China/Africa
China in Africa - Africa

China in Africa

Posted by Aneela Shahzad on

(Pic shows model of a planned new capital for Egypt, displayed in Egypt Economic Development Conference (EEDC) in Sharm el-Sheikh, south of Cairo, 28 March, 2015)

China’s presence in Africa has steadily increased in the past couple of decades and the pace is only accelerating.

Considering the centuries old command that the West has enjoyed over Africa starting from the Age of Slavery from 1500 onwards and then the colonization of the whole of Africa by Britain, France, Germany, Belgium, Italy, Portugal, and Spain from 1800 onwards and lastly the neocolonial grip over all these former colonies, after they has gained independence in the 1950 onwards – the heartache with which they would have to watch a third power entering the horizon of Africa should be obvious.

The question is, has China’s slow but definite ingress into not only Africa but also into South America made the life of this much suppressed part of humanity better or has it agitated the imperialist behemoth to such levels that the fear of another all-out catastrophic war, has for once, touched the heart of humanity?

Perhaps both these phenomenon are happening at the same time. So it will be interesting to know exactly how China is disturbing the delicately held balance of powerplay in Africa that was hitherto tilted towards Western interests. Politics of every country in Africa is extremely complex and it is not the intention of this essay to try to generalize Africa’s situation but only to gather salient facts to be able to get at least some picture of what is happening, to understand our world better.

To help unraveling this complex maze, let us start by trying to unravel Chad. Chad is a Saharan state having borders with Libya, Niger, Nigeria, CAR, Cameron and Sudan. Chad is a Franc-Afrique state along with more than 20 other ex-colonial-French-African states. The French occupied this country in 1913 and stayed till 1960, when they left they instated François Tombalbaye’s 15 years long dictatorial regime, disregarding the fact that 55% of Chadians were Muslims, 35% were African Spiritualist and only 10% were Christians. And interestingly this was the case with almost all African states directly below the North African belt; their south were Christian and their north were Muslim, and France played the same dirty trick in almost all of them.

France intervened militarily in favor of Tombalbaye several times, later the French allied with Hissène Habré and Idriss Deby, who both accepted French patronage and ruled Chad in an autocratic manner. French troops are so much involved in Chad’ s politics that they are directly responsible for Deby’s government’s security. Libya, under Gaddafi wanted a France-free, Muslim rule in Chad and sided with rebel forces FROLINAT, of same ideal. In 1981, with then president Goukouni, Libya and Chad even came close to uniting the two countries. But France put intense pressure on Goukouni and made him call for expulsion of Libyan-led GUNT (Organization of African Unity sponsored) forces. Finding Goukouni weak, Habré's forces entered N’Djamena and when GUNT intervened in favor of Goukouni, French and Zairian (funded by US) forces defeated GUNT and forced Libya to vacate the Aouzou Stripe too. The difference between the two interventions was that one was by a neighbor, who had people to people contact with Chad, and wanted to champion the genuine aspirations of the majority of Chadians and the other an imperialist, who still wanted to control Chad as a geographical and minerals asset.

France’s military and air base in Chad is so heavily deployed that Chad has been called "French aircraft carrier of the desert". From here France intervened in Mali’s Tuareg Crisis that unfolded in the aftermath of Gaddafi’s demise and over 20 major air campaigns were launched against the desert-bound Tuaregs, with no media to report. In the on-going Darfur Crisis in Sudan, according to Small Arms Survey, the rebels are using arms from Chad, the report says ‘small arms delivered to Chadian armed forces (including assault rifles and ammunition shipped from Israel and Serbia between July and September 2006) emerged rapidly among NRF and subsequently JEM forces in Darfur in March 2007 and July 2008’.

For Chad’s longtime allegiance with France, France has projected it as a military power of Africa. Idriss Déby has been made the Chair Person of the African Union. Chad intervenes politically and by other means in CAR too, which is in a civil war since 2012, a large part of the 5,500- strong military mission of the African Union (MISCA) is made of Chadian forces, besides this France also has 1,600 soldiers in the CAR. Chad has been accused of supporting and training Seleka rebels that are fighting the CAR government forces. It is speculated that Chad wants control of oil wells in northern CAR.

Chad is only one of Africa’s 54 countries, but it gives a good example of how powerful external forces can easily penetrate and maneuver in an information-blackout, under-developed continent – and how stronghold in one state can be used to intervene in several countries in Africa.

Rawanda is another example, Pres. Paul Kagame, whose hands are filled with blood of the Rwanda Genocide, has been praised by Tony Blair as a "visionary leader" and by Bill Clinton who said he is "one of the greatest leaders of our time". Kagame had actually proven to be the front man behind Western interests of extracting expensive minerals for free from DR Congo, Burundi, Uganda and Rwanda by keeping this countries constantly in conflict internally and with each other. Leaders like Kagame and the rebel networks they control have allowed conduits of small-arms to flow into conflict zones. There were reports in 2003 that Uganda got weapons from Croatia, Slovakia and Israel; DRCongo govt. made an arms-for-diamonds agreements with companies in the Czech Republic, Israel & Ukraine; Israel under Yitzhak Rabin, supplied the Hutu forces as well as the rebel army led by Paul Kagame with bullets, rifles and grenades. Israel trained the Rwandan military and paramilitary forces in the years leading up to the Rwandan Genocide. All these movements cannot happen without regimes that would allow them such activities with a blind eye.

