The story of the Chinese in Africa is one that has been largely defined by either state or corporate interests. Whereas there are hundreds, if not thousands, of Western non-governmental organizations and other civil society groups have long been active in Africa, there are a just a handful of similar Chinese organizations dedicated to charity and non-profit development.
The dearth of Chinese NGOs in Africa should not comes as a surprise given that the emergence of the non-profit sector in China is a relatively new phenomenon. Today, there are an estimated 500,000 registered NGOs in the PRC, most of which focus on domestic issues in areas such as poverty, environment and health. Now, however, a growing number of Chinese NGOs are looking abroad, particularly in Africa.
In the West, an NGO is often considered to be an independent entity, thus the name “non-governmental.” In China, though, it is not that simple. Independent civil society groups, especially foreign groups, are largely viewed with suspicion by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Over the past 12-18 months, the government has enacted a series of harsh new regulations to restrict the activities of both domestic and foreign NGOs operating within the country. The CCP, for its part, is worried about any organization, particularly those that deal with sensitive social issues like the environment, legal reform and human rights, as potential threats to its political supremacy. So facing pressure at home, a growing number of Chinese non-profits are looking to go abroad.
The Western definition of an NGO is that it inherently “non-governmental.” In the Chinese context, though, that distinction is far more blurry as the lines that divide the state, the party and state-owned companies from one another are often hard to see. Within that matrix is new kind of development organization known as a “GONGO” or Government-Organized Non Governmental Organization. Typically, these organizations tend to operate development projects as an extension of political or diplomatic agendas abroad as is the case in certain parts of Africa.
The emergence of these so-called “GONGOs” in Africa is occurring at the same time that a new generation of young, highly-educated professionally-minded Chinese are also developing new hybrid social entrepreneurship organizations focused on corporate social responsibility, education and wildlife conservation among others. Groups such as Nairobi-based China House Kenya and Care For All Kids are among the best examples of this budding trend.
Kate Yuan and Joany Huang helped to co-found the teacher training non-profit Care For All Kids. They join Eric & Cobus to discuss why there are so few Chinese NGOs and the difficulties associated with funding and operating a non-profit in Kenya.