Angola Update: The Not So Good News

A few months ago,  our “Barry’s Gleaning” post reported good news about Angola and the building going on there to create good housing for those who had been living in slums near the capital city of Luanda.  The source was the China Daily, a Nov. 17, 2014 article, “Changing the face of real estate in Angola” by Li Jing in the business section.  What the Chinese have accomplished in Angola was presented in glowing terms.

The China Daily article notes:

“With its abundance of resources that include crude oil, diamonds and gold, the southern African nation has seen scores of China’s State-owned enterprises and private companies enter its borders hoping for an economic opportunity.

In 2008, CITIC Construction Co, a State-owned enterprise and one of the largest construction companies in the world, joined the nation’s reconstruction efforts.  [See the CITIC website:<]

‘We are an active and responsible player in the country’s post-war reconstruction process,’ says Liu Guigen, president of the African regional division of CITIC Construction . . .

That year, the company won a bid to build housing in Kilamba Kiaxi, one of the capital city of Luanda’s six urban districts that is located 30 kilometers from downtown. . . .

Last year, the $10 billion project was completed with a total of 20,000 residential homes, 200 retail stores, 24 kindergartens, nine primary schools and eight middle schools. CITIC claims 90 percent of the homes are already occupied.”

That article sounds wonderful and a win-win situation for the Chinese company and the people of Angola.

However,  we’ve found another view that emphasizes the importance of questioning all your sources and not being too sure about what you read.

Travel writer Paul Theroux has quite damning things to say about the Chinese builders in his book The Last Train to Zona Verde:

The Last Train to Zona Verde - The Guardian describes the book as

The Last Train to Zona Verde

In a book review for The Guardian, Robin McKie says The Last Train to Zona Verde is “uncompromising and unsettling.”  <>  This accurately describes Theroux’s  look at the Chinese in Angola:

“The first Chinese workers to arrive in Angola were criminals, prisoners of the Chinese justice system–thieves, rapists, dissidents, deserters, and worse, an echo of the earliest immigration from Portugal.  . . . The first workers the Chinese sent were convicts shipped in chains, to work off their sentences in forced labor.  Angola, having begun as a penal colony of the Portuguese, became just recently a penal colony for the Chinese.  These Chinese convicts were the labor force for China-Angola development projects–the ugly oversized pastel buildings, the coastal roads, the dredging of the del-water port of Lobito–and after they had served their sentences, the agreement was that they would remain in Angola.  Presumably, like the Portuguese degredados, they would elevate themselves to the bourgeoisie or a higher class of parvenu.

Possibly, again like the Portuguese convicts, the Chinese would become the loudest racists, and for the same reason. ‘The inferiority complex of the uneducated criminal settler population contributed to a virulent form of white racism among the Portuguese, which affected all classes from top to bottom,’ the political historian Lawrence Henderson wrote of the early settlers.  The Portuguese convicts became the most brutal employers and the laziest farmers, and a sizable number turned furiously respectable, in the way atoning whores become sermonizing and pitiless nuns.

After the first wave of Chinese convicts (‘We started seeing them around 2006, a man in Luanda was later to tell me), more shiploads of semiskilled Chinese workers arrived.  As with the early Portuguese convicts, they were all men.  Then, a few years later, women were allowed to work in Angola”  (282-283).

. . . “Some Africa watchers and Western economists have observed that the Chinese presence in Africa–a sudden intrusion–is salutary and will result in greater development and more opportunities for Africans. Seeing Chinese digging into Africa, isolated in their enterprises, offhand with Africans to the point of rudeness and deaf to any suggestion that they moderate their self-serving ways, I tend to regard this positive view as a crock.  My own feeling is that like the other adventurers in Africa, the Chinese are exploiters.  They have no compact or agreement or involvement with the African people; third is an alliance with the dictators and bureaucrats whom they pay off and allow to govern abusively–a conspiracy.

Theirs is a racket like those of all the previous colonizers, and it will end badly–maybe worse, because the Chinese are tenacious, richer, and for them there is no going back and no surrender.  As they walked into Tibet and took over (with not a voice of protest raised by anyone in the West), they are walking into the continent and, outspending any other adventurer, subverting Africans, with a mission to plunder” (265).


Theroux’s view is a good reminder to question everything.  Is the China Daily’s glowing view correct or Theroux’s point of view?  Obviously, we need more than those two accounts.

Have you been there?  What do you know?

Aloha, Renée


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About reneeriley

Our blog was begun as a way to share our experiences in China. From August 2010 to July 2011, my husband, Barry Kristel, and I were at our University of Hawaii Maui College sister school, Zhejiang Agriculture and Forestry University in Lin'an, China, a city considered rural because it has only 500,000 people! We had a wonderful time. Then in February 2012, we returned to teach this time at our other sister school, Shanghai Normal University, in a city of over 21 million people. We've made many discoveries. Did you know that now Chinese girls, at least the ones who go to university, for the most part feel they are luckier than the Chinese boys? Did you know that Shanghai saved over 20,000 European Jews during WWII? Do you know how Chinese university students would deal with problems that come up in Dear Abby letters? What's it like to be on the Great Wall of China? Do you know how many Chinese girls had their feet bound and why? And we have recipes from many of the places we've visited. Among others, you can find instructions on how to fry cicadas from one of my ZAFU students and how to make chocolate-Kahlua waffles from my brother Mike in Gainesville. You can also look back to our earliest entry to see what we experienced in Oaxaca, Mexico, in 2006 during the mainly peaceful six months of protest until the Mexican government sent in the troops. Between our stays in China, Barry and I have been on the Mainland U.S. visiting family, friends and Servas hosts as we traveled home to Maui. We share those experiences too. Welcome to our blog! Aloha and Zài Jiàn, Renée and Barry

2 responses to “Angola Update: The Not So Good News”

  1. Pat says :

    I want to read the Theroux book, it’s one I haven’t found yet.

  2. reneeriley says :

    Hi Pat: I gave my copy away, but the library should have it. I’ll be interested in knowing what you think after you’ve read it. Aloha,

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