China’s Colonial Aspirations in Africa

By Patrick Mbullo

It is now obvious that China is the world’s superpower, and the most powerful nation on earth. We do not need a world war III to confirm this. The supremacy battle between the Sino nation and Euro-America is over. The battle has been won courtesy of China’s shrewd economic, technological, and political maneuvers. In fact, with the rise of Xi Jiping at the helm, it is just a matter of time before China takes control of the world. Already, Chinese economic and political influence is real and can be felt all around the globe. It is gradually spreading to all spheres of life. Not even the combined leadership of the United States and Europe can stop China. The former economic and political giants have gracefully fallen, and their ruling elites and business stalwarts, heavily indebted to China, are now massaging the Sino giant’s ego in order to protect their business interests and empires from collapsing. To worsen the matter, the U.S owes China to the tune of billions. American billionaires cannot survive without China, and they know it. If that is not enough, most Western universities are today exclusively funded by the Chinese, without which they would be in their death beds now. The university courses are now tailor made to attract the rich Chinese students. In addition, western consumer shops and industries are surviving on goods cheaply produced by labor offshored from China, and without which the supermarket chains would ghost houses today. All said and done, China has beaten the west in its own capitalist game. The next war frontier is Africa, and the battle will be on who controls the continent’s rich resources. The victor, will control the world for eternity.

So, what is in Africa and why has the continent stubbornly remained relevant? The answer to this question remains obvious. As the world’s resources get depleted, and industrialized nations continue to experience industrial growth and increasing consumer demands, the pressure for raw materials increases. Africa, with its abundant natural resources, remains the panacea to the diminishing resources required by the opulent nations to sustain their industrial growth. Thus, Africa is an important factor in the equation for economic growth.

Even though Europe and the United States have had their share of plundering Africa’s resources, and continue to do so in a breathtaking speed, there is a renewed interest and urgency to this plundering. This urgency, I argue, is because of the eminent threat emanating from China’s rapid growth. Historically, Europe and America remain the biggest beneficiaries of the colonial and imperial rule. Accumulated resources plundered from Africa before, during, and after colonialism are worth billions of dollars. For years, Europe and America engineered violence, ethnic conflict, and regional wars without mercy, purposefully to getting access to Africa’s vast resources. African leaders such as Patrice Lumumba, who were a threat to the business of plunder, were eliminated. Additionally, institutional frameworks and polices such as the IMF, the World Bank, and structural adjustment programs came in handy where war and ethnic conflicts could not yield what was needed. To some extent, mental exploitation of the colonized, alongside other strategies, aided this culture of accumulation.  To this end, the begging question is: will China follow the same path of accumulation and exploitation characterized in the colonial and imperial West?

As China’s presence in Africa grows, her defenders have argued that China-Africa relation is far better than the continent’s relationship with its colonial and post-colonial allies.  For this school of thought, the China-Africa relationship is a win-win arrangement, where African nations enjoy financial and economic support, low interest loans, infrastructure developments such as roads, dams for hydropower, etc.  On the other hand, critics have pointed out the economic imbalance citing massive imports from China and very low exports from virtually all African countries, mainly raw materials. However, I would argue that like the colonial and imperial masters, the infrastructural developments and economic aid from China currently being experienced in many countries across Africa have just one agenda; an agenda aimed at facilitating movement and accessibility of raw materials. An agenda to plunder Africa.

Improvement of infrastructure is one area that China has used as a bargain, and as tool for political-economic goodwill. China’s acceptance in the region is attributed to highway construction projects. China has ensured sound and solid infrastructural developments in virtually all regions of the continent. Where this is yet to be seen, leaders have signed agreements to that effect under the One Belt, One Road initiative and it is only a matter of time for construction to commence.

However, for China to complete its African conquest, it will have to think critically about the socio-cultural aspects of development. As opposed to the economic and political aspects, China is yet to exploit the socio-cultural domain. The role the socio-economic domain can play to aid China’s growth abroad has equally not received much attention. African culture, already corrupted by Euro-American influence, is vital for the sustainability of China’s foreign economic and political agenda. There are several ways in which this can be achieved; areas which African leaders should pay attention to.  These areas include, but are not limited to, communication and language, settlement schemes, health and medical products, as well as religion and inter marriages.

