Most African nations have been ‘state-captured’ by Chinese Foreign Direct Investment, hence rendering their labour laws impotent, says African Labour Research Network (ALRN) researcher Professor Trywell Kalusopa.

In an interview with News Diggers! Prof Kalusopa said research had shown that a number of African states had become economically destitute to Chinese investors, adding that the capture of nation-states was done at a higher level where most of the bilateral agreements were made.

“What we have found out is that the capture of the state is done at that kind of higher level. So, if that agreement is put in place, it almost renders most of our labour laws impotent because then, our labour inspectors, our trade unions and even our labour commissioners are not able to counter any abuses that they find in most of the Chinese companies. That is the kind of capture we are talking about, if your laws become impotent in the face of Foreign Direct Investment, if your laws do not stand out to protect your own people because we argue that any state is a social contract between the people and those that govern. We elect leaders to Parliament; we elect leaders to be in the Executive. Anybody that is in the Judiciary, for example, any laws that are made in Parliament and executed by the Judiciary should be an expression of the people,” Prof Kalusopa said.

He said none of the investment agreements reflected the wishes of the workers as most of them only favoured Chinese investors.

“And our research has shown that in the eight countries: Ethiopia, Ghana, Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, South Africa, and all these countries, those investment agreements do not reflect the wishes of the workers and the people. They have become economically destitute to Chinese investment. How can you be an economic destitute when the best diamonds in the world are in Africa? Zambia is the second producer of copper for God’s sake; the best platinum is produced in South Africa; the best cobalt is from Congo [DRC]. Now how can you be desperate? We are looking for a structural change where countries should be recognised. Actually, Africa has the best advantage so far [and] that is why the Chinese are here,” Prof Kalusopa added.

He also observed that a number of Africa leaders had become destitute thinkers.

“So, we want leadership in Africa that recognises that they have the potential, and they should work together to cut that. No, Africa cannot be a destitute. We are not destitute, but we just have destitute leaders or we have destitute thinking,” Prof Kalusopa observed.

“Their narrative is that the type of trade and industry is on bilateral [terms]. So, if you remember, for example, that there was a time when the Chinese government brought together all African countries and signed bilateral [agreements]. What they do is they come along and they sign with you different agreements. And then what has happened consequently is that most of those trade agreements, if you critically looked at them, there is almost no recognition of trade unions. So, what it means is that when investment portfolios come, direct investment whether its construction, mining and so on, there is already an agreement that is sealed, that in fact is in favour of those Chinese investors at an expense of the worker.”

And Prof Kalusopa asked Africans to stand up for responsive leadership, which would put in laws that would seek to protect its people.

“If the laws which you have put in place to protect the people are flouted with impunity at all cost, the state is rendered impotent. If the state does not respond to the wishes of the people, that kind of state is impotent, it is called an unethical state. It’s no longer ethical, it is not responsive to the workers, it is not even responsive to all its people. And our argument is that at the highest level, any kind of agreement must reflect the wishes of the people. Any agreement should not render your laws, our laws impotent, because every country is competing to what we call: ‘race to the bottom’, to have the most minimum and almost poor labour laws, poor environmental laws and anything that steps on human rights at an expense of Foreign Direct Investment,” said Prof Kalusopa.

“We cannot have Foreign Direct Investment that impugns on people’s rights. Any state that reflects that is a captured state and we reject that kind of state. Our argument is to have a responsive state, a state that puts its laws to protect its people, protects the workers and protects anybody.”