It does not take much for anyone who is well vested in current affairs and world politics to realise that out of all the 54 African countries, Zambia has become a laughing stock with regards to the so-called Chinese takeover of an African nation. Last week, an international news media known as France24 ran a detailed documentary about the activities and attitudes of Chinese living in Zambia. This was a long and very unpleasant documentary to watch by any who see themselves as proud and patriotic Zambians. Nonetheless, the same France 24 documentary was an informative and thought provoking. It covered many areas of interest for anyone who considers themselves Zambian. After watching this documentary, I could not help, but ask myself this significant question; what has become of us as a nation and what is our relationship like with the People’s Republic of China? It is not only enough to determine who is at fault in this seemingly complicated relationship between our country and China, but a proper analysis of the genesis of this problem can help us understand and come up with a lasting solution to this predicament.
In order for us to honestly deal with this issue and make an earnest attempt to answer this profound question pertaining to our relationship with China, we should perhaps do so with two things in mind; first and foremost seek to recognise the argument advanced by some people that China has no intentions of colonising Africa and has never colonised any country in comparison to the decades, if not centuries of western colonisation of the mother continent. But, on the flip side, there are those who seem to suggest that the People’s Republic of China is using modern methods of colonisation by coercion; for example, they corrupt African leaders to give in to ideas and agendas which advance the interest of Chinese at the expense of the local Africans. Another similar argument seems to imply that China deliberately issues burdensome or unbearable loans to African countries, with a full knowledge that these countries will default on the loan payments so that China can withhold or takeover valuable natural resources and assets as collateral. Also, some people think that the fact that China is exporting its population to Africa is another form of conquest and colonisation all together. In fact, this point was very beautifully illustrated in the France 24 documentary as they showed clips of Chinese in Zambia, clearly stating that they have come to stay and have no intentions of going back to their country of origin, which is mainland China. And the same documentary suggested that there are roughly about 1 million Chinese people in Zambia today.
Zambians have nothing against other nationals who migrate to our friendly and peaceful country. This record of being a peaceful country has earned us a respectable name beyond our borders, and such a reputation should be maintained by all means. However, we have to be mindful that even in the pursuit of peace and good neighborliness, we cannot allow or afford to have anyone take advantage of us in anyway. It is true that the Chinese have invested billions of dollars in infrastructure development projects in Zambia since we got independence from the British. Some of the earlier projects that the People’s Republic of China has done in Zambia include the building of the Tanzania- Zambia Railway line, popularly known as TAZARA, to be used for exporting copper. The construction of roads, stadiums, and hospitals which are mostly government contracts have been awarded to Chinese companies and firms, thus creating unfair competition against local construction firms who struggle vigorously to obtain such tenders. The main reason why Chinese firms usually get these government contracts easily is because of their connections to the powers that be. Therefore, it is difficult for Zambians to fully appreciate and applaud the efforts and the perceived contributions of the Chinese to our development, simply because of how they conduct businesses across the entire country. On face value, the efforts of the Chinese and their works may seem to be desirable but unfortunately, not everything is as it seems to be simply because the deals between the Patriotic Front government and the Chinese companies are engulfed in so much secrecy that the public is kept in the dark as to what exactly is at stake in these so-called agreements.
Zambians should wake up and begin to demand that anything and everything their government does should be public knowledge, with full disclosure to us because we are the ones who elected those who govern us. In fact, let us consider the mining sector as an example of how the PF government has been unwilling or unable to fight for the interests of Zambians. Just last week, we saw Diamond Television post or publish an article on their social media platform stating that Chinese nationals were linked to some illegal gold mining in Mwinilunga District of North Western Province. Actually, these unfortunate accusations have angered some of the stakeholders in the district, such as Philton Investment which claims that they have reported this matter to the Ministry of Mines and the police but to no avail. Meanwhile, the Minister of Mines, Mr. Richard Musukwa, is on record of having told Diamond TV that he is not aware of the illegal gold mining taking by the Chinese. And sadly, the North Western Province police commissioner echoed the same words of the mines minister in an attempt to dismiss these allegations of illegal gold mining. However, this example in itself concerning what is happening in North Western Province is the basis of what seems to be the genesis of our major problem. Perhaps, the Chinese are not to blame completely for all that has gone wrong about the fabric of our society. But rather, the blame should be placed squarely on the so-called leaders and politicians running our government today. The idea that such levels of corruption allegations can be taken lightly by both the Ministry of Mines and the police, speaks volumes about the incompetence and lack of seriousness by the PF government. Hence, in the final analysis, our people will be misled if they only concentrate on the flaws and mistakes of Chinese nationals, but do not pay attention to the corruption taking place within our government as they deal with the People’s Republic of China. It is practically impossible to do away with engaging or getting along with the world’s second largest economy because of their influence in the world today. But at the same time, we cannot allow any form of mediocre and exploitation from China, or even allow any form of corruption from them just because they are more powerful than us. We should demand respect as a sovereign state and as an equal partner in development, if and when China wants to engage with us in trade, and in infrastructure development.
What has become of us is that we have a corrupt government, a regime that only cares about retuning power at all costs while enriching its few elite members of the ruling class. This unfortunate situation has given China wings to thrive and take advantage of us by making Zambia an example of neo-colonialism by other means. To correct this error, the Zambia people will have to choose or elect a government that will set a tone from the top when it comes to fighting corruption relentless and holding Chinese nationals to the same standard that their own communist government enforces in the People’s Republic of China.