Chinese debt-inducing infrastructure projects on the African continent are causing serious concern across the region.
Across the continent, China has planned investments across different segments allowing it to expand its already hostile sphere of influence.
Yet, in all the anxiety that seems to be mounting in the economic circles of various African nations, the main concern that is constantly being swept under the rug is the irreversible ecological damage that Chinese projects are wreaking on sensitive regions.
In this case, West Africa, which in the last two years has begun to strengthen its engagements with China, seems to be at the forefront of these Chinese wrecks.
China has started focusing specifically on West African countries such as Senegal, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Nigeria, Gambia and Togo. In this regard, most of these countries had untapped natural resources that China viewed as a reserve to be exploited for its own natural resource needs.
For example, prolonged protests have unfolded in The Gambia, the smallest county among West African countries.
The main reason for the growing animosity within the various Gambian communities against Chinese companies is due to the widespread contamination of the waters at Gunjur Beach. In 2016, a Chinese fishmeal company opened a factory in the area, dumping all of its waste into the ocean.
This then led to a long pile of dead aquatic animals washing up on the shores. Shortly after the contamination began to spread, locals claimed that the color of the water began to change and preserved wildlife began to die off again.
The government’s inaction on this matter has worsened the situation and left little room for course correction. The plant currently appears to be operating with little regard for the ecological damage it has inflicted on communities and wildlife in the area.
Although The Gambia is not alone in the Chinese spotlight for capturing its fishing industry. China’s investment in Sierra Leone for fisheries development projects has been harshly criticized by environmental groups for causing damage to waterbeds and aquatic life in the region.
The government of Sierra Leone had received $55 million in 2021 from China to build a fishing port and fishmeal factory similar to that in The Gambia.
Leading conservationists have said the fishing industry would struggle to maintain an ecologically sound factory as it is inevitably designed to ruin marine wildlife and jeopardize prospects for food security within of the small nation.
However, things in terms of ecological conservation have gone from bad to worse in West Africa. Chinese investments have not only wreaked havoc in sea-facing nations on the Western Front. In the landlocked country of Mali, China has caused an even more disturbing ecological disaster.
Between 2017 and 2022, China imported up to half a million kosso worth around $200 million. Sourcing kosso trees for rosewood extraction is not only an expensive affair, but is also considered one of the most destructive supplies for the regions and forests involved. In 2020, Mali had imposed a ban on rosewood harvesting which was lifted and an export ban was placed instead.
However, local investigators reported that China continued to source the banned logs by offering large bribes to senior officials.
China previously sourced rosewood from Southeast Asia, but Chinese traders in the region have over-harvested the forests, causing lasting social, economic and environmental losses to the countries.
It would not be an exaggeration to say that Mali, in its turbulent history, has faced two deadly coups in the past two years and is perhaps one of the most economically unstable countries and socially of all Africa.
If China were to over-exploit the forests in the sensitive region of Mali, the latent threat of a failed state could materialize due to the economic burden and future consequences that it would entail.
In 2019, International Rivers, a US-based non-profit organization, warned in its report that Chinese state-owned companies were failing to meet environmental and social standards in their projects in Africa.
Countries like Ghana and Ivory Coast were plagued by poor environmental compliance by Chinese companies working to build infrastructure projects in their region.
In Uganda, the Chinese companies China International and Water Electric continued construction of the Isimba hydroelectric power station on the White Nile.
This was done even after repeated warnings that construction would cause unmanageable damage to protected areas and habitats.
Similarly in Côte d’Ivoire, the notorious Sinhydro International has repeatedly ignored ecological concerns that have been raised and failed in its responsibility to deliberately establish remedial systems for local residents around the Sassandra River. affected by the hydroelectric plant.
A similar story is playing out in other neighboring West African countries which have recently received huge investments for projects in their native lands and coasts.
Yet it is important for West Africa in particular to consider the danger that such irresponsible Chinese behavior will bring prematurely. The short-term gain of economic progress demanded by Chinese loans and infrastructure may seem attractive, but the long-term consequences of such a situation have far-reaching implications.
The ecological damage that these projects have proven is indeed irreversible; more so, they end up taking economic and strategic advantage away from the host country which has generally fallen prey to fictitious Chinese promises that never materialize.
It is therefore important that sensitive and unstable countries, especially in West Africa, realize that Chinese funds are nothing but madness to attract and spread Chinese influence in their favor across the world. .
By Colombo Gazette