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Africa rising? Building on China's Zambian frontier

Thomas Lekfeldt / MOMENT

Two Chinese and one Zambian worker at the construction site of the Ndola National Stadium in Ndola, Zambia, constructed by the Chinese company Anhui Foreign Economic Construction Company (AFECC). The stadium will have a capacity of 40,000 spectators.

PhotoBlog continues to showcase interesting photo projects from Once Magazine on the iPad. In Issue #5, photographer Thomas Lekfeldt takes a look at China's rapid development in Zambia, along with writer Lene Winther, who explains:

Chinese restaurants, language schools, China-financed construction projects, and Chinese storefronts nowadays are always just around the corner. In the past decade, Chinese presence in Zambia has surged. At worst, this trend can be viewed as a political move to feed China’s increasing appetite for natural resources, unlikely to foster sustainable development. At best, it creates jobs and jumpstarts industrialization in a country and continent that desperately need it.

“Chinese investments are good in the sense that they provide employment,” says union leader Rayford Mbulu. “But the next question you have to ask yourself is, ‘Is it decent work?’ If labor laws are tougher in Zambia, these investors will go to South Africa or Namibia. Laws have to be uniform throughout the region, so that the investor will have nowhere to run to get away with these practices. But frankly speaking, we cannot do away with Chinese investment.”

Thomas Lekfeldt / MOMENT

Groundbreaking ceremony of the new Lusaka Stadium to be built by the Chinese company Shanghai Construction Group in Lusaka, the capital of Zambia. Here Zambia's President Rupiah Banda and Vice Premier of the State Council of China Hui Liangyu unveil the foundation stone of the stadium while surrounded by Zambian and Chinese officials and politicians. The stadium will have a capacity of around 50,000 spectators. The loan from China for its construction is $94 million, though some details are not public, and will finance both the construction of the new Lusaka Stadium and rehabilitation of the rundown Independence stadium in Lusaka. The groundbreaking ceremony took place during a visit of a Chinese delegation that was on a tour around five African countries in January 2011, led by Vice Premier of the State Council of China Hui Liangyu.

Thomas Lekfeldt / MOMENT

A Zambian worker digs a ditch in the Zambia-China Economic and Trade Coorperation Zone in Chambishi in the Copperbelt area of Zambia, the first zone of its kind in Africa. There are various incentives for companies that want to establish themselves in the zone, among them tax exemption. In the background is a sign announcing that this area is the zone, and on the right a Chinese worker.

Msnbc.com asked photographer Lekfeldt: What drew you to this subject in the first place – why did you feel this story needed to be told?

Lekfeldt: Well, in my view what is going on in Africa these years is nothing less than a revolution. For example China is now loaning more money to African countries than the World Bank. So for me personally it was extremely interesting to try and show what is going on in Africa right now. For the most part, stories from Africa in western media are about famines, (civil) wars or diseases like AIDS. Those are very important stories to tell of course. But so many other things are happening in Africa, and this quiet revolution is in my view one of the most important things happening there right now.

Thomas Lekfeldt / MOMENT

Xiao Na, 25, teaches Bronson Ludilo, 33, Chinese in the Chinese International School in Lusaka, the capital of Zambia. Bronson Ludilo is a computer engineer and is planning to go to China to study for a master's degree. Xiao Na has been in Africa for three months.

Did you face suspicion from Chinese or Zambian authorities when you approached them to photograph this story?

We did not have any problems in terms of dealing with the Zambian authorities when we did the story. They were for the most part very helpful. We got access to interview two different ministers, the permanent secretary from the ministry of mines was very helpful to us, and we were allowed to follow the official visit of a Chinese delegation to Zambia. The Chinese authorities were much more suspicious towards us though. Through official channels it was extremely difficult to get access to different Chinese companies, building sites and official offices. For example we did not manage to get an interview with the Chinese ambassador or any other embassy official for that matter. Every time we thought that we finally had an appointment they had a new excuse for not meeting us.

Thomas Lekfeldt / MOMENT

A group of Chinese workers from the Shanghai Construction Group of China stand next to a Zambian orchestra at the groundbreaking ceremony of the new Lusaka Stadium, a stadium that will be built by the Chinese company Shanghai Construction Group of China in Lusaka, the capital of Zambia.

(continued)...But on the other hand many of the Chinese people we met during our work were friendly and relatively helpful. It seemed that when we met them in person there was much less suspicion. And it was also my feeling that the suspicion towards us was much bigger at a higher political level than it was among "ordinary" Chinese people. In my view, what the Chinese authorities have yet failed to realize is that the more closed they are, the more suspicion towards them is going to arise. More openness would probably help to break down simplified views of the Chinese as the new colonizers in Africa. Of course there are many negative sides to the Chinese involvement in Africa, but there are also many positive sides. And those tend to drown in the general picture. Basically I think the Chinese would do themselves a favor if they became more open.

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