01/16/2008, 00.00
CHINA – AFRICA

Chinese thrown out of Sierra Leone for destroying local forests

The authorities in Sierra Leone complain that foreign (mostly Chinese) companies have plundered the country’s timber, cutting it down indiscriminately, and exporting it without any benefit for local communities. Experts note that issue revolves around the extent to which Chinese aid can compensate for what the mainland extracts and takes out in terms of precious resources.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) –Sierra Leone has banned timber exports because of the indiscriminate plundering of forests by foreign companies, especially Chinese. A Forestry Ministry official said that rapid deforestation in the north of the country had caused serious soil erosion, forcing local communities off the land.

“They [foreign firms] just invaded and started doing what they felt like doing,” Forestry Minister Joseph Sam Sesay. “A lot of them are Chinese, Ivorians, Guineans.”

The ban will remain in effect until a policy is put in place to ensure that logged trees are replaced and local communities benefit from logging. The goal is to prevent sheer depredation of the country’s natural resources because at the moment “the logs being cut are exported raw without value addition and benefit to the country,” Mr Sesay said.

For analysts the problem goes back to how foreign companies deal with African states.

China calls itself a great friend of Africa, offering economic aid, win-win co-operation for development and mutual respect.

Indeed it has become a partner that cannot be ignored. The last meeting of the African Development Bank, which is involved in funding and providing aid to African countries, took place in May last year in Shanghai.

However, mainland China is increasingly criticised because its aid does not compensate for the amount of natural resources that are taken out of African countries. The latter are left poorer than before.

In 2006 the mainland’s imports from Africa totalled US$ 21.1 billion, especially in precious materials, whilst its exports to the continent reached US$ 18.6, mostly low-cost manufactured goods which hamper local industries.

In 2007 there were protests in South Africa against the invasion of Chinese textile. In Zambia miners took to the streets against Chinese companies complaining about low wages and the violation of their rights.

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