Already, China has set up communication centers and programs in most African cities. Nairobi, for instance, has a robust Chinese broadcasting program that airs special Chinese cultural and political items and which are consequently channeled to national radio stations for public listening and viewing. As more Chinese language and learning centers are being established in most universities around the country, more Chinese cultural materials are being translated into Swahili. In colonial agendas, language is extremely critical. The Western mode of communication now widely entrenched in many African countries was a means of appropriation. Through language, the western colonialists perfected the westernization agenda and to be modern became synonymous with the Euro-American way of life. This was necessary to create markets for the industrial goods from the West, and to thwart any manufacturing ambitions in the colonies.

This is what African governments should watch. Language is going to be more important than infrastructural development if China is to penetrate the African mindset and culture. Already, it has an advantage. Unlike the English who saw “primitive” culture and dialects instead of language, China has recognized the richness of African culture and languages, and it is embarking on the promotional agenda both within and outside its own borders.  Soon the African population will be speaking Chinese and China African languages. Soon, Chinese will be living among Africans and integrating into African cultural practices. In fact, China is already producing relevant Chinese literature into several African languages.

Integration will then lead to in-country settlement. Settlement schemes therefore are avenues for African governments to pay attention to. Instead of buying mining concessions, China is likely to use its capital base to facilitate purchase and accumulation of large tracks of land not only for agricultural use, but to also settle her own people. A settlement base within an African population, either in cities, small towns, or rural centers will expedite cultural integration and adaptability of the Chinese in Africa. In addition, these settlement schemes could easily become satellite industrial technological zones (or colonies) for production of industrial goods and settlement bases exclusively for Chinese nationals to solve the population and pollution problem that China is currently facing.

Another area to consider is the medical and pharmaceutical industry. It is obvious that most Africans are now turning to Chinese herbal medicine and that consumption of herbal medical products from China has increased significantly. Already, China is making its medical products more affordable, especially herbal products, and translating manuals to have both Chinese and local languages that can be read side by side. Africa, the world’s poorest continent has the greatest burden of diseases globally. Its population’s need for cheap medicine is worrisome. Its poor medical infrastructure is also wanting. The Chinese government is taking advantage of this and penetrating the medical supply chain, reproductive health issues and public health. With prevention messages and policies guided by China, the Sino giant will definitely gain a wide mileage of acceptability. China’s investment in health programs therefore is not in vain. China is already establishing biomedical research laboratories in most parts of Africa. This is in direct response to growing western bioterrorist research and investment activities in Africa.

Africans are notoriously religious and anything that touches on religion will receive positive welcome in the African context. Thus, religion remains an important area for China to consider in its Africa agenda. By religion I refer to both secular and non-secular religious movements. There are those who will embrace traditionalism and be comfortable in the ancestral world, while there are those who will embrace spirituality and gravitate toward a conventional concept of God. China has the means to provide for this diversity. I see a future where China will embrace and translate dominant neglected African religious beliefs into Chinese and encourage side-by-side publication and learning.

Lastly, China will soon be the military force on the African soil. The Sierra Leonean journalist, Chernoh Alpha Bah, did observe that China’s expanding international economic interests are likely to generate increasing demands for its military operations. Bah notes that China’s navy operations in Africa is necessary to protect Chinese citizens, investments, and sea lines of communication, as well as the entire Chinese investments and business interests. One strategy which China has adopted is the increase of arms sales and establishment of strategic military training programs in Africa.  This strategy, though aimed at countering the United States and other western military programs on the continent, are another means of destabilizing governments, creating political and ethnic rivalry and to justify illegal occupation. The politics of dictatorship, wanton corruption, and state-managed economic interests are already showing as byproducts of the Chinese influence in Africa. It is not surprising therefore, that China has been accused of involvement in the recent coup in Zimbabwe, and in Kenya’s botched elections, and just concluded elections in Sierra Leone.

I believe that the price for these sociocultural projects is worth paying if China is to complete their takeover of Africa, and ultimately the world. Again, it is not surprising that China has reconsidered its political leadership and economic framework to allow for an autocratic rule and a neoliberal, but state-controlled capitalist economy. These are prerequisite arsenals for an ultimate takeover of the world; a situation that is reminiscent of German-Nazi policies.

 

Patrick Mbullo is a PhD Student at Northwestern University, Department of Anthropology. Contact: pmbullo@gmail.com

 

 

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