Sunday, April 01, 2007

China in Africa: Friends one can do without...

I've not really commented here about the investment in loans, credit and aid that China has been making in Africa - particularly after the African summit in Beijing and Hu Jintao's trip to Africa. On Friday however, the Investor's Business Daily ran an editorial on Zimbabwe following the meeting of the Southern African Development Community:

African leaders often point fingers at the West for "not doing enough." [...]

Mugabe's 27 years of misrule have taken a country that was once prosperous — the breadbasket of Africa, it was called — and turned it into a poverty-stricken hellhole rife with famine, genocide and terror, and lacking rule of law. [...]

Given that performance, you'd think Mugabe would come in for a bit of criticism by other leaders in the region. [...]

At the SADC meeting, 14 leaders issued a communique in which they, as the Times of London put it, "reaffirmed their solidarity" with Mugabe. That is, they supported a murderous dictator and even called on the West to drop sanctions against his regime.
(H/T Instapundit)

Though the editorial doesn't speak specifically to China's role, China's policies have been in stark contrast to other leaders who generally have at least some sense of reluctance in providing aid to despots. The shame and culpability of France in Rwanda may prove instructive to China in thinking that any gains a mercantilist power is able to achieve may be limited and short term at best. For those who agree with China's stance, they might do well to remember the benefits of long term trade can only result from two parties free of coercion (besides, some of this "aid" borders on ridiculous including huge mostly unused stadiums in the middle of nowhere like the one on the outskirts of Kampala, Uganda).

I visited Rwanda in 2002 - and stayed at Hotel Milles Collines in Kigali. This was before we knew Hotel Rwanda was coming out about this very hotel (though the hotel looked nothing like the one in the movie as I remember it). Wandering Kigali itself, there were still visible bullet holes in the walls of buildings. One other thing that was clear was the unemployment, what with a very large number of people doing a whole lot of nothing (and much to my chagrin at the time, not much to do in Kigali but the sometimes harrowing journey through canyons with an endless sea of unblemished emerald tea plants on the way down made the trip well worth it). I remember the US embassy being even smaller than the Chinese embassy at the time.

I can't personally speak to horrors of Zimbabwe (thankfully), but China ought to remember that when governments change, people aren't quite so fast to forget who their friends and enemies were. A few months prior to my trip to Rwanda, I went down to Kabale (Uganda) to see the director of an orphanage (a Rwandan) with the Canadian charity that I had been representing, and the tales he told of the time detailing the depths of human depravity were heart wrenching. A man of God, he was nearly seething when he described the role of France.

Following the new regime in Kigale, the change has been rapid with the Kagame Administration swearing off most things French - including the language. I have been told the clamour to learn English and even breaking away from the Francophonie was fast. Most recently Rwanda has broken off all relations with France.

China has been establishing itself where other aid agencies deliberately do not go. Maybe China has allowed criticism of how it treats its own citizens cloud its judgement. Whatever the reason, may it tread carefully.

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