CHINESE domination of Africa has been subject to debate. Some international relations scholars have coined this as the Dragon Slayers versus Panda Huggers debate as there are competing views on China’s role in Africa; whether it is a threat or opportunity to entertain Beijing’s ambitions.
The Asian giant, 10 years ago, overtook the United States as Africa’s largest trading partner. China has extended around US$100 billion loans to Africa, a move some sceptics describe as a debt trap. This has sparked debate whether China has a new form of colonialism. Some call it neo-colonialism.
The domination of Africa by China has colonial undertones due to massive extraction of natural resources such as minerals (diamond, granite, gold, copper and coal). Over 10 000 Chinese businesses under the “Go Out” strategy have sprawled across the continent, taking charge in extensive infrastructure projects in energy, agriculture and telecommunications sectors.
Developments in Binga this week reignited the Dragon Slayers versus Panda Huggers debate as helpless villagers were served with a three month notice to vacate their ancestral lands to pave way for a Chinese company to extract coal in Muchesu Ward. Just like under European colonialism, Africans suffered unjustified displacements as white settlers forcibly grabbed fertile land and pushed blacks into arid areas which were known as reserves, Chinese influence is causing the same problem.
In Binga, villagers face an uncertain future after the government granted mining rights to a Chinese company to mine coal. Similar circumstances were reported last year in Murehwa and Mutoko where foreign companies are set to extract granite. Displacements are expected to disrupt livelihoods.
If the mining companies were benefiting locals, there would be less noise. But the problem is minerals are for the privileged few in the Zanu PF government. The Chinese companies repatriate profits back home. What’s left for locals is a damaged environment and poverty. It’s a good example to explain the resource curse thesis.
Even the 1972 book — How Europe Underdeveloped Africa — by Walter Rodney is still relevant, some 50 years later. Rodney’s golden thread in his argument was that Europe developed at the same rate it underdeveloped Africa. The Chinese seem to have taken the same stance.
What is more desirable in the China-Africa relations is a win-win scenario. The villagers who are forced from their ancestral lands should enjoy the fruits of natural resources extracted from their motherland. This then calls for the government to protect the rights and welfare of its citizens rather than allocating resources to foreigners at the expense of indigenous people.
The Chinese companies have to employ deliberate policies to empower local communities instead of taking advantage of lack of title on communal lands by villagers to exploit minerals. Otherwise China will be a threat to Zimbabweans’ interests.