Chinese debt inducing infrastructural projects in the African continent are causing severe concerns in the region as a whole.
Across the continent, China has planned out investments through different segments enabling it to wider its already hostile sphere of influence.
Yet in all the worry that seems to be rising within economic circles of different African nations, the primary concern that is constantly being pushed under the rug is the irreversible ecological damage Chinese project are exerting in sensitive regions.
In this case, West Africa, which has in the last couple of years begun enhancing its engagements with China, seems to be at the forefront of such Chinese wreckages.
China has begun specifically focusing on western African nations such as Senegal, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Nigeria, Gambia and Togo. In this respect, most of these countries have had untapped natural resources which China has seen as a reserve to exploit for its own natural resource needs.
For instance, elongated protests have been going on in Gambia, the smallest county amongst the Western African nations.
The primary reason for the growing animosity within different Gambian communities against Chinese firms has been due to widespread contamination of the waters in the Gunjur beach. In 2016, a Chinese owned fishmeal firm opened up a factory in the area, discarding all its waste material into the ocean.
This subsequently led to a long pile of dead aquatic animals washing up to the shores. Soon after the contamination began to spread, locals alleged that the colour of the water began to change and preserved wildlife began to die once more.
Government inaction on the matter have made matters worse and has left little avenue for course-correction. The factory presently seems to be functioning with little to no concern for the ecological damage it has enforced upon the communities and wildlife in the region.
Though it is not only Gambia that has been under Chinese lens for capturing of its fishing industry. China’s investment in Sierra Leone for fishing development projects has been severely criticized by environmental groups for causing damage to waterbed and aquatic lives in the region.
The Sierra Leone government had received $55 million in 2021 from China to construct a fishing harbour and fishmeal plant similar to the one in Gambia.
Prominent advocates for environmental protection have stated that the fishing industry would find it hard to sustain an ecologically sound factory as it is inevitably designed to ruin maritime wildlife and would endanger the prospects of food security within the small nation.
However, matters in terms of ecological conservation has gone from bad to worse in West Africa. Chinese investments have not just run havoc on sea facing nations in the western front. In the landlocked nation of Mali, China has caused an even more concerning ecological disaster.
In between 2017 and 2022, China imported up to half a million kosso trees amounting to around $200 million. The sourcing of kosso trees for Rosewood extraction is not only a costly affair but is also considered as amongst the most destructive sourcing to the concerned regions and forests. In 2020, Mali had imposed a rosewood harvesting ban which was lifted and an export ban was placed instead.
However, it has been reported by local investigators that China has continued to source the banned logs by offering hefty bribes to senior officials.
China previously used to source rosewood from Southeast Asia, yet Chinese traders in the region have over-logged forests causing long-lasting social, economic and environmental losses to the countries.
It would not be an over-stretch to state that Mali in its turbulent history has faced two deadly coups in the past two years and is perhaps amongst the most economically and socially volatile nations in the whole of Africa.
If at all China is to over-log forests in the sensitive region of Mali, a lurking threat of a faltering state may come to reality due to the economic burden and the forthcoming consequences it would have to induce.
In 2019, International Rivers, a US based non-profit in its report had warned that Chinese state-owned firms were failing to meet environmental and social standards in their projects within Africa.
Countries like Ghana and Ivory Coast were falling prey to low-level environmental compliance by Chinese firms that were working on building infrastructural projects in their region.
In Uganda, Chinese owned China International and Water Electric went ahead with constructing the Isimba Hydrolectric Power Station on the White Nile.
This was done even after repeated warnings that the construction would cause unmanageable damage to protected areas and habitats.
Similarly in Ivory Coast, the ill-famed Sinhydro International repeatedly ignored ecological concerns that were brought up and failed in their responsibility of establishing redressal systems deliberately for local residents around the Sassandra river affected by the Hydroelectric Power station.
A similar story runs across other neighbouring western African countries that have recently received enormous investments for projects on their native lands and shores.
Yet it is important that Western Africa in particular views the danger such irresponsible Chinese behaviour will untimely lead to. The short-term gain of economic advancement behest Chinese loans and infrastructure may seem attractive, yet the long-lasting consequences of such situation have far reached implications.
The ecological damage that these projects have been proved to do are indeed irreversible; more so they end up taking away an economic and strategic advantage from the host nation that have generally fallen prey to fictitious Chinese promises that never reach fruition.
Hence it is important that sensitive and volatile countries specifically in West Africa realise that Chinese funds are nothing but a folly to lure and spread Chinese influence into their favour across the world.
By Colombo Gazette