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China meets French resistance

Updated: 2014-04-14 07:12
By Andrew Moody and Wang Chao ( China Daily)

Their culture is a strength, not a drawback, for Africans: Lecturer

Sydoine Moudouma says it can be difficult for the Chinese as relative outsiders to operate in Gabon when the country retains such close links to the French.

China meets French resistance

Sydoine Moudouma, a lecturer at Omar Bongo University, says Gabon still needs Chinese investment. Wang Chao / China Daily

"There is no Gabon without France, as the saying goes, and there is no France without Gabon. I think therefore if France feels its position in Gabon is threatened by China, tensions will occur," he says. The 36-year-old academic and commentator on China-Africa relations believes China may always take an uphill battle.

China's position in Gabon has actually improved since the new year with Sinopec subsidiary Addax Petroleum Corp agreeing a 10-year contract to extract oil from three fields in the country and ending a potential $1 billion legal dispute.

Chinese companies are also involved in major construction projects such as China Harbor Engineering Company's $120 million revamp of the waterfront in Libreville.

But more than five decades after independence in 1960, the French remain entrenched in the country with some 10,000 French citizens still living in the former colony and some 300 French companies having a presence.

Moudouma, a lecturer at the country's leading academic institution, Omar Bongo University, was speaking in the lounge of the Le Meridien hotel, which overlooks the Atlantic Ocean. Many of the guests were, in fact, French.

"I don't think the French can have it all their own way anymore. Gabonese people have seen what the Chinese have been doing over the past five or 10 years," he says.

"They have seen the new Stade d'Angondje (the new national football stadium built by the Chinese for the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations), the Senate building and the roads. They can see the Chinese skills in these areas and how they have made a difference."

Moudouma says the Chinese would always find it more difficult in a country such as Gabon because of the strong ties the French retained in French Equatorial Africa, which also included the current Central African Republic, the Republic of Congo, Chad and Cameroon.

"After liberation Gabon moved to a position more of co-dependence or interdependence rather than full independence. The French have always been involved in what is happening in Gabon, whether it is to do with politics or the economy.

"With the British colonies, it is completely different. In East Africa, for example, with Kenya and Zambia, independence meant self-governance."

The Chinese are far from the new kids on the block in Gabon, having worked on agricultural projects in the country since the 1970s.

Moudouma, an earnest figure with a serious manner despite his casual attire, believes former president Omar Bongo, who met Chairman Mao in 1974 and visited China no fewer than 10 times, was instrumental in forging close links with Beijing.

"China has first-hand experience of dealing with Gabon. It knows how to run businesses here and it has close knowledge of projects here. I think some of the recent concerns have been issues of transparency relating to overexploitation of the country's ecology such as with deforestation and over-fishing," he says.

The academic also does not believe the current president Ali Bongo Ondimba, who has been in office since 2009, is any less of a Sinophile than his father despite being educated at the Sorbonne.

"I think when it comes to the president, diplomatic relations between China and Gabon are friendly. If there is any kind of conflict it tends to be with government officials over regulations or issues relating to customs duties or other matters."

For Moudouma the raw fact remains that Gabon still needs Chinese investment. He points out that while the country might have a relatively high standard of living with a GNI per capita of $14,090, according to the World Bank in 2012, it came just 103rd out of 181 in the 2013 Human Development Index. "There can be no doubt that Gabon still needs China's money and China has made clear many times it is willing to give Gabon money," he says.

Contact the writers at

andrewmoody@chinadaily.com.cn and wangchao@chinadaily.com.cn

(China Daily 04/14/2014 page15)