Tuesday, July 23, 2024

China – Is She a Friend or Enemy of Africa?


President Edgar Chagwa Lungu (centre) accompanied by other African Leaders arrives for the official opening of the Forum on China Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) Summit in Beijing, China on Monday, September 3,2018. PICTURE BY SALIM HENRY/STATE HOUSE ©2018

By Isaac Mwanza

Nelson Mandela was the African liberation icon jailed for 27 years by the white separatist government of South Africa for fighting for the emancipation of Black South Africans in their struggle to gain full and equal rights on their ancestral soil. After Mandela was freed from prison on 11th February, 1990, he appeared before a symposium in the United States of America, at which one fellow expressed their disappointment (as Westerners) on the quality of leaders whom Mandela had chosen to be friends with, such as the Palestinian leader, the late Yasser Arafat, late Libyan revolutionary leader, Muammar Gaddafi, late Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro, among others. To this criticism, Mandela responded:

“One of the mistakes which some political analysts make, is to think that their enemies should be our enemies (applause). That is something we can’t and we will never do. We have our own struggle that we are conducting. We are grateful to the world for supporting our struggle but nevertheless we are an independent organisation with our own policy the right to develop our own attitude, as does every country; the attitude of our country towards any other country and its leaders, is determined by the attitude of that country to our struggle.”

I would suggest that Nelson Mandela’s words were re-echoed, to some extent, by the words of our own Republican President, Edgar Lungu, when he officially opened the Third Session of the 12th National Assembly. Regarding the criticism against the China-Zambia relations, President Lungu candidly asserted,

“As an independent state Zambia creates and keeps cordial relationships with its friends in the broader international community of nations. These relationships are based on mutual bilateral and multilateral considerations informed by the common goals of making better, the lives of our people. In this regard, our right to choose our friendship with one nation is not dependant on making enemies with others.

We shall choose our own friends on our own terms and that does not mean appeasing anyone with unjustified enmity with others. Our friendship with China is mutual, and no amount of reckless propaganda will deter us from entrenching this relationship for the common good of our people… China does not have that record; neither does it seek a horse and rider relationship with Zambia…”

Unfortunately, Edgar Lungu is not Nelson Mandela. Edgar Lungu was never in prison for 27 years. Therefore, Edgar Lungu did not receive a standing ovation for the same words that earned Mandela a standing ovation. Our own domestic civil activists as well as others in the region, whose strident criticism of Zambia’s close relationship with China have taken turns to quid President Lungu for his remarks.

It is, therefore, safe to suggest that these “civil activists” have just joined hands with entities in western countries who are locked in a fierce battle with China for access and control to the world’s dwindling natural resources. Our present-day “civil rights groups” are the West’s new weapon in that battle – a subtle anti-China propaganda tool since these groups are made up of local people. They are put forward as the face of “oval resistance” to creeping Chinese influence in Africa.

It seems to me that the one thing which this generation of our young Africans does not yet appreciate, is China’s huge role in helping our African nations to break the yoke of white Western colonialism. We the young people do not understand that before our countries achieved their independence, European countries who now finance our African-led civil rights movement, had complete control over Africa’s natural resources, including African land itself which traded as a commodity in Western markets.

After independence, the European countries continued to exercise control over the newly-independent African (and Asian) countries through the leaders of the independence movements, until a new cadre of African leaders arose who insisted that independence also meant that the new post-colonial government’s should assume complete control of their natural resources. Leaders such as Julius Nyerere, Kenneth Kaunda and Muammar Gaddafi, among others, followed the example of the Egyptian military leader Gamal Abdul Nasser who, in 1956, seized control of the Suez Canal from its French and British owners by nationalising it.

