Tragic: China, Russia Colonize Africa While the West Stands Idly By

This article contains commentary which reflects the author's opinion
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Concerns Prove to Be Well Founded

By 1994, with the election of Nelson Mandela as President of South Africa, the decolonization of Africa was complete.  Western European governments, amidst much political turmoil and violence, had been driven from the Dark Continent. China and Russia were the only two world powers to actively support this decolonization of the continent. The US found itself in a very difficult position.  Whilst they supported the concept of national self-determination, their ties to European allies, who maintained ties to their former colonies, created a conundrum.  

The administrations of both Truman and Eisenhower were concerned that the withdrawal of European allies from African colonies could lead to Soviet supported communist parties achieving power in the region. These concerns proved to be well founded.  

Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa (BRICS)

From the BRICS: Prospects and Challenges, as explained by the Centre for Budget and Governance Accountability:

“In 2001, Jim O’Neill of the American bank Goldman Sachs had first coined the phrase ‘BRIC’, in a report ‘Building Better Global Economic BRICs’, referring to Brazil, Russia, India and China – four of the fastest-growing emerging economies at the time. Looking at the features like size of population, demographic dividend and rate of globalization, Goldman Sachs (GS) forecasted that these four countries had the growth potential to surpass the European Union economy in terms of market size. GS also predicted that China, India, Brazil and Russia would become the first, third, fifth and sixth largest economies in the world respectively by 2050.

However, ‘BRIC’ as an international forum was formalized with the first meeting of the foreign ministers of Brazil, Russia, India and China in New York on the margins of the UN General Assembly in September 2006. Later, in the third BRIC summit in April 2011, South Africa joined this forum and ‘BRICS’ was formed. These five countries together account for 43 percent of the world’s population, 46 percent of the global labour force and 25 percent of the world gross domestic product. The BRICS countries are also among the major resource suppliers to the industrialized world.

With their rapid economic growth, these countries are said to be leading a shift in global economic power away from the developed economies of Europe and the US. However, these countries have very little cultural or political similarity, and their levels of development differ widely. Given that there were no significant prior economic ties among these countries, the creation of BRICS has been viewed as a major step towards an alternative global economic landscape.”

Moscow was the strongest advocate of adding South Africa to this group of  emerging economies, prompting the changing of the name from BRIC to BRICS.

The Roles of Russia and Cuba in the Fall Of Apartheid

Very few people in the West know of the crucial role that Russia and Cuba played in the downfall of Apartheid in South Africa. Cuba (under Fidel Castro) with Russia providing economic, military, diplomatic and political support including large supplies of weapons and fighter aircraft, trained thousands of member of Umkhonto We Sizwe (Spear of the Nation), also known as MK, the armed wing of the African National Congress (ANC), to fight in South Africa against the White regime. MK was responsible for attacks in South Africa on an unsuspecting populace. The Soviet Union was the greatest financial contributor to the ANC.

Russia in Africa

A decolonized Africa provided 54 countries with a presence in the UN to back any Russian initiative. Trade opportunities also flourished with Russia investing heavily in mega projects such as a crude oil refinery in Uganda and a platinum mine in Zimbabwe.

Russia is also a major supplier of arms in North and Sub-Saharan Africa.  Russian “peace keeping” soldiers in Africa exceed in number those of the combined forces of France, the UK, and the US. They are also involved in training Nigeria’s Special Forces. Despite all of this, Russia’s presence in Africa is nowhere near as large as that of China.

China in Africa

Foreign aid to African countries from the West is often conditional on a human rights track record. Aid from China, however, has a much more lenient policy. China is currently the continent’s largest trading partner.  China imports raw material such as oil, iron ore, platinum, gold ,timber and copper and in turn, exports to Africa cheap, manufactured goods. In 2014 the value of this trade was over 200 billion. Over half of Chinese foreign aid goes to African countries. The question is, at what cost?

Chinese infrastructure investments do not benefit the local population as the work is mostly carried out by Chinese nationals. When China does employ local labor, their treatment caused Human Rights Watch to issue a damming report on Chinese labour practices. Huge amounts of cheap Chinese goods annihilate local businesses which cannot compete with Chinese pricing.

China receives less easily quantifiable benefits. Yong Deng, an Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, spoke with Harvard Politics (HPR) about these benefits, saying, “China feels that it is entitled to a Great Power status, so maintaining that in a global world order is always a long-term foreign policy goal.”

“In terms of great power rise… Africa carries an enormous amount of diplomatic weight in [shifting] China’s diplomatic and political influence away from U.S., Western dominated world order.”

Associate Professor US Naval Academy Yong Deng

China’s cheap infrastructure loans to African countries are often tied to predatory loan practices that demand property, such as airports, harbours or mineral rights, should the country be unable to service it’s interest payments. Three examples of this are the Hambantota port in Sri Lanka, which was handed over to China on a 99 year lease as the country was unable to repay the Chinese loan used to build the port.  

Paying the Price

The Kenneth Kuanda International Airport in Zambia is also in jeopardy should Zambia be unable to pay repay the debt. The Chinese already own 60 percent of the Zambian Nation Broadcasting Association. Kenya is also poised to lose the port of Mombasa to the Chinese as repayment of a loan taken out to build a railway line which has become a white elephant.

More than 750 thousand Chinese Nationals have settled in Africa in the past decade, with more on the way. One expert has estimated that China will have to send at least 300 million people to Africa in order to solve China’s overpopulation and pollution problems. From Nigeria in the North to South Africa on the tip of this huge continent, from Angola in the West to Chad and Sudan in the East, China has extended its grip on Africa to ensure its own long-term survival. This, and much more more Chinese incursion, is happening while the West turns a deliberate blind eye on Africa as a whole.  

Author Profile

Karin Smith
Karin Smith
Karin Smith is a writer for NRN and an expat South African living in Texas. Smith's family fled the civil war in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) after her parents had both been severely injured while going about their daily lives. They moved to South West Africa (now called Namibia) and left for South Africa when the fighting in Angola spilled into South West Africa. Smith has worked in the casino industry and for the biggest supermarket chain in South Africa, both management positions dealing with a large staff and the unions. Her family of five siblings have all suffered attacks and my parents, who are farmers in South Africa, have been attacked by AK47 wielding gangs twice in three years. Her father died as a direct result of this. Karin Smith has been an activist calling for world attention to the white genocide in South Africa for at least 10 years. Her Blog Talk Radio show, Radio Free South Africa, is based in Texas.