Even the celebrated 19th-century scramble for Africa seems to pale compared to the huge and growing Chinese presence, which is roiling the continent.
For a decade, China has been buying its way into Africa to secure the fuel and raw materials it believes it will need for its economic expansion.
These Chinese moves in Africa are breathtaking in their scope. Whereas the European grab for Africa and its treasures in the l9th century was haphazard, and fed by rivalry in Europe as much as interests in Africa, the Chinese neo-imperialism has a thoroughness and a planning that no European power — not even Britain — ever aspired to.
China is reported to be active in 48 countries out of the roughly 53 real state entities on the continent, or on its offshore islands. The Chinese formula is simple: Buy your way in with soft loans and generous arms deals but, above all, a preparedness to overlook the excesses of dictators. No wonder Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe lavishes praise on his new best friends.
The same is true in many other African countries. All that is needed for Beijing’s embrace is a supply of raw materials — and especially oil.
From Cape Town to Cairo, China is on the march. From South Africa it buys iron ore, among other minerals; from Zambia, copper; and from Zimbabwe chrome, gold and iron ore.
In Zambia, the Chinese have promised $3.2 billion to revive the copper industry — an interesting development because Western mining companies pulled out, unable to deal with the wholesale and destructive corruption.
At a meeting of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation at Sharm El Sheikh in Egypt earlier this month, the Chinese pledged $10 billion in aid to Africa. Quietly, they also forgave a tranche of maturing loans.
But government-to-government loans are the least of the Chinese investment in Africa. Most of the investments, such as that in Zambia, are made by Chinese corporations — all state-sanctioned and some state-owned. It is a concerted effort.
While oil producers like Angola, Chad, Libya, Nigeria and Sudan are prime targets of the Chinese investment, the rapacious Chinese economic imperialism also extends to lumber and agriculture.
The ruling elites of Africa are ecstatic. The Chinese presence is, for them, heaven-sent. Polling, albeit rudimentary, reveals about 80-percent approval of China’s African role by Africa’s elites.
At the street level, these findings are reversed. The Chinese are roundly resented. They have no experience in the world outside of China; no curiosity about these strange African lands and their people; and a morbid indifference to Africa’s long-term future. Most Chinese workers, as opposed to executives, brought to Africa are poorly educated and ill-equipped to live in different cultures.
A study by Loro Horta, a visiting fellow at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, found deep unhappiness in a study conducted in many African countries.
First and foremost, Horta found, China does not employ local labor, preferring to import Chinese workers and to house them in “Chinatowns.”
Second, the indifference of Chinese enterprises to environmental damage is of concern.
And third, China is accused of dumping inferior goods and medicines on the African markets. Africa’s fragile but important textile industries are being killed off by a flood of cheap Chinese manufactures.
More, Chinese merchants are flooding in and displacing local traders.
Horta quotes a school teacher in Mozambique, “They (the government) say China is a great power, just like America. But what kind of great power sends thousands of people to a poor country like ours to sell cakes on the street, and take the jobs of our own street-sellers, who are already so poor?”
Then there is the Chinese language push. The Chinese government has set up schools in many places to teach Chinese to reluctant people who would prefer to improve their English and French skills, legacies of the last scramble for Africa.
But while China buys off Africa’s elites, and provides them with weapons to suppress their own people, the rape of Africa will continue. –For the Hearst-New York Times Syndicate