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Opinions of Sunday, 26 April 2020

Columnist: Eke Agbai

Eke Agbai writes: Hand-outs as China’s disguised new method of re-colonialism in Africa and coronavirus

Though Africa has been confronted by many wars and its concomitant effects, including deaths and destruction in the past. However, the level of living hardship being experienced in the wake of this coronavirus pandemic by our poor people of Africa is unprecedented. From Democratic Republic of Congo to Nigeria, to Zimbabwe and to Libya, the story is the same. To be sure, the lockdown directives issued by most African governments is understandably designed to save lives. I join in asking our people to obey these pre-preemptive measures wherever you live in Africa.

While this is good, but the reality is that the poor masses now have the difficulty of choosing between staying home and dying from starvation or risking venturing out to earn a living. As we know, majority of our population are in the informal sector. This means that they engage in day- to- day earnings or means of livelihood as a business. These are traders i.e. shop owners, artisans, petty traders, farm produce sellers, retailers, okada riders, taxi drivers etc.

This lockdown means no food on the table for their hungry families. Parents do not only have to fend for themselves but their little children who do not understand why dad or mom cannot provide food. Things have been difficult, but the lockdown has compounded issues.

In developed nations, the governments gave out stimulus packages and other forms of bail outs to their people, small and medium scale businesses. In Africa, nothing is coming down to these poor masses and their businesses.

It is only a matter of time before crime will be on the increase and many other social vices. Unfortunately, while these coronavirus related hardships await proper government action plans, our leaders have been busy romancing with China and being carried away by their overtures.

China is embarking on another style of colonization in Africa, this time with a well-orchestrated game plan, or better still the utilization of an attractive strategy. China is granting quick and easy loans to many African nations with active connivance of their leaders and heads of government. Let me put this discourse in proper context by posing the question - WHY DO YOU THINK CHINA IS COMING TO AFRICA? This is not an attempt to answer the question, but I will approach it differently.

China has a population of about 1.4 billion people, out of the 7 billion people of the world. This over-population means they must find a way to decongest by relocating some of their population to another continent as a matter of strategic foreign policy. The continent that has the land mass and weak government immigration policy to accommodate this desire is Africa. Another question: When they arrive Africa what would they be doing? They open up factories, mining, other natural resources and engage in economic exploitation. China wants Africa to depend on her culturally, intellectually, and financially. They studied the European imperialism of Africa, saw the lapses and they decided to approach it differently. First, they decided not to talk about democracy or interfere in African internal affairs which are fraught or replete with bad governance. Instead they came as partners with candies and honey breads in their hands to give away as handouts. But make no mistake about it, these are not handouts. These are not free candies. China gives no free lunch. These are loans that must be repaid. Worst still, the loan contracts are structured in such a way that if there is a default, which definitely will happen, the African nations forfeits huge national assets or institutions. Let me at this juncture zoom my lens on few African nations who have collected the largest amount in loans from China.

1. Ethiopia- the nation has taken loans in the tens of billions of dollars. In fact, 50% of Ethiopia external debt is owed to China, with government debt standing at 59%. By 2019, Ethiopia has racked up about $12 billion debt to China. The standard gauge railways (SGR) financed by China has cost Ethiopia nearly $4.5b. In addition, about 35-40 thousand Chinese are living in Ethiopia. These are only the documented ones. More could be there!

2. Nigeria- it is estimated that Chinese credit accounts for about 80% of all bilateral lending to Nigeria. China provided the loan to build railways, power plants and airports. Today Nigeria total debt is about $81 billion. And with covid-19 making it difficult to find buyers for the Nigerian crude oils in rented vessels floating on the high seas with prices as low as $12 per barrel, things will get more hectic. The number of Chinese people living in Nigeria today are in the hundreds of thousands now. Chinese nationals are even the ones working on the infrastructural contracts awarded by Nigeria government, not even Nigerians. You give them contracts they bring their own people to do the job. They provide little or no employments to the local labourers. Their mineral exploitation in Nigeria is mind boggling, serious economic pillaging.

