Is China the New Colonial Power in Africa?
President Lungu, head of the East African nation Zambia, recently returned from the China-Africa Summit with the promise of yet another Chinese loan for his country, this time to the tune of $30 million.1 This investment is just the latest in a series of investments which are but a small part of the colossal $175 billion the Chinese have committed to invest in the African continent over the next decade. When compared with the $14 billion in aid promised over the same period by the United States, the future of Chinese influence in Africa becomes clear.2
These investments are not new. Over the past 15 years, the Chinese government has invested an enormous sum of money in African nations. The situation in Zambia is just the latest in an alarming trend that has swept the African continent. Djibouti, neighboring Ethiopia, is now the home of the first overseas Chinese military base.3 In Kenya, nearly three-fourths of all national debt is owed to the Chinese. Additionally, Angola, Ethiopia, Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo are also top beneficiaries of loans from China.4
President Lungu, in a speech after returning from securing his latest Chinese loan, balked at reports of his countries impending default on past loans, saying "Our friendship with China is mutual and no amount of reckless propaganda will deter us from entrenching this relationship for the common good of our people,"5
Reasonable concerns about the mistreatment of local workers and environmental damage are compounded by the very real threat of the Chinese government seizing key components of African infrastructure: "China has dangerously taken over strategically important physical assets and businesses in Zambia, which can later be collateralized in the event Zambia fails to pay its debts," said Daimone Siulapwa, a reporter based in Zambia.6
According to a recent report by the Africa Confidential news organization, these are more than empty threats of what might happen in Zambia's future - the 'take over' is already happening. Zambia's national news organization ZNBC is already under Chinese ownership, the report indicates, with the state-owned electricity company ZESCO in the process of being acquired as a response to growing Zambian debt.7
The Chinese government is increasingly utilizing these tactics not just in Africa, but across the developing world. The reason, analysts suggest, is to increase their geopolitical influence as they vie to match power and influence with western nations such as the United States. Another factor influencing the rapid influx of Chinese investment in Africa is the need to secure mineral resources and cheap labor, which in turn will benefit their economy at home by driving down the cost of production.
Though many African nations have been independent for over fifty years, we shouldn't be under any illusions that the end of colonialism in Africa was the end of our economic and political exploitation by foreign nations. What Haile Selassie I and other African leaders warned us against during the dawn of independence was the possibility that colonialism would be replaced by neo-colonialism — which the Oxford Dictionary defines as "The use of economic, political, cultural, or other pressures to control or influence other countries, especially former dependencies."8
"We must be vigilant to inhibit the growth of what is called 'neo-colonialism'. Neo-colonialism today takes two forms: economic and political. We recognize that economic dominance is not only often the more difficult to eliminate, but often serves as the entering wedge for political domination." — Haile Selassie I 9
The continued neocolonial practices of other nations notwithstanding, Rastafarians and all people of goodwill throughout the world should remain cautious going forward in regards to Chinese influence in Africa. We will continue to follow this issue and post relevant updates on the situation in the coming months.