Dr. George B.N. Ayittey, Ph.D - President of the Free Africa Foundation based in Washngton, DC.

Africa is the most un-free continent - politically economically and intellectually. Only 15 of the 54 African countries are democratic, meaning the vast majority of the African people still live under tyranny and oppression. Fewer than 10 African countries can be said to be economic success stories and economically free. And intellectual freedom is non-existent in most African countries; fewer than 10 African countries have a free and independent media. Ironically, there is much freedom in traditional African societies - politically, economically and intellectually.

Traditional African rulers -- chiefs and kings -- can be removed for dereliction of duty and they can be freely criticized. No chief or king can arrest a subject for criticizing him. And his subjects can engage in any economic activity on their own volition. People do not line up in front of the chief's palace to seek permission to engage in trade, agriculture, fishing or any other type of business. And profit made was theirs to keep; not to be expropriated by the chief. The freedoms Africans have enjoyed in their traditional societies must be restored in their modern systems. But dictators have remained adamantly resistant to restoring these freedoms and, without reform, more African countries will implode, as we have seen recently in Tunisia, Egypt, Ivory Coast and Libya.

Some progress on reform was made after the collapse of the former Soviet Union in 1989. The number of democracies in Africa increased from 4 in 1990 (Botswana, Gambia, Mauritius and Senegal) to 15 in 2008 and has remained stuck there. Part of the reason was that wily autocrats quickly learned new tricks to beat back the democratic challenge. The other part was due to China's forays into Africa, which encouraged Africa's despots to abandon reform. In the past, Western aid to Africa was conditioned on implementation of reform. In 2008, China announced it would provide Africa with $10 billion in aid over 5 years with no strings attached (Associated Press, Nov 4, 2006).

To feed the voracious appetite of its economic machine galloping at a dizzying 9 percent clip, China has been trolling for resources in Africa. It has spent billions of dollars securing drilling rights in Angola, Nigeria, Sudan and Angola; has exploration or extraction deals with Chad, Gabon, Mauritania, Kenya, the Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea and Ethiopia; and has invested in the copper industry in Zambia and Congo as well as buying timber in Gabon, Cameroon, Mozambique, Equatorial Guinea and Liberia. Across Africa, Chinese companies are muscling out Western and other foreign companies, winning contracts to pave highways, build hydroelectric dams, upgrade ports, lay railway tracks and build pipelines. All these forays have been sugar-coated with euphonious anti-colonial verbiage: That China was not a colonial power in Africa. But I dismiss this as "chopsticks mercantilism." With chopsticks dexterity, China can pick platinum from Zimbabwe; oil from Angola, Nigeria and Sudan; cocoa from Ghana; diamonds from Sierra Leone; etc. - all on its own terms.

To be sure, China's engagement with Africa should be a boon. Its overall trade with Africa rose from $10.6 billion in 2000 to $40 billion in 2006, propelling Africa's growth rate to 5.8 percent in 2008 -- its best performance since 1974 (The Washington Post, June 13, 2006; p. A14). By 2010, trade with Africa had reached $115 billion. China is now Africa's second largest trading partner after the U.S., importing a third of its crude oil from Africa. Further, Africa needs the investment - in particular, to rebuild its decrepit infrastructure. A November 2009 World Bank Report states: "The poor state of infrastructure in Sub-Saharan Africa-its electricity, water, roads and information and communications technology (ICT)-cuts national economic growth by two percentage points every year and reduces productivity by as much as 40 percent." To close the infrastructure gap, an annual spending of $93 billion would be required. Thus, Chinese investment in Africa's infrastructure should be most welcome. But China's engagement in Africa is increasingly being seen as odious, predatory and brutish. The initial enthusiasm that greeted Chinese investments in Africa has now cooled. 

