Article by Bobastles Owino Nondi
Published January 18, 2008
Chinese president, Hu Jintao, with his Mozambiqan counterpart, Armando Guebuza
China broke her studious silence on post-election violence in Kenya on January 14, 2008 by blaming western-styled democracy. Through The People’s Daily, the official mouth-piece of the ruling Chinese Communist Party, China contends that democracy is a recipe for disaster in Africa, citing Kenya as an example of this. BOBASTLES OWINO NONDI, like Africa Have Your Say ‘an interactive programme of BBC World Service that on January 16, 2008 discussed this contention by China’ examines this claim further and concludes that indeed, Africa and China share a shameful history.
As Kenya went to the polls on December 27, 2007, representatives of western and African nations monitored the process to ensure the outcome was free and fair. But China, a permanent member of the UN Security Council and a leading business partner of Kenya and Africa, kept away.
China did not say anything even after Mwai Kibaki’s government banned live media coverage and demonstrations that turned Kenya into a police state soon after being secretly declared winner and hurriedly sworn in as president at night as independent observers, human rights bodies, the civil society and the presumed winner, Raila Odinga, declared the presidential poll a sham and a massive fraud.
Even as the United States, Britain, the European Union and African Union tried their diplomacy in Kenya, China remained conspicuously absent as if it was business as usual in Kenya. So far, 14 western nations(United Kingdom, United States, Canada, the European Commission Delegation to Kenya, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Norway, Spain and Denmark)under the Development Co-operation Group umbrella are considering aid withdrawal from the government unless the political crisis bedeviling Kenya were addressed and the government committed itself to good governance, democracy, the rule of law and human rights. The European Parliament is even considering economic sanctions against Kenya. Yet China remains unconcerned.
But going by China’s history in Africa, expecting to hear her speak against ‘violation of human rights’ (what is that?) would be expecting too much. How can she when the ghosts of the pro-democracy demonstrators her troops massacred at Tiananmen Square in 1989 still haunt her?
Akinyi Princess of K’Orinda-Yimbo
Akinyi Princess of K’Orinda-Yimbo, in her 2008-published book, Darkest Europe and Africa’s Nightmare: A Critical Observation of Neighboring Continents, argues that though China comes to Africa posing as ‘equals, with no colonial hangover, no complex relationship of resentment, no outward show of hegemonic clout’, she nevertheless has an agenda which African nations should beware of and ‘should make sure that this agenda tallies with the African one.’
In an unflattering exposition, the German-based Kenya-born Akinyi Princess of K’Orinda-Yimbo argues that China is “making a fortune on Africa’s natural resources without addressing the African people’s poverty” and that she demands “no good governance, adherence to human rights, an end to corruption, environmental rules and democracy.”
“:Ever since the Communist Party of China (CPC) became China’s ruling party in 1949,” says Zhong Weiyun of the CPC Central Committee in ChinaAfrica magazine, “it has engaged in active and frequent exchanges with ruling parties in African nations.”
Nigeria’s ruling party, People’s Democratic Party, established in 1998, is one of the African political parties that have conducted several inter-party exchanges with CPC. Nine years later, PDP is entrenching itself in power amidst claims of election rigging, cronyism and corruption.
Praising the ‘ruling parties’ in Africa for withstanding the onslaught of the western-styled multi-party democracy of the 1990s and for -maintaining their ruling party positions and gaining strength during the process, despite heavy pressure from external intervention-, China attributes this ‘success’ to the close ties of these parties with CPC.
But these ‘ruling parties’ are not in power by any other means but popular mandate.
Kenyan is a good example where an incumbent president refuses to relinquish power by manipulating the Electoral Commission to tilt the poll in his favour, is purportedly sworn in back to office at sun-set privately and immediately unleashes police and military terror on the ‘opposition’ and the Kenyan public.
Curiously, China is one of the few countries that Mwai Kibaki visited during his first term in State House in 2005, and where he signed ‘business deals’ worth hundreds of millions of US dollars, with the eastern economic power snatching most government contracts for defence, telecommunications, medical and construction sectors from western countries. Could it be that during this visit Kibaki met CPC stalwarts who took him through an induction of ‘How to Remain in Power at All Cost’ as has evidently been the case with African ‘ruling parties’?
