Colonial peril - the recolonisation of Africa

#1
Dianna Games
Johannesburg

ANYONE travelling around Africa cannot have failed to notice the growing
presence of Chinese business and companies. This invasion from the east
represents something of a double-edged sword for Africans.

Concerns have been raised that African governments are so busy looking over
their shoulders for signs of renewed "colonial peril" from the likes of the
US and UK that they have missed the onrushing Sino train and its economic
imperialist momentum. Indeed, many African countries have welcomed the
Chinese, seeing them as a means of lessening dependence on the hoary old
enemies in the west.

All over Africa, Chinese companies are doing lucrative deals with
governments, many of them with major "sweeteners" thrown in - designed to
clinch not just the contract being negotiated, but others down the line.

For example, in Kenya last month, China's largest listed telecoms
manufacturer, ZTE Communications, made a "gift" of equipment worth
144-million Kenyan shillings to Telkom Kenya. ZTE said the company would
"continue to play a positive role in Kenya's telecommunications industry".
After a gesture like that, it's certain to get a role.

Investment company China Export and Credit Insurance Corporation plans to
invest $7bn in Nigeria, China's third-largest African trading partner after
SA and Egypt, to fund projects in a range of sectors, including oil.

China is slowly widening its African oil footprint, with big contracts in
Sudan and Angola. But it has sold itself to the Nigerian government by
agreeing to invest large sums in nonoil sectors in what analysts see as
leverage to secure the oil stake.

Zimbabwe is all but owned by China, say many Africa watchers. When President
Robert Mugabe saw his biggest critics were also his biggest trading partners
and tourism markets, he defensively turned to the east, lauding countries
such as China as the true partners of Zimbabwe. In return for a rare hand of
friendship in an increasingly hostile world, Mugabe has offered Chinese
companies almost anything they want, regardless of the payback.

And payback there will be. Chinese telecoms supplier Huawei Investments last
year demanded it be guaranteed a portion of Zimbabwe's profits from minerals
and tobacco - in addition to a hard cash payment - before it would supply
$160m worth of telecommunications equipment for the second fixed-line
telephone network.

The streets of Harare are awash with cheap Chinese goods, and Mozambique and
Tanzania are increasingly in the grip of the Chinese economic expansion.

For Africa, it is not only the Chinese ability to undermine local economies
through cheap goods - produced mostly without regard to international
standards on labour - that presents an insidious problem, but the fact that
most of the labour-intensive contracts Chinese companies sign include
stipulations that Chinese labour be used.

There is nothing essentially wrong with China making inroads into global
markets. Everybody tries to do it. What is different here is that some
African governments seem to believe it's not strictly a hard-nosed
relationship, but one that is altruistically motivated. This is partly the
result of China's support for Africa's independence struggles.

The Chinese practice of offering "gifts" to smooth the way for later
ventures often serves to bolster this perception of magnanimous comradeship.

Trade volumes between China and Africa rose 53,9% year on year to $20,5bn in
the first nine months of last year, according to the Chinese government.
This includes a 33,2% increase in exports to Africa and a 78% increase in
exports from Africa to China.

While a proportion of this is made up of manufactured goods from SA, it
includes crude oil and unprocessed agricultural goods from other African
countries - which simply replicates the traditional trading relationships
with western countries that are so often criticised by Africa.

While some Africans point fingers at SA's "recolonisation" of Africa and
attack Europeans and Americans for dominating their economies, quite another
dependency relationship is developing under their noses, with the possible
exception of SA.

There are many benefits to the relationship - China is funding peacekeeping
and other such efforts and could be an important champion for Africa in
important forums. But the economic and trade relationship needs to be
managed properly now to ensure that China's economic strength does not end
up ruining the potential for a true partnership in global affairs down the
line.

Not just oil but whole countries with


intensive contracts Chinese companies sign include
stipulations that Chinese labour be used
Try that with a UK or US company
 

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