It seems clear that my generation, that is, Africa’s young people, lack appreciation of how Africa was colonised. In early part of the 19th century, European missionaries, agents of foreign governments and companies, explorers, merchants who included the infamous British South Africa (BSA) Company and other adventurers, criss-crossed the African continent. They came with trinkets, flags and draft instruments in their pockets, moving in all mysterious ways and by diverse routes, visiting our own African Chiefs and claiming to “negotiate” treaties with them. Of course, a negotiation requires that both or all parties should have a common understanding of the subject matter at hand, and the documents to be signed in execution of the proposed treaty.

Needless to say, our chiefs did not have even the faintest idea of the true content and intent of the documents they were asked to sign in return for a worthless trinket.

The real intentions of our colonisers were to secure tracts of land for their countries on the shores and surrounding areas of the Dark Continent. Engineers on board of the coastal vessels were kept busy cutting tin sheets and making them into colourful crowns for the heads of the deluded chiefs who were ready to sign away their territorial birth-right for a few bottles of gin and the title, “King.”

Off we sold our land just like that. Take as an example, in 1884 when the Kings and chiefs along the Wouri estuary in French South West Africa (in Cameroon) signed a treaty of cession of (Cameroun). The treaty stated:

“We, the undersigned, King and Chiefs of the territory known as Kamerun, located along the Kamerun river, between River Bimbia to the north and River Kwakwa to the South up to 4* 10’ degree north of the longitude, have this day during a meeting held in the German factor on the courtyard of King Akwa, voluntarily decided as follows:

We have this day completely surrendered rights of the sovereignty, legislation and administration over the our territory to Messrs Edward Schmidt, acting on behalf of the Woerman firm, and Johannes Voss, acting on behalf of the Jantzen and Thormanlen firm, both in Hamburg and traders for years on these rivers.

We transfer the rights of sovereignty, legislation and administration over our territory to the above –named firms, subject to the following reservations:

Article 1: The territory may not cede to a third party
Article 2: All treaties of friendship and commerce concluded with the foreign governments shall remain fully valid.
Article 3: Lands cultivated by us and occupied by our villages shall remain the property of the current possessors and their descendants
Article 4: Annual rentals shall be paid to the King and Chief as before.
Article 5: During the first phase of the establishment of an administration here our local customs shall be respected.

Kamerun, 12th July, 1884

The above is an example of how the European nations colonised African countries. Now the European former colonial powers, now commonly known as the West, are back, through our own people, to tell us that Zambia is now being colonised by the Chinese.

I disagree and I take the view advanced by the President when he said:

“We are a fully conscious nation, alive to the fact that we need to uplift the plight of our people. I want to emphasize that all forms of bilateral cooperation with China are, and will always be informed by this noble focus on the need to build a supporting infrastructure to enable our people build sound and sustainable livelihoods.”

This is exactly what I see as the role of China in Zambia. At the same time, I do not think the Chinese are here for charity but, like any other country – whether from Asia, Europe or America, they too seek our natural resources and to make profits on their contracts and investments.


China’s biggest problem with our people is not about whether or not, China has a poor human rights record in their own country as is glibly asserted by China’s opponents and competitors; it is about the ‘what and how’ their services have been rendered in our countries.

Some have argued that it is unacceptable that menial work such as bricklaying, carpentry, etc when they form part of a contract awarded to a Chinese company take the Chinese company to bring someone from China to come and do these types of work, when we have many of our own people who are capable of doing such work, but are unemployed. Others have taken issue with the fact that some of our Chinese guests have gone into such businesses as the making of ice lollipops, fritters or so-called doughnuts, and even selling live chickens in our markets.

It is this aspect of Chinese “participation” in the lower levels of the formal economy, and their active part in the informal economy which directly threatens the livelihoods of some of our households, which appear to have become unacceptable among my fellow Zambians and Africans at large.

It is my view that this is not a problem of the Chinese. Rather, it is the way we have negotiated our bilateral agreements with the Chinese, in the first place, and how we enforce the law on non-Zambian or expatriate workers, especially in the very low skills levels, as it stifles skills transfer from our Chinese guests to our own people whose future works can be executed to the same level as the Chinese contractors.

