Last week at the APEE meetings in Nassau, I saw economist George Ayittey give a talk on why most African economies are in such sad shape. He blamed the things free-market oriented economists tend to blame: foreign aid, the absence of free markets, heavy government controls, etc.

Then he turned to the role of China in Africa. He listed a number of things the Chinese government was doing in Africa that he didn’t like: making deals with the government for mineral rights in return for fixing a railroad system and giving government officials palaces and soccer stadiums in return for favors, to name two. He also stated that the Chinese government wants to settle 12 million Chinese people in Africa. He seemed outraged by this.

In Q&A, I said that I would love it if 12 million Chinese people settled in the United States and I didn’t see why he objected. Ayittey responded that he didn’t necessarily object to the fact of 12 million people immigrating but to the fact that the deals are being made in secret and that rank-and-file Africans are not getting a say. I was glad to get that cleared up because his tone in his speech made me think that he was objecting to immigration per se. I still wonder, though: what if regular Africans had a say about immigration and voted to disallow it. Would he say that it should be disallowed?

Also, when I went on the web to see more about his objections, I found the following from Ayittey (paragraph 37):

Further, China’s engagement has devastated local industries in Lesotho, Nigeria and Zambia. In Nigeria, the influx of Chinese products has destroyed Kano’s manufacturing sector. In 1982, 500 factories churned out textile products in Kano, but fewer than 100 remain operational today, most at far less than full capacity. In South Africa, the textile union says some 100,000 jobs have been lost as Chinese synthetic fabrics replace cotton prints in street markets across Africa.

His objection sounds awfully mercantilist to me.