China deals with just about any rogue and unsavory regime in Africa that has some natural resource to exploit. It supplies jet fighters, military vehicles and guns to Zimbabwe, Sudan, Ethiopia and other repressive governments. At the U.N., China has used its veto power to block sanctions against tyrannical regimes in Sudan and Zimbabwe. Four aspects of China's dealings in Africa are particularly obnoxious and objectionable. First, many of the deals are brokered by a Chinese outfit called the Queensway syndicate, of a shady corporate structure and a multiplicity of shell companies. Based in Hong Kong, it operates largely in secret and negotiates deals with African governments in barter terms that are stacked in China's favor. Oversight of the Queensway syndicate's operations is almost non-existent and it does not publish even routine data. Here are some examples of its deals:


 ·         China will spend $5 billion to fix Nigeria’s dilapidated railway system in exchange for four oil blocks. China will supply all the equipment and technical personnel at prices determined by itself. Such aid “must be used to buy goods or services from companies, many of them state-controlled, that Chinese officials select themselves. Competitive bidding by the borrowing nation is discouraged, and China pulls a veil over vital data like project costs, loan terms and repayment conditions. Even the dollar amount of loans offered as foreign aid is treated as a state secret” (The New York Times, Sept 21, 2009; p.A12).

·         Guinea has the world’s largest reserves of bauxite and its largest untapped reserves of high-grade iron ore. Under a contract signed with Queensway, “the syndicate got an 85% share in a venture called the African Development Corporation. The government received the other 15%. The venture won exclusive rights to new mineral concessions in Guinea, including the right to negotiate oil-production contracts in the Gulf of Guinea. In return, the syndicate promised to invest “up to $7 billion” in housing, transport and public utilities, according to the government of Guinea (GDP $4.5 billion)” (The Economist, Aug 13, 2011; p.26). To secure the deal, the Queensway syndicate gave Guinea’s ex-military ruler, Captain Moussa Dadis Camara, a helicopter as a present.

·         In Zimbabwe, Queensway set up a new company, called Sino-Zimbabwe Development Limited, which received rights to extract oil and gas, and to mine gold, platinum and chromium. In return, the company publicly promised to build railways, airports and public housing. These pledges were valued at $8 billion by Mugabe’s government.

·         In Angola, the syndicate set up China Sonangol to buy oil from Angola but the terms have never been made public. The syndicate gets the oil from the Angolan state at a low price that was fixed in 2005 and sells it on to China at today’s market prices. The price at which the contract was fixed is confidential, but Brent crude stood at just under $55 a barrel in 2005; today it is trading above $100” (The Economist, Aug 13, 2011; p.26). The difference could substantial profits in tens of billions of dollars and the terms have not been negotiated since 2005. In return for Angolan oil, the syndicate promised to build infrastructure, including low-cost housing, public water-mains, hydroelectric plants, cross-country roads and railways. According to the IMF and the World Bank, billions of dollars have disappeared from Sonangol’s accounts (The Economist, Aug 13, 2011; p.26). In other words, the syndicate’s mark up could be substantial. Over the years, considering the volume of oil that is being sold to China, its profit could amount to tens of billions of dollars. No public statement suggests the terms have been renegotiated since 2005.

In return for Angolan oil, the syndicate promised to build infrastructure, including low-cost housing, public water-mains, hydroelectric plants, cross-country roads and railways,

Second, the nature of the deals being signed are not transparent and are secured through secrecy, outright bribery, kickbacks (Namibia), and building presidential palaces (Sudan, Zimbabwe) and sports stadiums (Congo DR, Guinea), etc. In Angola, the price the country gets for its oil is a "state secret." The New York Times (Sept 21, 2009) cites the case of a Chinese company, Nuctech, which won $55.3 million contract to supply scanner for airport security systems was indicted by Namibian officials for kickbacks (p.A12).

Third, cash from the Queensway syndicate props up brutal tyrants and thereby fuels violent conflicts. For instance, in Guinea when the military junta went on the rampage in Sept 2009,  raping women by the score and massacring more than 150 protesters in a sports stadium, it triggered EU and African Union sanctions. "A month later, the syndicate signed its minerals deal, transferring $100m to the cash-strapped junta" (The Economist, Aug 13, 2011; p.26). In Zimbabwe, the syndicate has made large cash payments to the Central Intelligence Office (CIO), whose job it is to terrorize and crack heads to keep Mugabe in power.

