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The Optics of Gratitude in Africa

SIMON MAINA / AFP

This week we interviewed Miriam Driessen for an upcoming episode of the China in Africa Podcast about her fascinating new book Tales of Hope, Tastes of Bitterness: Chinese Road Builders in Ethiopia. Driessen is an anthropologist and spent years interviewing the Chinese workers employed on massive construction projects in East Africa. From an African perspective, these men are part of the problem. One of the most common complaints about China on the continent is that they bring Chinese workers to do jobs Africans could. Responding to these complaints (and the costs of supporting large Chinese crews overseas,) some Chinese companies have increased the proportion of African workers on projects.

But Driessen shows
what this situation looks like from the side of Chinese workers. They complain
about local hostility to their presence. Why can’t the Africans see that they
are sacrificing years of their lives to bring crucial infrastructure to the
continent? Why aren’t they more grateful?

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