In the wake of the Chinese president’s trip to Africa, there’s all this talk nowadays cropping up about China; the way it’s doing trade in Africa, whether Africa is being exploited or not, and whether we should look at all this as a new form of colonialism. Anybody who is well versed with Africa knows that China is not the one to blame. The problem with most of Africa is that the governments are screwing their own people. Ever since African countries got independence from their former colonial masters, the ruling governments—with a few exceptions—have done nothing but screw up their own people and countries. Do I believe that the Chinese have imposed predatory trade practices on Africa? Yes. Do I believe that China is very keen on taking raw materials—just like everyone has said—from Africa? Yes. Do I believe that in the end China is ridiculously benefiting from this relationship more than Africa is? Hell yes. Nonetheless, I don’t believe that China is to blame at all and this is why.
Take this scenario for instance. Mwanje is a fresh Ugandan graduate just out of college. His business enthusiasm is characteristic of many youths his age. After pounding the streets of Kampala in search of a job for a good number of years, he finally comes to the realization that nothing is about to change. Mwanje and his family mobilize some capital, and with the help of networks trough friends, he manages to make a flight to the Chinese city of Guangzhou, with a motive of buying cheap consumer commodities and selling them for a profit back in Kampala. Business is good and he’s able to turn a profit and in the end both Mwanje and his customers are happy. Would you tell this young budding businessman that there’s really is a problem with China? He doesn’t even comprehend the fact that when the Chinese get government contracts to do work like infrastructural construction in Uganda, they employ fellow Chinese—to the detriment of the local human resources—for projects like roads and bridges. He is less concerned about all the raw materials that china takes for peanuts. He could care less about the fact that China sells us cheap machinery—in exchange of huge government contracts—instead of selling us the technical know-how that relates to the manufacture, or at least assembly of such machinery. This could be in form of construction of technical/vocational schools and the exchange of skilled Chinese instructors to teach local students. Mwanje’s concern is not really whether Chinese trade practices with Uganda are fair or in favor of China. That’s a job that someone in the government is paid to do. He is more concerned with whether he can afford to feed his family and build himself a house in the suburbs.
Let the world know that, actually, China is not the real problem in this entire hullabaloo. For someone with a rank of a country’s central bank governor to claim that China is a ‘‘significant contributor to Africa’s deindustrialisation and underdevelopment’’, without emphasizing that it’s Africa’s political leaders and governments that are ultimately responsible for the way China treats this partnership is not only unfortunate, but also a big joke. Africa’s leaders are in fact the real reason why Africa still desperately depends on countries like China. Had it not been for the despicable governance and leadership that has plagued most African countries for decades, countries like Nigeria would be the ones making predatory investments in China. Nigeria produces more oil than Norway, but why is it that it has not done—with this oil—what countries like Norway have managed to do with theirs?
The problem with most of Africa is not that it’s exploited. It’s rather that it—with its leaders as the architects—allows to be exploited. I mean its good business for most African presidents for China to exploit Africa. Countries like China would not get away with all that if leadership in Africa really cared about its people. That’s it. I see many people in the west naively commenting on the Africa- China relations and it’s all clear to me that they are quick to blame China, yet they have completely no clue about these things. The truth is, most African leaders have let many western countries rip us off for so long, for as long as such arrangements satisfy their selfish interests. China might as well just be a new addition to the ages-old tradition. Most African presidents don’t work for their populace. They work for themselves and their families. They don’t care whether their fellow citizens—in some cases they are not citizens of that country—get get more educated or even prosper and the opposite may be true. Many people in the west would be surprised to learn that we have leaders in Africa who perceive the expansion of the middle class as a threat to their long rulerships. They don’t want people to become rich because then it will be easier to rule them for 35 years. I cannot speak for other countries but at least I can confirm that this is the case for Uganda where I come from.
So, to an ordinary Ugandan, knowing that the government would rather have her poor, an opportunity to buy fake jewellery from China and selling it for a profit back in Uganda doesn’t sound like a bad idea at all. And because the government doesn’t care whether she gets a descent education, she’s not even educated enough to know that beyond her personal small scale business with ordinary Chinese business people, there are far bigger kinds of win-lose—in favor of China—business dealings going on between her country and the Chinese government backed institutions. And quite frankly, even after reading this, she would still care less about the so called new Chinese colonialism. The kind of colonialism that makes you rich and exploits your country is not really a bad thing because, after being abused by your own people—the president and the ruling elite—you don’t even feel like it’s your country anymore. It’s their country.