The Africa Youth Survey 2022 found that while pessimism about the future has declined, African youth continue to search for opportunities elsewhere. African youth are immigrating abroad in search of better economic opportunities with more than half considering emigrating to another country in the next three years to secure employment and educational opportunities for their future. African governments are therefore pulling all stops in preventing young people from leaving the continent. Meanwhile, some are turning a blind eye to violations of labor laws particularly by Chinese multinational companies. Namibia for instance have several bilateral agreements with multinationals and yet it has dismally failed to implement these agreements. In the first quarter of 2022, South Africa’s official national youth unemployment rate was at 34,5%; 63,9% of that is youth aged 15-24 and 42,1% for those aged 25-34 years. In Namibia youth unemployment stands at 46.1%, of that, men account for 43.7% and females for a staggering 48.5%..
China is one of the continent’s major business partner and the country’s state-owned construction companies have almost obliterated some southern African countries’ infant construction industry. Chinese construction companies are also largely blamed for the increasing unemployment rates within the construction industry. Beyond this, Chinese companies are widely accused of subjecting their African workers to the most inhumane working conditions, whilst showing g great contempt for local labor laws. They are also accused of paying extremely low wages. In Namibia for an example, the Chinese domination of the domestic construction market has crippled the local construction industry. Lucrative construction tenders are awarded to Chinese state owned construction companies, including a N$530-million contract that was awarded to a Chinese state-owned construction company to build a road in the south of the country. Another tender to the value of N$1Billion to construct 21 kilometres road between Windhoek and the Hosea Kutako International Airport, was also awarded to a Chinese construction company, Zhong Mei Engineering Group.
The Chinese influence in Africa has been categorized as part of what is regarded as a second phase of the scramble for Africa, typified by economic summits and bilateral trade deals which more often than not come with secretive clauses. A 2021 analysis by AidData reported that these agreements put China in a perfect position to influence the domestic and foreign policies of those African countries China has given loans. The latest data shows that Sino-African trade has reached 254.3 US$billion by 2021. There is also growing anxiety over rising Chinese debt levels in several African countries, and the likelihood that China is eager to impound sovereign asset such as airports and seaports, in these countries to set off these ever-increasing debt. This trend of awarding tenders largely to the Chinese, as well as a perception that the Namibian government is bent on protecting Chinese interests, has seen growing anti-Asian sentiments in Namibia. It has triggered a spate of protests by youth leaders who have threatened to shut down or burn down Chinese businesses if the situation does not change soon.
In the forefront of these demonstrations is Michael Amushelelo an entrepreneur-cum-political agitator,. Amushelelo. is fighting growing Chinese economic domination in Namibia. His arrest recently was well reported across Namibia. It follows the Namibia Revenue Agency’s (Namra) decision to burn N$ 5 million worth of counterfeit goods belonging to unemployed Namibians whilst same goods belonging to Chinese small-scale businesses were left untouched. Amushelelo and the Namibian Economic Freedom Fighters (NEFF) were applauded for exposing poor working conditions at a Chinese-owned cement factory as well as tax evasion at a Chinese construction company working on the Hosea Kutako International Airport.
Amushelo has accused the governing South West People’s Organisation ( SWAPO) party of being complicit. Consequently, according to Amushelo; he has been unduly targeted by the police and the labor ministry along with the entire cabinet, which took a resolution to castigate his actions.
In conclusion, Namibian workers have been subjected to serious human rights abuses at the hands of Chinese business owners. There have been several reports on human rights abuses in Namibia, in one incident, a worker was ordered to strip naked in public for inspection. Another incident that was reported involved a worker who was forced to dispose the excrement of a Chinese business owner who had defecated in a plastic bag. Although these incidences were condemned by the government and police intervened, human rights abuses perpetrated by Chinese business owners still occur unabated.
The proliferation and success of Chinese businesses in Africa have succeeded largely due to lack of proper laws on the ground, these companies have exploited that situation. Some governments have been turning a blind eye in this regard; it has taken civil society organisations and, in some instances, protests to raised alarm regarding the labor laws abuses. Having said that, it will take more that civil society to alter the labor laws in Africa against exploitation; African governments need to legislate, remain vigilant and work with the civil society in ensuring that workers are protected from exploitation by Chinese multinational companies.