Chinese imperialism and African elites are a toxic mixture

2014-12-22 03:57

Nicollo Machiavelli, one of the most hated and perhaps the most misunderstood Realist thinkers of all time, advised that a new Prince must always know the motives of his own kingmakers. Unfortunately when the Chinese supported the liberation struggles of most African colonies the liberation fighters failed to ask themselves a simple question, “what’s in it for Beijing?" They assumed that the Chinese are fighting their liberation struggles because they are driven by goodwill and the moral teachings of Confucius or they are charged with Mao Zedong’s Socialist imperative of fighting western imperialism manifesting as colonialism.

Little did they know that China’s financial support for African liberation struggles was in fact a lucrative financial investment, and after decades of absence in Africa the Chinese have returned to hoard their returns on investment. Along with their ‘returns on initial investment’, it seems the Chinese have also secured some ‘investor surplus’ because they are now also using Africa as a base for diplomatic support to entrench the ‘Beijing Consensus’ at the UN, they are using Africa as a vast market to dump cheap manufactured ‘Fong Kong’ goods and as a territory to accommodate portions of its 1.2 billion citizens.

Unlike the arrival of their European colonial settler counterparts, Chinese imperialists are flooding Africa unnoticed, without ‘causing a scene’ and disguised as ‘Friends of Africa’ against western imperialism.

Owning oil fields from Angola to Sudan, farms and diamond mines across Zimbabwe, copper mines all over Zambia, crippling the South(ern) African textile industry and virtually running a monopoly in Botswana’s construction industry, Chinese companies are penetrating Africa’s markets, and signs of Chinese imperialism are now written on the wall.

With a population of more than one billion people, a highly unemployed rural peasantry, grossly overpopulated urban areas and excessively polluted air, China is using African territory to accommodate spill-overs of its ever growing population and harnessing the African economic growth paradigm to create jobs and entrepreneurial avenues for its own nationals. ‘China towns’ are now scattered all across Africa from Sudan to South Africa. There are now more than one million Chinese permanently residing in Africa and my guess is that we have more of them coming.

In my view the only difference between the China and the West is that the Chinese were never part of the neoliberal agenda that imposed Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs) on Africans and they were never part of the ‘band of colonialists’ but they are just as imperialistic and predatory as the former slavers, ex-colonialists and racists of the western world.

The west took raw materials and brought Africans cheap manufactured goods, how different is that from what the Chinese are doing really?

In my opinion, the mixture of Chinese imperialism and kleptocratic tendencies of the ruling nationalist bourgeoisie in African governments is a toxic potion for the masses who still think that wealth generated by billions' worth of Chinese Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) will one day ‘trickle down’ to them in the slums and squatter camps. Beijing is unfortunately in it for Beijing and Chinese generosity can only be testified African elites!

Both increasing Chinese FDI and Africa’s GDP growth hailed as part of the “Africa Rising’ narrative seem to be only filling up the coffers of an exploitative transnational class African elites who stand as ‘gate keepers’ of African natural resources. The only thing ‘rising’ for the masses in the ‘Africa Rising’ narrative is unemployment, relative poverty and disease. As the elites are in a frenzy of the ‘Africa Rising’ business boom and recovering from the 2008 recession, ordinary Africans are battling Ebola, economic exclusion, increasing kleptocracy and corruption. I doubt they think Africa is rising (they probably think its sinking).

If you carefully examine these things you will realize that it only took international pressure for ‘Imperial China’ to show interest in Africans dying of Ebola, yet they don’t need encouragement when it comes to harvesting our rhino horns or exploiting our resources from the fish in our lakes and to our oil.

Both increased FDI and GDP growth from the so called ‘Chinese effect’ are expected to create jobs. In some instances they genuinely do. Again, I admit Chinese FDI in Africa at times create jobs in some countries.

But the reality is that when the Chinese bring capital to invest in Africa they also bring their own workers from China. So at the end of the day the local most African workers remain estranged by Chinese capital. Some African governments are even accusing the Chinese of going as far as sourcing construction materials from China during the construction of large-scale infrastructural rollout projects in Africa instead of procuring locally manufactured materials, thereby incentivizing local production and economic growth. Zambians have lost $2 billion to Chinese tax evasion and the foreign purchases effect, because the Chinese there simply don’t pay taxes, brutalize workers and eliminate local producers in that country (If you carefully scrutinize them you will realize that that’s what they do to most African countries).

By bringing their own workers (creating jobs for their own nationals), sourcing building materials from China, bringing their own machinery and capital goods from their own Chinese markets, Chinese investors can hardly be thought to be any different from the Western imperialists whom they soooo despise. Their mercantilist trade practices are just as exploitative as those of the west in my view.

What is becoming even clearer is that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is another deceptive band of ‘backdoor capitalists’ preying on the resources of impoverished African states and using anti-imperialist rhetoric to lure similarly corrupt kleptocratic African elites to the table of looters.

China prides itself as Africa’s biggest trading partner; but the reality is that the bulk of Chinese imports from Africa are natural resources and oil, and these raw materials are exported to China without beneficiation. Exporting the minerals without beneficiation again only favours the Chinese who will then beneficiate the minerals and refine the oil and sell them back to Africans as finished products or use them as cheap raw materials for their own industries. Honestly, was this not the crux of imperialism?

If you think the Chinese would simply pour billions of FDI to Africa with no strings because they are these ultruistic, peaceful, loving and kind people who just love Africans and see them as fellow victims of western imperialism, you are a L-O-N-G way from understanding the essence of politricks and political economy.

…By the way, why are the ‘champions of indigenization’, advocates of economic freedom and economic nationalists silent about this? It’s because the Chinese pay their bills!!

South Africans in particular need to understand that African markets which were once an inheritance for South African markets are now held at ransom by Chinese imperialist expansion. South African companies used to be the dominant players in African markets from telecommunications and infrastructure to transport, finance and investment; now the Chinese are taking over…

As Africans we need to accelerate our own regional integration and bolster intra-Africa trade before opening up our markets for Chinese penetration. Its common sense really. We need to minimize intra-regional trade barriers and counteract illicit capital outflows from our continent as means of retaining capital for the development of Africa. No capital no development- it’s simple. We need to support (South) African companies to make further inroads in to African markets before the Chinese control everything from mining to telecommunications and fishery. (South) African capital markets must be more geopolitically conscious, and invest strategically to outcompete Chinese firms in the region because instead of substantially reinvesting in the region the Chinese repatriate their profits to China. Its high time we stop ‘looking East’ or looking West and look to Africa. It’s what Pan-Africanists should do. We need to understand that opening mouths and stretching our hands towards either the East or the West will only pave way for a more exploitative order of international economic relations. Finally we need to understand that there is no such thing as ‘anti-imperialist imperialism’, because China wants us to believe it is an ‘anti-imperialist’ type of imperialist.

As Isaiah Berlin put it “Everything is what it is”, and Imperialism is imperialism, be it from the East or the West it is still imperialism. So our 'champions of indeginization', advocates of economic freedom and African elites should either accept or reject imperialism altogether, and stop burrying their heads in the sand and hypocritically pretending as if Chinese imperialism is somehow holier than Western imperialism…

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