UMass Boston's independent, student-run newspaper

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Africa Looks to the East

China’s path to global economic domination cuts through Africa and it is in acknowledgment of this that it hosted the Beijing Summit of the forum of Africa-China Co-operation. The summit, the third of its kind, brought 50 African heads of states to Beijing for three days of discussions and consultations. China’s foray into Africa has raised eyebrows in the west, where access to Africa’s vast supplies of raw materials has long been considered a birthright. But African countries enjoy few good options in overcoming the plethora of economic, political and social ills they face, and closer ties with China offer a decent possibility. A legacy of dependence bequeath by European colonial domination continues to thwart the continents aspirations towards genuine independence. African states are looking increasingly to the east, not for the coming of wise men, but in order to wean them off a torturous relationship that for centuries has brought nothing but doom.

Wielding a gun in one hand and a bible in another, European states exploited Africa’s resources with impunity for centuries, and subjugated its peoples to untold misery, under the pretext of a civilizing mission. Today, the west would have us believe that China harbors similar intentions on the continent. Yes, China is interested in Africa for the same reasons that brought Europeans came there in the 15th century: China wants oil for its growing economy, raw materials for its industries, and markets for its finished products. China wants the same access to Africa’s mineral resources that some western nations have claimed. China is not coming to Africa brandishing a gun, a bible, or Mao’s “Little Red Book.” China is not masking its real interests in Africa under the guise of a civilizing mission. China is not claiming that it is its manifest destiny to make the world safe for Confucianism or Daoism, not even for its peculiar fusion of communism and capitalism. China pays no leap service to “human rights”, an issue over which the West, given its track record of colonial domination and its support for tyrannical regimes in Africa and elsewhere in the world, can claim no moral supremacy.

Sino-African trade relations go back a long way. Historians are uncertain when contacts between China and Africa began, but they are in agreement that as early as the Tang Dynasty (618 -907), trade links existed between China and some parts of Africa. During the Ming Dynasty (1368 -1644), trade between China and Africa blossomed, and China’s seafaring Admiral, Zheng Ho, made several visits to the continent with stops in Mogadishu, and Malindi in present-day Kenya. Edicts issued by Chinese leaders banned ship building and sea-faring trade in the 14th century, effectively cutting-off China’s trade with Africa, on the eve of the “scramble for Africa.”

In the 1960’s, as European powers resisted the independence of their colonies, China was on the right side of the colonial struggle, supporting several liberation movements on the continent. China’s contributions of money and weapons to FRELIMO, the Revolutionary Front for the Liberation of Mozambique, and to Zimbabwe’s Chimurenga (liberation struggle) was instrumental in securing independence for both countries in the late 1970’s. During the cold war, while the US and its cold war allies sustained tyrants and nurtured proxy wars on the continent, China contributed tangible things such as highways, hospitals, schools and health professionals, which had a direct impact on the life of average Africans everywhere on the continent. China is willing to provide low-income loans, with no strings attached, to needy African countries. Compare this to the burdensome conditions the World Bank places on the structural adjustment loans it lures African states into signing, and it becomes clear why president Robert Mugabe recently announced a “Look East Policy” aimed at strengthening economic and political ties with China. Not too long ago structural adjustment agreements were said to be “the only game in town” and failure to play this game meant international financial isolation. China offers affordable alternatives.

Africans are loyal to their friends. “One of the first heads of state I invited to this country was Fidel Castro,” former South African president Nelson Mandela admonished President Clinton in 1998 when Clinton expressed concern about South Africa’s close ties to Cuba, “because our moral authority dictates that we should not abandon those who helped us in the darkest hour in the history of this country.” African states have rewarded China for its support of the anti-colonial struggle. In 1971, African states voted overwhelmingly for China to regain its seat at the UN, taking a firm stance to rectify a blatant injustice championed by the US, which gave China’s UN seat to Taiwan. With the exception of Burkina Faso, Malawi, Gambia, Swaziland and Sao Tome and Principe, African states have adhered to the mainland’s “One China Policy.” Votes cast by African states, in opposition to a draft resolution critical of China in the UN Commission on Human Rights, facilitated China’s entry into the WTO, and paved the way for China to host the 2008 Summer Olympics.

Western concerns about China’s foray into Africa have been focused primarily on what is perceived to be the corrosive effects of China’s no-strings-attached loans on good governance, respect for human rights, and economic liberalization. In short, Western states are unhappy that China is lending money to African countries without the usurious conditions that the World Bank and other western concerns are notorious for. While it can be said that some of these conditions forced African leaders to institute multi-party politics in the early 1990’s, this strategy is not only condescending to African states, it is in violation of sovereignty, a cornerstone of the state-centered paradigm of international relations. Contrary to what western nations would have us believe, Robert Mugabe’s palaver with the west began over his refusal to play “the only game in town,” not his confiscation of white-owned farms. African leaders support Mugabe primarily because he stood up to the Bretton Woods institutions, not because of the brilliance of his land policy, given that many African states are actively luring Zimbabwe’s white farmers to their countries. China is a great lender, which is why the Bush administration borrows exorbitantly from it everyday to fund everything from the war in Iraq to tax breaks for the rich. That which is good for the goose is good for the gander. If China’s overflowing bowl can quench the financial thirst of the US, why shouldn’t African states drink from it as well?

China has used its veto power in the UN Security Council to shield Sudan from sanctions aimed at stopping the genocide in Darfur, orchestrated by the Sudanese government and its proxy the Janjaweed. China will not be allowed to create its own version of the “Congo Free State” in Africa. We-the children of Africa-ought not to allow that to happen. For centuries, African blood has been wantonly spilled; China may someday become the first country to pay a heavy price for African blood on its hand.