The Afro-Chinese relationship: Win-Win or Soft Colonialism?

The Afro-Chinese relationship: Win-Win or Soft Colonialism?


Sir Francis Galton, Charles Darwin’s cousin is known for his very offensive letter to The Times, dated June 5, 1873. He proposed a “master plan” to remedy the dire situation in the “Dark Continent” of Africa.

He wrote, “My proposal is to make the encouragement of Chinese settlements of Africa a part of our national policy, in the belief that the Chinese immigrants would not only maintain their position, but that they would multiply and their descendants supplant the inferior Negro race.”

His pen went on to bleed more absurdities by saying the African “lazy, palavering savages” would be replaced in a few years by “industrious, order loving Chinese”. 143 years later, Africa wonders if indeed it inadvertently became a satellite Asian settlement or it is enjoying a mutually beneficial friendship with China. 

Sanou Mbaye’s view of the current situation is aptly conveyed in his Opinion Piece, Africa will not put up with a colonialist China where he said the Chinese “sacred text” was The Art of War by Sun Tzu and Sun’s core belief was that “ultimate excellence lies not in winning every battle but in defeating the enemy without ever fighting”. The argument was that China was applying Tzu’s ideas to take over African economies under the guise of healthy partnership. Where China sends in cheap toys to African countries, the so called “zhing-zhong” merchandise, Africa sends out timber and minerals. Is this the accurate representation of the relationship or maybe Africa has been made to see China through Western eyes? Can Galtonian ideas be given this much credit so many years after his slurs and insults were penned? 

In 2013, Lamido Sanusi, then Nigerian Central Bank governor warned that Africa was “opening itself up to a new form of imperialism and advised African governments to move away from their romanticism of China. He said the Sino-Afro relationship carried with it a whiff of colonialism.

“China takes from us primary goods and sells us manufactured ones. This was also the essence of colonialism. China is no longer a fellow underdeveloped economy. China is the second biggest economy in the world, an economic giant capable of the same forms of exploitation as the West. China is a major contributor to the de-industrialisation of Africa and thus African underdevelopment,” Sanusi wrote in a Financial Times opinion piece. United States Presidential aspirant, Hillary Clinton is also on record for warning Africa about China saying the Chinese’s investment practices were not always consistent with norms of transparency and good governance. 

Surprisingly, though Sanusi claimed leaders were romanticising the Sino-African relationship, it would seem the opposite is true. Liu Yingcai, local head of Petrodar,a Chinese Malaysian oil company was expelled from South Sudan in connection with an alleged $815 million oil theft. Congo kicked out two commodities traders in the Kivu region while Algerian courts banned two Chinese firms from participating in a public tender, alleging corruption.

The most recent case is that of Zimbabwe which kicked out Chinese firm, Anjin Investments from the Marange diamond fields together with many other companies for prejudicing the government of billions of dollars. China has been forced to revise its policies every now and again when African nations have tightened the screws. The claim that leaders have been soft handed in dealing with China is therefore a little misleading. However, the dubious bits in the union are identifiable with total trade being $101,37 billion yet $61,69 of that amount are exports to Africa from China. China only imported $39,67 billion worth of goods from Africa, of which the bulk are unprocessed raw materials. Questions then arise as to how this negative balance of trade helps African economies. Africa might as well just be a market for China to sell its goods but again without 

“In China’s exchanges and cooperation with Africa, we want to see mutual benefit and win-win results. I want to make clear one point, that is, China will never follow the track of western colonists and all cooperation will never come at the expense of the ecology, environment or long term interests of Africa.” These were the words of Wang Yi to Chinese Central Television on his tour of Africa.. In all reality, the Chinese have done a good job of playing the supportive big brother thus far.

The $200 million headquarters of the African Union is testament of yesteryear benevolence but with a more imposing role to play in World economics, are relationships with African countries still topping agendas in China? In December 2015, President Xi JinPing pledged a staggering $60 billion in financial support for Africa. This may mean China is still going to be Africa’s all-weather friend. In the meantime, the jostling between the West and China for “influence” in Africa should be called out for what it is; a disrespectful game of chess that has no place in 21st century thinking. Africa is no one’s pawn, instead, it is a partner on equal footing with other powers.


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