... we should be more critical about China's role in Africa

By Basma Abdel Aziz

Taboo (Issue I/2021)


Author and activist Basma Abdel Aziz calls for protest. Photo: Private

It’s China outshines every other country - at least in terms of economic growth. China uses its economic power to extend its influence around the globe. Africa in particular has shifted into Beijing's focus in recent years. The continent, which is a major source of natural resources, but also home to poverty and devastating internal conflicts, offers China an ideal opportunity to feed its growing geopolitical ambitions.

In recent years, Chinese investors have pumped billions of dollars into the African markets. Railways, roads, huge buildings, runways across borders are being constructed everywhere with Chinese money. The energy sector in particular has attracted investors:  China bought 40 percent of Sudanese oil companies’ stocks and invests lot of money in the markets of Nigeria, Somalia, Djibouti, South Africa, Algeria, Ethiopia and Egypt.

“China bought 40 percent of Sudanese oil companies’ stocks”

China is welcomed as a partner by most African governments. Its aid is widely accepted and encouraged, not least because the country never intervenes in domestic affairs. It doesn’t tie aid to human rights’ issues. It doesn’t link its huge investments to democratic procedures, nor to anti-corruption reforms, unlike some Western investors. China cares only about its practical needs. It follows its own moral system in both domestic and foreign policy, without adhering tohuman rights conventions. At home, political opponents are suppressed and locked away - and in international economic policy, it indirectly supports authoritarian regimes. In Africa, this is a mutually beneficial arrangement. China provides reconstruction aid for dictators and oppressors in return for cheap oil, gas, minerals and the opportunity to exploit the unprotected local labour force.

Despite all this, there is no doubt that the Chinese investments have created thousands of job opportunities in African countries. But the humanitarian and political cost is far too high. The shiny sight of highways and skyscrapers, paid by Chinese money, distracts from the regime of whips and pistols that the People's Republic is trying to establish on the continent.

In 2011, a Zambian court dropped charges against a Chinese manager. He fired a pistol on Zambian miners, who were protesting against unsatisfactory pay. Shortly before, an explosion in a mine killed 51 miners. At the time, Human Rights Watch widely reported on ill treatment of workers in the Chinese mines in Zambia, on the lack of safety standards and dire conditions. Similar news nowadays come from Nigeria, Namibia and a number of other African countries.

“A lack of safety standards and dire conditions in the Chinese mines in Zambia”

But the governments of these countries care only about China’s ongoing presence. Those in power are grateful that they are not being prosecuted for human rights violations and the lack of questions about the endless repression it uses to intimidate people. Nothing else matters. 

It would be hopeless to urge dictators to be more forward-looking in their cooperation with China. The short-term gains are too tempting, the profits too great, thanks to their strong ally. 

In the end, we only have one chance: to raise awareness of people on the ground. It is high time for a world-wide protest movement to oppose this new form of colonisation by capital. It is high time to to unveil the hidden agendas. We can no longer close our eyes to the violence lurking behind the shiny facades.

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