For more than a decade, a number of African countries — particularly sub-Saharan countries such as South Africa and Angola — have been major destinations for Chinese contract workers and longer-term immigrants seeking gainful employment. The phenomenon of this migration was perhaps best chronicled in China’s Second Continent: How a Million Migrants Are Building a New Empire in Africa, a book by veteran New York Times reporter Howard French.
Now it appears the trend may be reversing, or at least shifting to other regions of Africa. The Financial Times reports (paywall) that the total number of Chinese across the continent appears to have peaked at around 1 million in 2013, and substantially decreased since then. For example, in oil-rich Angola alone, an estimated 150,000 Chinese contract workers have left in the past four years. Now, with commodity prices falling, South Africa in recession, and many Chinese immigrants returning home with negative stories of crime or discrimination they witnessed abroad, the numbers of Chinese in Africa appear to be decreasing.
This does not necessarily mean China’s role in Africa is diminishing, however. The FT reports that as China builds Belt and Road trade routes that touch on eastern Africa, the Chinese populations in countries such as Kenya and Ethiopia are actually increasing. Furthermore, a 350,000-strong population of Chinese — largely from southeastern Fujian Province — remains in South Africa, where Chinese immigration has a particularly long history.
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China scholar and historian Rana Mitter: “I suspect I speak for most academics when I say that China really ought to be at the cutting edge of scholarship on its own politics (can you imagine people arguing that the best scholarship on American politics came out of France or Germany?). Limiting access to the scholarly resources that every other university in the world is allowed to read will not help in that aim. It’s a self-inflicted wound.”
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