In fact the whole of Africa is crammed with like stories of prolonged conflicts involving rebels that have been armed by external sources and of puppet regimes and of genocides. In such a backdrop we will attempt to find the trails of China’s ingress in Africa and its geopolitical implications.

Let’s restart from Chad again – Chad allowed Exxon Mobil, Chevron and Petronas, along with World Bank funding, to drill its oil for the first time in 2000. In 2008 the World Bank withdrew its funding saying royalties had not been used on health and education. Perhaps the West had not apprehended China’s increasing ties with Deby and thought they could still play around with Deby. In 2007, Deby gave China rights to a large oil exploration zone. Since then China has made several roads, railroads and a hospital in Chad and is constructing a new international airport in N’Djamena. All this definitely makes France and the US nervous. Oil from Chad will be exported via Cameron’s new port built by China at Kribi, at the western coast line of Africa. China is also making another port in Cameron at Lalabe to ship its Iron ore that China will mine at Mbalam.

Meanwhile China has made diplomacy with Chad’s neighbor, landlocked Niger, by extending a $45 million funds for making a hospital, a stadium, bridges, roads, most of which have been completed. Nigeria, on the other hand has been invested with another commodity, Al Qaeda, of which Boko Haram is an extension. Boko Haram mercenaries and suicide bombers have entered Cameron from Nigeria several times to kill or abduct Chinese officials. But instead of raising anti-rebel forces against Boko Haram, China has made a $12 billion deal with Nigeria to build a 1402km, coastal railway linking Nigeria’s economic capital Lagos in the west with Calabar in the east.

On the east of Chad, China is developing the Lamu Port in Kenya, which will connect to Ethiopia and South Sudan with highways and railroads under the LAPSET Corridor Project. Some have apprehended that because South Sudan will be able to export its oil through Port Lamu, Sudan will be rendered excluded from the oil tariff that it would otherwise get if South Sudan had had to use Port Sudan. But perhaps to compensate that China will build a railway from Khartoum to Port Sudan, help in construction of Merowe hydroelectric dam, and make two other power plants in Port Sudan and Rabak.

All this is just to show the inclusiveness policy of China in contrast to the exclusive, unilateral, exceptionalist policies of US and its major Allies in Africa – before this Africa had faced strictly syphon-out policies with zero trickle-down-effects for the people of Africa. Adjacent to Sudan is off-course Egypt, a country firmly nailed in the US-camp since the time of Anwar Saddat. After the Arab Spring, US ensured the removal of Egypt’s first democratically elected President Al Morsi, and brought its own strongman Al Sisi to power. But in August 2014, Sisi signed the mega Suez Canal Corridor Project with China, this project will oversee the construction of three canal cities, Suez, Ismailia, and Port Said comprising of industrial and commerce hubs, and six associated ports.

Africa has a unique political landscape that is not found in other places, countries have more say in the politics of their neighbors and they actively and recurrently infringe each other’s borders via rebel factions – it’s like one olden quarreling neighborhood. Perhaps the reason is simple, most African state borders were drawn by the departing colonialists in such ways that large swaths of land belonging to one indigenous tribe was divided among two or more states, and minorities were give the opportunities to rule over the majorities. In this two-pronged formula, there was constant dissent, several large tribes never got the feeling of independence, rather they felt cheated upon. And minority elite rulers always needed the backing of powerful externals, for which they had to pay the price by selling the resources of their lands to the ex-colonials for free.

Now after the turn of several centuries, China has emerged as one hefty investor that can outrun the financing ability of all western powers combined. China’s wealth alone did not make this possible, there were other factors, the big heart for inclusiveness and the vision of give-first-take-later and perhaps the realization of the hate that US unilateralism has brought upon it. Perhaps this vision will have the ability to change the oppressed state of the Africans. Surely we should not be too blind in idealizing China and forget that once the balance of global power is tilted decisively towards China, it may very well stop being nice and start showing the same hegemonic tentacles that have squeezed humanity for so long. But in between that period and today perhaps nation states around the world will have learnt the lesson that harmony, inclusiveness and integrity are more reliable assets in the power-game than plan tyranny.

The examples quoted above are of just one belt of adjacent countries, but in reality all African countries are knit in the same story. Subjugation to neo-colonial interests, supporting rebel forces against neighbors, hunger and disease, rape and genocide – these have been recurrent elements in the plots of their stories. African leaders ought to recon in the new deals they are making with new contenders of their wealths now – that they should not make these deals in the air of fear nor allow investors a share in their sovereign assets without equivalent reciprocal benefits for their own people.

So that it is time to throw off the age-ridden curse upon Ham as in ‘he will always serve Japheth and Shem’ – it’s time for Ham to turn the tables.