3. Kenya: by last check, Kenya has received about $9.8b between 2006-2017, making her the third largest recipient of Chinese loans, with Nigeria and Ethiopia coming first and second, respectively. Kenya’s total public debt is about $60.1b or 61% of her GDP, this is more than half the value of its economic output.

This is the alarming picture of how far China is slowly but steadily recolonizing Africa. The way the contracts are designed, it is almost certain that these countries will default. I am saddened to write that in some African countries where defaults have taken place, Chinese government has taken over their major institutions. For example, in Zambia, there are Chinese military officers and police stations. The president of Zambia cutely calls them Chinese military medical team stationed in Lusaka, the nation’s capital. In many other African countries, they are building same military bases and police stations. The implication is that these African nations have compromised, if not subordinated their sovereignty, because the essential element or part of being sovereign is to control your military.What is even very painful, is the Chinese people playing both ends against the middle. They pitch us against one another. You see some paid surrogates engaging in what I call preparedness paradox- calling you names for speaking out.

If there is any lesson to learn from covid-19, it is reminding African leaders to invest in state of-the-art medical infrastructure. Develop and build functional good hospital and invest more in rehabilitation of the dilapidated hospitals and medical infrastructures in the continent. Just recently, the covid-19 consumed its highest victim in Africa, a Nigerian top government official- the Chief of Staff to President Buhari of Nigeria, late Mallam Abba Kyari. May his soul rest in peace.

This was a preventable death if there were good hospitals in the country. Covid-19 as a leveller has shown that during a pandemic where medical emergencies are affecting all nations, rich and poor, non-developed, developing, developed nations; people are confined to their borders and only countries with good health facilities will survive.

Again, health is wealth, nations with sick population will end up even poorer. It is arguable, but I will venture to say China is to a certain extent, successfully recovering from covid-19. They are the ones supplying other nations with medical materials for covid-19 treatment. These guys are making billions at the expense of others on a disease that is believed to be originated from the Chinese city of Wuhan in the Hubei province. That is planning ahead, strategic thinking and proactive policy by a government leadership that knows what they are doing.

In Africa, there is no national emergency preparedness in place. Thank goodness so far, if the right cases are being recorded, the rate of recorded infections and fatalities remain low. Though some attribute this to the unavailability of testing kits. Even at then, the mere fact that we have relatively low fatality is good news.

Despite all African Presidents good treatment of Chinese nationals, it is most disheartening and indeed regrettable that in this time of coronavirus trauma, African people are treated badly in China. The reason our leaders cannot raise a voice of protest is because they are all in deep pockets and control of Beijing.

If it were possible for African leaders past to wake up to see the land and continent they fought so hard for and died to liberate, they will roll in their graves in anguish. Send a message to Patrice Lumumba, Kwame Nkrumah, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Tafawa Balewa, to Jomo Kenyatta, Steve Biko, Thomas Sankara, and many others. This is not a good way to honour their liberation struggle. Only to voluntarily, this time, recolonize Africa with deliberate and active connivance of the leaders they handed over the leadership relay baton to. Alas! THERE WAS A CONTINENT!!

Eke Agbai is a foreign cum public policy consultant & strategic information management expert

Positions present & past Currently: Executive Vice President, Center for Policy and Foreign Engagement, Abuja Nigeria. Board of Trustee Member (BOT), Olusegun Obasanjo Presidential Library, Abeokuta, Ogun State Nigeria

Former positions: Special Adviser Federal Capital Territory Abuja. Nigeria (2008-2010)

Secretary/ Member Presidential Committee Dairy development (2005-2007)

Commissioner of Information, Culture & Tourism Umuahia, Abia State (2001-2003).

Eke is a graduate of University of Denver, (DU), Denver Colorado. USA Bachelor’s degree: International Relations & Journalism Master’s in International Law and Diplomacy Completed his doctoral program in Strategic Information Management and Public Policy

Eke is currently living in Abuja Nigeria

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