Irene Yuan Sun’s The Next Factory of the World: How Chinese Investment is Reshaping Africa, explores the consequences of Chinese investors in African countries. Sun co-leads McKinsey & Company’s work on Chinese economic engagement in Africa and previously taught secondary school in Namibia. She graduated from Harvard Business School, Harvard Kennedy School, and Harvard College. Because Sun is Chinese-American, she provides a familiar but unique voice on this recent phenomenon. Every chapter in the book opens with a short narrative recounting Sun’s time in Africa. She interviews Chinese and African factory owners, workers, and investors to provide many perspectives on investment in Nigeria, Kenya, and Lesotho.
While the idea of Chinese investors moving into African countries sounds a bit like neo-colonialism, Sun argues both sides. The Chinese presence in Africa is a result of a natural chain reaction. She explains that, “Chinese entrepreneurs move because they grew up in factories whose bosses had moved to China, and those bosses in turn had grown up in factories with foreign bosses." A shrinking Chinese labor pool (due to the one child policy), rising energy costs, and increased competition have all contributed to the Chinese relocating to Africa. China only recently became a powerhouse for global manufacturing. Prior to the arrival of foreign investors, China was among the poorest countries in the world. Now, China hopes to make the same progress in African countries, believing that manufacturing is the key to development. Unlike previous Western ventures that attempted to impose their own business models in Africa, Chinese investors prefer to work with the system as it is.
Sun frequently undercuts the benefits of Chinese investment with possible concerns. For example, few of the factories in Africa are owned by locals, which is the ultimate goal, and there have been instances of unsafe or unjust factory conditions, fueled by racism. Sun makes a valiant effort to tell both sides of the story, but she tends to generalize Africa as a single entity, never really straying from the three countries mentioned above, Nigeria, Kenya, and Lesotho. However, Sun’s work should be praised for imagining a successful economic future for Africa, instead of taking the bleak “hopeless continent” route so many authors have before.
About the Author
Danielle David is a senior at Barstow High School and will be attending Fordham University in the fall.
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