A couple of years ago when I was speaking at Africult in Vienna, Austria, I noticed something: people were asking lots of questions about China. Now, I have known about the ever-increasing influence of Chinese foreign policy, investment and immigration to Africa for a number of years now. But, rarely have I been asked so many questions concerning the “China Effect” as one young Austrian man said.
There were the usual college students, bright and full of animation when they spoke, passionate about their views and beliefs. There were older people who had read a lot and wanted to hear more about the topics being discussed from people who had some level of first-hand experience. And there were others as well.
But, what struck me was how many of those people, this diverse group of people, wanted to discuss Africa’s relationship with China.
Then, a couple of weeks ago, I read an article discussing another aspect of Chinese influence in Africa. It struck me then: “Why is it that so many people spend time talking about the evils of American and European colonialism; yet ignore the issue of China?”
We think back and are able to clearly see the problems that were caused by colonization and imperialistic policies in Africa. The loss of our languages, the loss of our natural resources, and subjugation of our people; the list seems endless really…
I’ve often wondered then, why it is that no one is screaming now as Chinese farmers move into cultivate our land when we were so enraged at independence at the idea of white farmers staying on to work on farms we deemed should go to Black African farmers. After all, it was normal to so many that Whites were kicked off of farms in Zimbabwe so that Blacks could take over the properties. At least, that was the talk at the time: Black empowerment, the end of colonialism.
What is the difference between white Englishmen and Asians from China or Korea or India? How is it better if students in Ethiopia are saying the Chinese, Turkish or Indian national anthems instead of that of Ethiopia? How is it different that our African children learn history from the perspective of Asian historians instead of from African historians?
Why is it that when the books are European or American, when the investors are French or German, somehow it is inherently evil; but we don’t panic at the idea that China sees itself in competition with the US in its desire to capture the dreams of our children. While we are complaining about the imperial influence of American companies, ideologies, music and the desire of so many of our children to go live the “American dream”… China is flooding our markets with contaminated plastic products which put our own people out of work (and wreak havoc on the environment). They are buying our natural resources and forming our children’s minds in their schools.
All of this is being done and packaged in the wrapping of “international investment”. Our leaders applaud this investment and call it progress for Africa. Yet, they treat us like children in doing so. After all, we are an intelligent people. We are certainly capable of knowing that there is little difference between European “investors” taking all of our oil in places like Nigeria with very little “trickle down” benefit for the average poor Nigerian woman and her children… and the Chinese supporting large-scale genocide of Christians and blacks in Sudan through their “investment” in oil in Sudan.
We should not accept investment at any cost. We need to maintain our cultures, teach our children their own history and yes, even develop our own concepts of nationalism as opposed to creating imperial fidelity to nations like China, India or Turkey. Instead of behaving like desperate children, we should stand toe to toe with foreign investors to ensure that the strings attached are not going to strangle our children’s futures. Let us stand tall again and set the terms of investment. After all, we are easily one of the richest continents in both natural resources and human potential. Let us not forget the fact that we were once empire builders ourselves. We must not continue to allow our corrupt leadership sell us out of house and home in order to ensure their own financial or political gains. Instead, we must remind them that we are the keepers of our ancestral lands and we intend on guaranteeing that they are used to the benefit of our people, not given away to those who are happy to see us bow in gratitude and learn their cultural values over our own.
Imperialism is imperialism, no matter the source.