Ripples of the China Milk Scandal in Africa

In China, an estimated 13,000 children have fallen ill since the tainted milk scandal broke.

Chinese influence has grown in Africa, as have imports of all kinds products, from running shoes to instant noodles.  Bloggers as far afield as Congo and Senegal, concerned about the safety of Chinese products in their countries, are closely following the story.

Blogging from Dakar, Naomed of Le Blog Politique du Senegal penned this short satire, a play on “melamine,” the name of the chemical which was added to the fake milk.  (“Melamine” sounds very close to “mélanine,” the French word for melanin):

A ma gauche votre petit(e) dernier(e) charmant bambin normalement constitué, héritier de la jolie couleur chocolat de son papa et de sa maman.

A ma droite, un verre de lait, un honnète verre de lait semble-t-il. Que nenni ! Un verre de lait chinois, autrement dit contaminé jusqu'à la dernière molécule de caséine. Soyons honnète, tous les laits chinois ne sont pas contaminés, mais c'est un peu comme les jeux de hasard, ceux qui gagnent le plus sont ceux qui ne jouent pas.

To my left, your charming little child, the youngest, completely normal and of the chocolate color he inherited from his father and mother.

To my right, a glass of milk, seemingly honest.  Nay!  A glass of Chinese milk, in other words, contaminated to the last molecule of casein.  Let's be honest, not all Chinese milks are contaminated, but it's a bit of a gamble; those who win the most are those who don't play at all.

La scène est plantée, le gamin qui bave en attendant son verre de lait et le verre de lait.

Imaginez ce qui arriverait si malencontreusement vous achetiez un lait chinois pour vos enfants. Si si, cela peut vous arrivez malgré votre vigilance, tricheurs comme ils sont, les chinois sont bien capables de marquer sur le paquet “Made in Bretagne. France”. Donc, imaginez, vous servez le verre de lait au gamin et vous quittez la pièce pour continuer à vous préparer, comme d'hab vous êtes en retard pour aller bosser.

The scene is set, the child salivates, waiting for his glass of milk, the glass of milk.

Imagine then what happens if you are unlucky enough to have bought Chinese milk for your children.  Yes yes, that can happen in spite of your vigilance; the Chinese are perfectly capable of marking the package with “Made in Brittany.  France,” such con artists are they.  So imagine that you serve the glass of milk to your child and you leave the room to continue getting ready.  As usual, you're late for work as usual.

Soudain, un hurlement venant de la bonne et du salon. Quoi-t-esse-ky-n'ya ?

A la place de votre gamin, un autre gamin qui termine son verre de lait tout en pleurant, pas vilain vilain le môme, mais enfin pas aussi joli que le vôtre.

Ca va être dur de vous habituer à sa nouvelle couleur, d'expliquer aux voisins et aux parents le pourquoi du comment. On va vous soupçonner des pires péchés pour avoir été punis comme ça. Votre vie va devenir un calvaire. Je vous plaint, sincèrement.

All of the sudden, a shriek comes from the housekeeper, from the living room.  What's going on?

In place of your child, another child is finishing his glass, crying.  Not exactly ugly, this kid, but not as handsome as the one you had.

It will be difficult to get used to his new color, to explain to your neighbors and parents why and how [this happened].  They will suspect you guilty of the worst of sins to have been punished like that.  Your life will become a living hell.  I sympathize with you, sincerely.

Y'a même des gens qui disent que, quelques fois, les gamins deviennent rouges, rouges communistes. Mais ça, je crois pas, c'est juste des menteries d'anticommunistes primaires et malveillants.

There are even those who say, from time to time, that children become red, red like communists.  But that I don't believe it; that's just the lies of evil and uncivilized anti-communists.