It would appear that those who have been tasked to bargain on behalf of our country region, and continent as a whole, have not done a good job because they have neglected to ensure that as Zambians or Africans see the Chinese come into our countries to make money, they too must get into gainful employment and paid well. If that were taken into account and if Zambians benefited more directly from the Chinese presence in the formal sector, I believe our people would have a different attitude towards China.

China also need to urgently review its contribution towards provision of social services such as education, which the West have done to a considerable extent after independence when there was a great need to train human resources to manage and administer the new states. Indeed, western or colonial masters of African countries went to great lengths to offer training and skills acquisition to former colonial subjects to help establish the new local cadre of public officers, and the training offered in the coloniser’s country helped to change the attitudes of the new middle-class towards their former oppressors. And oppressors they had been; there can be no question about that.

But the cordial relations which developed between former coloniser (oppressors) and former subject in the period immediately following independence, based on high quality education and training as well as skills transfer, went a very long way in softening the attitudes of the former colonial subjects as they were now treated as partners or at least as capable learners and were, therefore, accorded a measure of respect.

A key factor in the transformation of attitudes by the former colonial subjects towards their former colonial masters, was the experience of living in the country of the former colonial master, typically 4 years for those who went abroad to acquire university degrees or 9 years for those who sought doctoral qualifications. These former colonial subjects lived with or among people who had previously treated them as inferior and needed either to be “whipped into shape”, or given a benevolent, avuncular hand by the kind white man.

As the Africans were treated as equal learners and equal employees, their previously hostile and suspicious attitude softened and changed, and white people were no longer the controlling, selfish and disrespectful monster they had been in colonial times. They became partners and even friends.

In a word, the West won the friendship and respect of their former African subjects by inviting them to study, work and live in their countries. The West have exposed many of our people to receiving Western education in their countries which has not only provided academic knowledge but also enhanced a cultural understanding between our peoples and our former colonisers.

It is my view that China could change the face and substance of the Africa – China relationship by adopting the same tactic as did the former colonisers: a degree of assimilation whereby the host population no longer sees a hard economic, social or cultural border between themselves and their Chinese guests.

Returning from the 2018 Regional Summit of students held in Johannesburg, I am convinced that China is having problems being understood by the peoples of the SADC region because China is a relative newcomer not only to the region but to Africa as a whole, and therefore not well understood. One way China can overcome this problem, is by taking as many students as possible into learning and training institutions in China, so that they experience life among the Chinese people and get to understand Chinese culture and China’s history especially as it relates to Africa and the SADC region in particular, where China’s role in liberation, is second to none.

The anti-China propaganda is having an effect because few people in SADC know anything about China apart from the fact that China wants our resources. But why does the UK have an Embassy in Zambia, if not for our resources? China should now embark on a new path of strengthening its relations with the people in SADC countries and one of the most effective way is to take as many SADC youths and students to China so that they can live and experience Chinese life first-hand and not through history books written by imperial powers.

China and other countries like Japan, Israel and Canada need to increase undergraduate scholarships, partly as a way of encouraging more interaction between the Chinese people and SADC nationals where China is an honoured guest for all its help beginning with the independence struggle to the current struggle for economic emancipation of SADC nations where China’s assistance has proved invaluable.

China, as far as is practicable, should take deliberate steps to take and greatly increase scholarships for education, skills training and cultural exchange, so that SADC youths, as students, can spend part of their early adult life in China itself, learning – not just academic education but also about China as a country – training and experiencing Chinese culture and general way of life so that they come back from China with a positive message about the Chinese people, the Chinese economic system and government.

90% of Zambian students in China are self-sponsored. China can afford even 1,000 scholarships a year for SADC. Of course Zambia is their strongest and best partner in SADC and we should get the lion’s share of those scholarships. China can benefit greatly from having many more Zambians studying in China. 4 years is enough time for them to learn and understand China as a country and the Chinese as a people. Many Zambians who are capable of benefiting from an education, training and living in China would need China’s direct financial assistance as Zambians are generally resource-constrained.