Ethiopia’s People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front, which came to power through armed struggle, is cited by CPC as having been ‘enlightening’ for having stayed in power for 16 years, and ‘maintaining close ties with the masses’.
Andrew Manley writes in BBC Focus on Africa magazine, “The last months of 2007 have seen continuing [Chinese] concentration on Nigeria, Angola and other resource-rich countries, but also a worrying lack of positive policy initiatives on Darfur crisis in public at least, which appears to be allowing the el-Bashir government to continue what human rights organisations denounce as ethnic cleansing in the region.” Indeed, Darkest Europe and Africa’s Nightmare reports that the weapons used in Darfur are manufactured either in China or in Chinese companies in Khartoum. The book also says that the machetes used in the Rwandan genocide of 1994 were manufactured in China.
Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe reiterates that ‘China is Zimbabwe’s top cooperation partner’. In 2006, bilateral trade volume between Zimbabwe and China reached $270 million, and the figure is expected to hit $500 million in 2008, Zimbabwe’s 15,000% plus annual inflation, and 80% unemployment, notwithstanding.
While western countries, the World Bank and IMF would demand that the governments they work with and fund in the developing world be accountable, rule justly, invest in its people and possess economic freedom, China believes that such demands would be unfair.
Writing in ChinaAfrica, Li Anshan, deputy director of the Centre for African Studies of Peking University, says, “it has been China’s persistent policy since the 1950s to supply unconditional foreign aid to developing countries and not to interfere in their internal affairs. Given that there is the African Union, why should China, or any other world power, interfere in African affairs?”
Perhaps for the same reason, China would rather Africans slaughter themselves to the last man, so long as they acquire business contracts on post-war reconstruction, or sell crude and sophisticated weapons to the warring factions, or let political leaders swindle every penny from the continent so long as it ends in China.
For instance, China only became active in Congo-Kinshasa in the post-conflict reconstruction, building roads such as the National Road No.1 which links Kinshasa and port of Matadi. The same has happened in Sierra Leone, Uganda, Liberia and Sudan’s Darfur region.
And, even in areas where Sino-Africa activities are concentrated, there is a rising discontent among the local populace for what is considered China’s ‘preference for its own expatriate labour on capital projects and the alleged dumping of low quality Chinese products.’
Akinyi Princess of K’Orinda-Yimbo contends in Darkest Europe and Africa’s Nightmare that the Chinese: dig, shovel, saw, clear and carry away the rubble themselves ‘no African gets employed in any position whatsoever in any Chinese projects. Everybody is Chinese from the engineers to the office messengers.’
Such disquiet among locals ‘and matched by studious silence among the ruling elite’ has been witnessed in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria, China-Zambia economic and trade cooperation zone in Lusaka, Zambia, Juba in Southern Sudan, and Algeria and Liberia among other countries. All these are resource-rich countries with Zambia-China Economic and Trade Cooperation Zone located in Zambia Copper Belt Province.
As Africa’s natural resources are exploited, its people are steadily marginalised, writes Mwesiga Baregu of the University of Dar es Salaam in BBC World Focus on Africa magazine.
The just-published book that examines the travails of Africa at the hands of world powers
A poor human rights record and clampdown on press freedom are some of the evils that the Chinese authorities are struggling to hide under the carpet despite frequent criticism, and that are now threatening to rear their ugly head at the August 2008 Beijing Olympics.
The ‘Free Tibet’ campaigners and China’s domestically dispossessed are hoping to use 2008 Beijing Olympics as platform for voicing their grievances.
While Tibet remains largely off-limits, domestic media are tightly controlled in China. And, in dealing with a possible protest, Chinese government is reported to be detaining dissidents it fears could embarrass the country.
As is widely touted by African and Chinese diplomats, ‘the continent Africa and China have a shared history’. A close interrogation into this might just reveal that this is shamefully true.
Additional reporting by Ogova Ondego