Equally tongue-in-cheek, a reader, Thomas, responds:

y'a aucun risque avec le lait au sénégal, puisqu'ici c'est pas du lait qu'on boit, c'est une poudre blanche sur laquelle on ajoute de l'eau… on m'a souvent dit que c'était du lait en poudre, mais franchement, vu le goût, j'en doute ;)

There is no risk with milk in Senegal, because here what we drink isn't milk, it's white powder to which we add water…I have often been told it's powder milk, but quite frankly, given the taste, I doubt it ;)

Le Blog Politique du Senegal strikes a more serious note in another post on the scandal, “Some Chinese milk for the little Blacks.”  Naomed writes that certain African countries import Chinese milk, but that “We are so used to Western products which are regulated and inspected that we forget that the rest of the world, for those who have the minimal respect for norms of security and for the consumer, looks a bit like Africa” [Fr].

Naomed continues:

Je ne veux pas dire que l'occident n'est pas avide, que le capitalisme n'y redeviendrait pas sauvage forcené si on le laissait faire. Non, mais justement, on ne le laisse pas faire. Les états ont posé des règles minimales, qu'ils font appliquer sous la pression des consommateurs/citoyens.

I don't mean to say that the West is not greedy, that capitalism would not come back with a savage fury if they let it.  No.  But rightly, they don't let it.  Countries have imposed minimum standards which they apply under the pressure of consumers/citizens.

Nous allons chercher nos modèles chez les chinois et les indiens sans vouloir regarder leurs conditions et modes de fonctionnement. Aveuglés par un prétendu miracle économique que pour rien au monde nous ne voudrions subir, nous en occultons les pratiques.

We go to the Chinese and the Indians and look for models, but we don't want to look at their conditions and methods of operating.  Blinded by an alleged economic miracle that no one, not for anything in the world, wouldn't want to undergo, we conceal the practices.

Naomed doesn't think Africa should follow this model:

Ce miracle économique, c'est le miracle de l'esclavage, de l'exploitation forcenée, de l'irresponsabilité. C'est le miracle capitaliste.

This economic miracle, it's a miracle of slavery, of vicious exploitation, of irresponsibility.  That's the capitalist miracle.

In Congo, Forum Realisance also blogged the milk scandal story.  Munsengeshi Katata writes that the tainted milk was exported not only in Asia to places like Bangladesh, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Japan, but reportedly also to countries in Africa, like Burundi and Gabon.

Et curieusement, de la part des africains, pas un mot, pas des demandes rapides d´éclaircissement afin d´établir la responsabilité commerciale, d´aider les enfants touchés à se faire soigner rapidement, et endiguer les dégâts en retirant rapidement les restes de ces postes du marché. Rien. Et je dois avouer que ce silence met en colère et prouve, encore une fois, combien l´Afrique est fragile dans la défense de ses enfants et se ses intérêts ouvertement lésés…

And curiously, not a word on the part of Africans, no demands for immediate clarification in order to establish who is responsible, to help those children affected to be quickly treated, and confine the damage by quickly recalling the rest of [the tainted products] from the market.  Nothing.  And I have to say that this silence angers me and proves, once again, how weak Africa is when it comes to protecting its children and its interests, clearly threatened…


  • dpchinese

    this is totally unbearable. i hope this scandal will be the reason or the motivation for a reform of the inspection system for food production in china. at the same time, china needs an effective pr campaign for the made in china label.

  • You need to revise your numbers. Over 55,000 children in China have been affected.

    It is yet to be seen if the CCP can truly effect a change in safety standards in China since this problem is often a direct result of corruption. This is more than a mere PR problem.

  • BRE

    Any voluntary recalls of Chinese milk products exported to African countries? Any vigilence on the part of government health authorities in African countries affected by this dangerous scandal? I doubt it; have not read or heard a thing from official government spokespersons on the African continent that these Chinese products must be removed immediately from their markets and shop shelves. If this scandal had involved Western companies these same leaders in Africa would be howling with outrage, but with the Chinese it is a matter of ‘grin and bear it’. Too much at stake in the form of Chinese government investment and promises of financial aid to Africa.

Join the conversation

Authors, please log in »


  • All comments are reviewed by a moderator. Do not submit your comment more than once or it may be identified as spam.
  • Please treat others with respect. Comments containing hate speech, obscenity, and personal attacks will not be approved.