Africans generally watch football matches.

The stadiums are meant to show that Angola has finally recovered from a 27-year civil war that cost a million lives and drove four million people from their homes. But they also symbolise Angola's reliance on foreign investment, for the stadiums were built and largely funded by China. In stark contrast with the Communist policies adopted in the years following independence, Angola's current model of development relies heavily on a big influx of foreign money.
Don't forget there are other players, though China is still the largest--especially in the petroleum arena:
Today even more than then, it is difficult to travel in Angola without hearing about Chinese investment. China's Sino Hydro Corporation is investing US$2.4bn in rebuilding Angola's infrastructure, including hospitals and irrigation canals for agriculture. Overall, China is reported to have lent Angola more than US$5bn for this kind of project. And it is not just China. The US, Brazil, Portugal (the old colonial power) and other countries are all there.

Much of the interest in Angola is linked to the country's oil wealth. Oil accounts for 95% of Angola's export earnings, with the lion's share going to China. Angola is China's main trading partner in Africa, with two-way trade totalling US$25.3bn in 2008.
And it turns out that Angola is far from alone in China's plans to capitalize on football diplomacy as it is in the process of building stadiums in seventeen, you read that right, seventeen other African nations. The emerging issue for Africans, however, is that these acts of goodwill are not often accompanied by jobs as Chinese construction crews tend to use their own:
One of the tactics used by China to win friends is to build football stadiums -- 'stadium diplomacy', as it has been dubbed. According to Pitch Invasion, ' The Chinese have built or are in the process of building stadiums across a veritable A to Z of African states, including Angola, Benin, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Congo-Brazzaville, Djibouti, the Gambia, Liberia, Mali, Mauritius, Mozambique, Niger, Guinea, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Togo, Uganda, and Zimbabwe.

Some Angolans are unhappy with the use of unskilled Chinese workers to build roads. "About half of the labour force here in Luanda is unemployed," a director from Sonangol told a journalist in an off-the-record briefing. "It makes no sense at all to bring in Chinese workers to build roads."
Auntie has as photo essay of the stadiums being built which naturally features a lot of shots with Chinese architects. South-South cooperation for development or the yellow man's burden? I myself haven't come to a conclusion yet, but it's sure interesting to watch these developments. And certainly, building sports stadiums as a form of diplomacy is a novel way to win hearts and minds if not necessarily to provide employment where it is undoubtedly needed.