RE : RE: [Gabon Discussion] China and Gabon
- I recall seeing groups of Chinese workers when I used to pass in front of the new Senate during its construction. I also remember when the Chinese president visited Libreville a couple of years ago. Huge signs of him with Bongo adorned the Bord de mer from the airport all the way to downtown.
Many interesting articles about Chinese involvement in Gabon can be found here (in French):
- Brad Hodges
Darcy Meijer <darcy.meijer@...> a écrit : Hi Bob,
Big news! What do you think the pygmies think about this?
From: firstname.lastname@example.org on behalf of bobutne
Sent: Sun 2/25/2007 8:18 PM
Subject: [Gabon Discussion] China and Gabon
BELINGA, Gabon, Feb 26 (Reuters) By Antoine Lawson - The pygmies of
Gabon's lush northeast equatorial forests may soon be learning
Buried deep in thick jungle in the least populated corner of the oil-
producing central African state is one of the world's biggest
untapped reserves of iron ore, waiting to be developed. But the
country selected by Gabon to help exploit the huge Belinga iron ore
deposit is not former colonial ruler France, or any other resource-
gobbling Western industrial power.
The chosen partner is China, the newest and hungriest raw materials
raider on the African continent. The Belinga deal in Gabon is only
the latest of a string of multi-billion-dollar energy and commodities
contracts secured by the Asian economic giant to feed its ravenous
economy. China is the world's top steel producer and biggest importer
of iron ore.
After years of stagnation and neglect, people in and around the
isolated Gabonese village of Belinga, surrounded by virgin forest,
are agog with expectation about the arrival of the Chinese and how
this can improve their lives.
Although the consortium chosen to develop the mine, led by state-
owned China National Machinery & Equipment Import & Export Corp., is
only just starting its work on the ground, locals are expecting a
windfall in jobs and other economic benefits.
"All of the people's hopes are riding on the exploitation of the
Belinga iron ore deposit ... the people are waiting for the work to
get going," said Andre Nkoghe Ella, mayor of Makokou, the regional
capital, around 110 km (68 miles) from Belinga.
The Chinese group plans to begin work this year and complete the
project in three years. The Belinga deposit is reported to have
proven iron ore reserves of more than 500 million tonnes.
The $3 billion total investment -- about the level of Gabon's annual
budget -- foresees construction of a 560 km (350 mile) railway to
carry the ore to Cape Santa Clara on the Atlantic coast, a bulk
commodities and container port there and two hydroelectric power
stations. At the moment, the journey from Makokou to Belinga is
either a muddy drive through hills on a dirt road or a more leisurely
motor canoe trip up the Ivindo river, between banks choked with
tropical foliage and teeming with game.
Local inhabitants, including pygmies living in neighbouring forests,
eke out a meagre living by hunting, fishing or cultivating crops.
"There's everything to be done in this almost forgotten area --
roads, electricity and even running water," says boatman Firmin
It was the Chinese group's promises to tackle all of the basic
infrastructure required to make the project work that won them the
Belinga contract in the face of tough competition.
Brazilian mining giant Companhia Vale do Rio Doce (CVRD)
<VALE5.SA><RIO.N> and French nickel firm Eramet <ERMT.PA> had
originally been part of the consortium eyeing Belinga. But they
pulled out because they were unwilling to bear the cost of building
the accompanying infrastructure in such a remote, undeveloped
location more than 500 km (300 miles) east of Gabon's capital,
The Chinese consortium picked for Belinga includes state-owned Export-
Import Bank of China, which like its U.S. European and Japanese
counterparts, helps finance its country's firms overseas.
Many African governments like the no-strings-attached approach of the
Chinese, who offer aid or loans not linked to demands for good
governance, transparency or improvements in human rights -- the
Western recipe for development packages.
"When the Chinese come they can provide financing, without a lot of
strings or moralising," said a Gabonese government adviser when he
accompanied President Omar Bongo on a visit to Beijing in
November. "They say, 'the Europeans will come with a lot of
conditions, but we won't interfere'. That's very attractive to
governments here," the adviser added.
Underpinning the Belinga project are more than three decades of
cordial ties between Bongo, Africa's longest serving ruler, and
China. The two countries established diplomatic relations in 1974 and
Bongo has visited China at least 10 times. Chinese companies have
constructed roads and public buildings in Gabon and are also mining
manganese and exploring for oil and gas. Bongo hails the Belinga iron
ore venture as "the project of the century" and has made clear he
expects it to create thousands of jobs for his people.
Sensitive to suggestions that China might import its own technicians
and skilled labourers to carry out the project, China's ambassador to
Gabon, Xue Jinwei, says there should be more than enough jobs to go
round -- perhaps 20,000 or more.
"We're talking about a big project that includes the construction of
a port, a railway, dams and the exploitation of the mine itself.
That's a big job that is going to need a lot of people," the
In anticipation of finding work, miners who once worked at a now
closed uranium mine at Mounana in the southeast of the country have
traveled north to Belinga.
Once in operation, the Belinga mine will sell all its iron ore to
Chinese steel mills. China's hunger for iron ore has grown as its
industry churns out steel for the ships that carry its exports, for
the cars that crowd its roads, and the skyscrapers that crown its
But in the hamlets and villages around Belinga, the expectations are
"I hope that the Chinese can build a nice school, a library with lots
of books," said Nicolas Essone, aged 8, one of several barefoot
children studying at Belinga's mud-hut school.
In the early 60's, Bethlehem Steel contemplated developing the iron
ore mountain at Belinga. Now, as expected by me since my return to
Gabon in 2002, the Chinese have assumed the mantle as the number one
foreign entity in Gabon. The US isn't even on the radar screen.
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- The forest people have largely left the interior bush to follow the
timber companies or moved to be around the towns that dot Gabon's major
roads. I doubt if they could care less about the Chinese economic
intrusions other than more roads opened offering easier access to their
game for outsider poachers.
We Americans killed off the buffalos and did our damnest to wipe out
Native Americans. Gabon will experience the same. The forest people
will disappear along with their game. Greed, a rapidly growing human
population and a vengeful Mother Nature will combine to make that a
certainty, I fret.