By Calvin M Ncube
THE big red five-star flag nation has become a burning point of discussion largely in Africa, and beyond. The explorations of China in Asia and Africa have been a source of delight and tension at the same time.
I am reminded of an event that had potential to be life changing that went awry, a certain lady visitor I can’t name came to my previous place of work to advertise travelling insurance, holiday houses and financial benefits of referring new clients to her.
She had come prepared to win hearts and build relationships, but the gods had other plans in store for her on that day. Like China to the world, the lady’s visit had brought about mixed feelings.
Wherever China comes up there are doubts, suspicions on her motives. Every globally awake citizen knows China is quickly catching up to America. The Americans have declared that China is not an ally but a strategic competitor.
With China’s growing industry and population, she needs raw materials for her industries, and markets for her semi-finished and finished goods. Because of her speedy economic growth, she has had to reach out to Africa through her belt and road initiative to forge and maintain alliances in Asia and Africa.
Many positives can be listed but the negatives seem to be taking centre stage in most countries.
Crescendo has been reached with some Africans acerbically inquiring, “how many black men and women own land in China”. As if that is not loud enough, some have been questioning if China would allow Africans to explore for sub-earth minerals at the Great Wall of China.
This is largely because China has been pointed out for ignoring environmental laws and at some point mining in national game parks, distressing, and evicting rural populations to pave way for blasting of rocks and mining generally, mining in graveyards, beating and inhumanely detaining employees and in some rural communities mining in sacred spaces.
The question that remains unanswered is whether China is really a cancerous ally, and why African governments continue to work with China.
The lady visitor arrived well after close of business, but everyone had been asked to sacrifice and attend the presentation.
Later, everyone would find out through the bush telegraph that the lady was soon to be the boss’ wife. A few minutes had turned into an hour of waiting.
Sensing the displeasure in the rank and file, the boss opted to leave before she arrived. Upon her arrival, she was welcomed cordially and given a room to prepare for her short presentation.
Seeing this opportunity, the caretaker and maintenance guy of the institution connived to make her use a room with an electric fault.
The rest of the staff was in the dark about what was happening except the two lads. As soon as she switched on the appliance, fireworks shot through the roof in every room that had appliances connected to electricity.
It was catastrophic. Suffice to say, the presentation didn’t go as planned, as it became an announcement. In the same vein when Chinese investors enter Africa, they are not aware of the dos and don’ts of the countries.
When Chinese investors enter any African country as investors, tourists, or experts in several fields, they are made aware of the laws of the land and eventually made to acclimatise to the conditions of the land. Unlike in China where corruption is punished with death, corruption in Africa is celebrated and rewarded with many years in public office or position of influence.
There is no will to stop kickbacks, bribes, overpricing and nepotism. Corruption is viewed as a gauge of networking or proximity to power. It is important to note that these conditions existed before the Chinese had an impact in Africa.
Can we then blame China for the poor mining activities, the desecration of scared spaces, eviction of thousands of people from ancestral land housing graveyards, homes, and farming fields?
No, we can’t blame China because we are the engineers and willing participants in this system.
Like the two lads in my story who decided to withhold information and not report the potential accident, our ministers and permanent secretaries are our worst betrayers.
Instead of promoting responsible exploration, value addition of mineral resources and enforcement of existing laws in line ministries, they are silent and unmoved by the plight of suffering Zimbabweans.
After weeks of investigations as to what had caused the explosion and setting up in the sealed room, it became clear that it was unfair and misplaced to blame the boss’ fiancé for the damage caused by her switching on electricity in that room.
In my view, the maintenance man and caretaker had information to prevent the electrical damage and losses but decided to not to act on it, in the process sabotaging the institution and their professional standing.
The target of our disappointment must be the man and woman whose duty is to legislate and enforce laws that protect the rights of citizens and investors.
It is common knowledge that way before the Chinese entered mining in Zimbabwe, there was rampant illegal mining in most parts of Africa, which was largely characterised by violent displacements, outbreaks of diseases and general breakdown of social structures in communities.
Let us look at Chinese relations with Europe and the Americas. Though they have been recent trade wars, there is a general sense of transparency in their transactions. The superpowers have respect for the rule of law.
It is the law that protects everyone. When the law is ignored or allowed to become derelict, the citizenry is exposed to lawlessness and strife.
China, like all other countries, seeks to make profits, the absence of the rule of law makes the situation tricky. In the same vain, the biggest investment of the West in recent years has gone towards slandering China.
It is for this reason that we should closely look at the positives, negatives and factors contributing to Chinese actions in Africa. It is my sincere view that there must be a deliberate move to establish models that accommodate people who were marginalised during colonialism.
The use of ancient laws is partly to blame for the inability to enforce such laws. So we need modern mining models. In some instances, the Chinese have bragged that because they have mining permits, they have ownership of land. This arrogance does not help their case against a population that recently won the liberation war for purposes of acquiring land.
Therefore, the government through local authorities must give people title to urban and rural land to safeguard the property rights of citizens and investors.
In special circumstances the state can recover such land. The Chinese investors can also help reverse the negative publicity by investing in the communities where they are involved in exploration and mining by building schools, clinics, road and internet infrastructure.
China is heavily invested in Africa. It cannot exit and create room for another superpower to fill the gap. It is for this reason that China must find a sustainable solution to the problems raised by communities if she wants to maintain strong ties with Africa.