Fourth, the impact on local economies has been deleterious. Textile industries in Kano, Lesotho, and South Africa have been destroyed by cheap Chinese textile imports. Hundreds of thousands of Africans have lost their jobs in northern Nigeria, Lesotho, and South Africa.

Africans have derived little benefit from these trade deals with China. They offer scant employment opportunities, as China brings its own workers into Africa. Take the case of Angola, for example. The terms under which China Sonangol buys oil from Angola have been a secret and funds earmarked for infrastructure development have been plundered. "In 2006 the head of the external intelligence service, General Fernando Miala, alleged that $2 billion of Chinese money intended for infrastructure projects had disappeared. He claimed that the funds had been transferred to private accounts in Hong Kong by senior officials" (The Economist, Aug 13, 2011; p.26). Sonangol was deemed so corrupt in 2003 that Citibank closed all its accounts. ccording to the IMF and the World Bank, billions of dollars have disappeared from Sonangol's accounts.

Needless to say, the Queensway syndicate has failed to meet many of the obligations it took on to win mining contracts. Zimbabwe is still awaiting even a fraction of its promised infrastructure. Guinea never received the 100 public buses that were meant to arrive within 45 days of the 2009 deal. In Angola, all work on the Benguela railway stopped and the syndicate extorted $3.5 billion from the government in order to continue. Six years after the syndicate arrived more than 90% of the residents of the capital, Luanda, remain without running water.

The Chinese are also invading sectors traditionally reserved for locals. In Aug 2010, Ghana began arresting foreign nationals, mostly Chinese, illegally engaged in artisanal mining. Further, the Chinese deals enrich the corrupt ruling vampire elites. Angola, Nigeria, Sudan, and Zimbabwe are examples where the trade and oil deals with China have not benefited the poor. Chinese aid, disingenuously described as with no strings attached, is propping up hideously repressive regimes in Ethiopia, Guinea, Sudan, and Zimbabwe. This aid is also impeding both political and economic reform, as recipient governments have little incentive to reform their abominable systems.

The ulterior motivations of China and its real intentions in Africa seem to be: to muscle out Western companies and gain access to Africa's resources (Washington Times, April 28, 2006). In Ghana, China National Offshore Oil Corp. tried to challenge Exxon Mobil Corp.'s $4 billion offer for a stake in a giant oil discovery off of West Africa (The Wall Street Journal, Oct 13, 2009). The other motives are to canvass for African votes for geo-political reasons, seek new markets for Chinese manufactures, and dump surplus Chinese population in Africa. China "has also succeeded in getting African states to accept large numbers of Chinese experts and workers as part of their investment packages: 28 "Baoding villages" have been established, each housing up to 2,000 Chinese workers, in various parts of Africa. (The Sunday Times, July 16, 2006). In fact, China has a secret plan called Chongqing Experiment, in which over 12 million of its farmers will be moved off their lands and encouraged to seek out new pastures in Africa.

In Ethiopia, Guinea, Lesotho, South Africa, Zambia and many other African countries, anti-Chinese sentiments have been growing. The enthusiasm that initially greeted China's forays into Africa has soured. "South Africa's President Thabo Mbeki has warned against allowing Chinese forays into Africa to become a neocolonialist adventure, with African raw materials exchanged for shoddy manufactured imports and little attention to developing an impoverished continent" (The Associated Press, Feb. 8, 2007). Rather than fixing Africa's lack of infrastructure, Chinese entrepreneurs and Africa's ruling vampire elites conspire to rape and plunder the continent.
The author, a native of Ghana, is President of the Free Africa Foundation based in Washngton, DC. His book, Defeating Dictators, is published by Palgrave/MacMillan.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and does not reflect The African Post editorial policy.

Source: George B.N. Ayittey, Ph.D

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