Peking Builds Largest Tanzania Textile Mill
DAR ES SALAAM, Africa – (TNS) –"Bridgehead" and "Foothold" are two of the favorite words used (especially in American parlance) to describe the Chinese penetration into Tanzania. Each new arrival from Peking, whether a group of doctors for the bushland or surveyors for a promised railway link to Zambia is chronicled as further evidence of the "Yellow Peril."
This type of catalogue usually omits the fact that there are more Canadians than Chinese in Tanzania, and if you totalled all the Western "experts," advisors, teachers, diplomats and missionaries, the Chinese are outnumbered by 20 to 1.
Nevertheless to a Western world that is conditioned to see nothing but evil emanating from China, the Chinese presence here can be made to look pretty menacing.
But a look at the large new textile mill completely built and financed by China, which was opened recently by President Nyerere[,] is a revelation of just how appropriate and how influential some forms of Chinese aid can be.
As textile factories go, the Friendship Mill on the outskirts of Dar es Salaam is probably very ordinary and not too different from spinning, weaving and dyeing mills anywhere. Its real significance is that it is here. Tanzania has for several years been a large producer of raw cotton, but it has always been shipped overseas for processing to be brought back as finished cloth and clothing at many times the cost.
Now Tanzanians can see their own cotton being turned into their own clothing, especially the brightly colored shawls called "khangas", which are the basic female garments for most of the population. But any textile mill could do that.
Although the Chinese mill is the largest and the first integrated complex that can also print designs on cotton as well as weave and dye it, it is not the first nor the only textile mill here.
Why, then, is the Friendship Mill so different?
Stories abound about Communist aid projects in the developing world that are badly designed and hurriedly built which have turned out to be useless.
But this mill began production 18 months after the cornerstone was laid. Throughout this period, when China was apparently in chaos because of the cultural revolution, every shipment for the project arrived on schedule, right down to the fluorescent light bulbs.
Nor is the machinery second-hand or jerry-built. It is all new, with metric markings in Chinese and English and there is a provision for quality control checks at every step. The Chinese knew enough about the climate to provide for air-conditioning and humidity controlled areas.
Certainly the equipment is not as technologically sophisticated or automated as in the United States, but this is an advantage rather than a disadvantage. It provides more jobs in an area of high unemployment.
Secondly the machinery is easier to understand and repair. Because any particular process is broken down into more steps than in an automated mill, it serve[s] a valuable educational function, in a population where large numbers have never opened a door latch or threaded a nut.
Since the days of the "spinning jenny," textile has been the first form of industrialization and so it is a very appropriate beginning for a country like Tanzania.
But it is not the technical functioning of a mill that is so impressive because it is probably a standard export model.
Rather, it is the internal organization. The essential thing is that Tanzanians have been left to make the decisions themselves and consequently they are learning from their own mistakes.
Compare this with the traditional system of investment in developing countries. All the executive personnel are foreigners while the local population provides cheap labor and raw materials. As long as there is a foreign financial interest[,] that [there? —Transcriber] will be a white manager, whereas the manager of the Friendship Mill is black from "day one."
By the same token, the Friendship Mill is owned by Tanzania from the beginning, built with an interest[-]free loan whereas the traditional capitalist investor is allowed to send his profits out of the country, adding to the foreign exchange problems.
Much has also been made of the Chinese shoulder-to-shoulder approach to training and that the Chinese work along with their Tanzanian counterparts rather than acting as supervisors. The personnel manager boasted that there is a Tanzanian understudying every Chinese workman at the mill.
The Chinese actually getting their hands dirty demonstrates the basic difference between the Western and Eastern styles of giving foreign aid. When the Chinese come, they bring not only their engineers and technicians but also their own plumbers, carpenters, cooks, drivers and laborers.
When a Western company undertakes a project it only sends supervisory personnel.
What political and social impact will the presence of the Chinese make on Tanzanians, or in Reader's Digest sentiments, will the Chinese win the battle for their hearts and minds?
Just as I was leaving the mill a group of Chinese girls were lining up for lunch. Their square-cut hair, bra-less figures and baggy trousers were marked contrast to the Tanzanian girls, who love the bright colors they are helping to produce and who use newly found foundation garments and hair styles to best advantage.
I doubt if they will be very anxious to emulate their Chinese sisters. President Nyerere [who did not claim to be communist —Transcriber] himself has often said that his people are not prepared to accept the regimentation of the Chinese way of life.
But Chinese projects such as this will continue to be attractive to the African leaders, who see the Chinese actually demonstrating the devotion, hard work and frugality which everybody says is necessary but is very seldom found in practice.