Chinese Construction Companies in Angola: A Social Responsibility Perspective

Construction site in Luanda, Angola. Creator: Man-ucommons. Creative Commons License LogoThis image is licensed under Creative Commons License.

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Chinese Construction Companies in Angola: A Social Responsibility Perspective

Introduction

From having one of the most protracted conflicts in Africa, Angola has now become one of fastest growing sub-Saharan economies. Fuelled by record-high international oil prices leading to robust growth in both the oil and non-oil sectors, Angola has experienced burgeoning GDP growth in recent years. A priority for the Angolan government since the end of civil conflict in 2002 has been the reconstruction of country, devastated by more than three decades of civil war. Unable to attract the necessary funds from the international financial institutions, Luanda turned to Beijing. China’s relationship with Angola quickly shifted gear when in March 2004, the state-owned Export-Import Bank of China (Exim Bank) pledged the first $2-billion oil-backed loan to Angola to fund the reconstruction of shattered infrastructure throughout the country, with the bulk of the contracts to be undertaken by Chinese construction companies. China has since become an important financier for Angola, with loans from China Exim Bank alone reported to be some US$ 10.5 billion (Corkin, 2011b).

However, this relationship has not progressed without considerable challenges despite official pronouncements to the contrary. A number of concerns regarding Chinese companies’ engagement in Angola have come to the fore. While the physical rebuilding of the country is well under way, a number of social concerns relating to Chinese companies’ presence in Angola remain overlooked, and if unresolved could have negative consequences for continued Chinese economic engagement in Angola. This has to do particularly with Chinese companies’ corporate social responsibility programmes (CSR), or perceived lack thereof. This paper seeks to shed light on some of these contentious issues with a view to drawing them into the broader debate surrounding China’s engagement with Angola and other African countries.

Fieldwork was undertaken in Luanda, Angola between 18 -25 October 2011 and in Cape Town and Johannesburg, South Africa between 26 and 29 October. Thirty-five in-depth semistructured interviews were conducted in English, Mandarin Chinese and Portuguese. While some government officials were consulted, the majority of the respondents were from private businesses and non-governmental organisations, in order to tap into the perceptions held by stakeholders outside of direct official bilateral relations between China and Angola. Chinese companies were also engaged with. Appropriate respondents from South Africa were sought out for comparative and bench-marking purposes. Due to the sensitive nature of the research, most of the interviews were conducted anonymously. While the small sample size and brevity of time in the field prevents the research findings from being generalizable, the paper seeks to raise some issues that may be taken forward in further, more in-depth research.

The findings of this fieldwork are briefly contextualised by a synopsis of contemporary China- Angola relations. The body of this paper discusses and analyses the principal themes that emerged from the interviews conducted. This is followed by recommendations for the Chinese government, the Angolan government and Chinese companies.

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