China would have to seriously consider giving some of its development assistance in the form of fully- sponsored scholarships to Zambians students and youths, including young entrepreneurs. China, just like other nations from Scandinavian and Cuba in particular, as well as the United States of America and Canada, must utilise the current atmosphere as an opportunity to become part of and interact with students from SADC as Zambia prepares to host the 2019 SASU Region Summit on Education.

The author is a governance and legal activist but also Secretary General of the Zambia National Students Union [ZANASU], an umbrella body of students unions in Zambia


  1. China is neither friend nor foe , the dragon nation is an exploiter and a hungry resource opportunist.Granted ,she’s better than the bloody colonialists of yesterday.


    • The author seems to imply that we can trade our sovereignty in exchange for student scholarships.
      Zambia & SADC has good examples of how foreign invaders can destroy the nation. Learn from the unfair distribution of land & wealth in RSA & Zim. Umuchinese temunobe. A Chinese is not here to become friends but to exploit you & get your land & minerals.

      Lungu is similar to the African chiefs who sold their land & sovereignty in exchange for worthless trinkets. It’s no secret that Lungu is in the pockets of Chinese. He has acquired tremendous wealth within a short time, thanks to Chinese bribes & kick-backs. He also charges $200,000 for a Chinese delegation to meet him at State House.

    • The author says it all for me no need to read the full article. These days we are filly aware of what these chaps are all about

    • China is here to make money but we must get the best in return for our resources. We can’t keep resource that we can’t use. That is stupidity at its worst. Let’s embrace China as the author said and negotiate better deals

    • I am sick of this mentality of depending on foreigners for everything. Whether it’s aid, investment, education scholarships technology transfer or whatever.
      1. Why should rich nations like Zambia depend on foreign aid to look after its people?
      2. Why should we depend on foreigners, whether China or the west for investment or good education? Why can’t we invest in our education system and make world class?
      3. Why can’t we work on research and develops our own technology?
      The answer is simple. Greed, corruption, lack of patriotism, a twisted view of leadership inherited from the cursed traditional leaders(chiefs), in which a leaders is there to be served and not to serve.

    • If you meet President Lungu tell him that while I agree to Chinese investment, I don’t agree with China being given burial space of their own.

    • A friend in need is a friend indeed.” The only enemy Africa has is a person with TRIBALISM and Racism! China is a friend and UNDER FIVE is an enemy.

  2. The problem with PF govnt is that their dealings with Chine govnt is shrouded in secrecy why??? Ordinary Zambian need to know what exactly has happened to ZAFFICO, ZNBC and ZESCO PERIOD!! using political arrogance will not in anyway resolve issues in Zambia. PF govnt should not be naïve that people are exposed to online news and other internet based information about China’s ideology of debt trapping poor countries. In Srilanka for instance, the Chinese govnt were allowed to build the country’s largest sea port at the cost of USA $1 billion. Today the Srilankan govnt has failed to repay the concessional loan and the Chinese have taken over the sea port henceforth… Lets not fool around with people’s minds and let transparency prevail!!!!

  3. China today as a nation is more a friend than an enemy to the world, in particular to weaker economies. The stronger economies are naturally afraid of the new big power because it compromises their wealthy stand. African nations however, must strive for a balanced partnership with China because as it is right now, we have more of a “frenemy” status.

  4. Lord Macaulay’s address to the British Parliament in 2 February, 1835:

    “I have traveled across the length and breadth of India and I have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is a thief. Such wealth I have seen in this country, such high moral values, people of such calibre, that I do not think we would ever conquer this country, unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage, and, therefore, I propose that we replace her old and ancient education system, her culture, for if the Indians think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self-esteem, their native self-culture and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation.”

  5. One of the most elaborate of articles ever written. This article is priceless. China is here to stay. And we can get the best out of her. Soon as we realise this, the better for us otherwise it will be too late

  6. China is a very good country to trade with because they have all the money readily available to loan to poor countries. This is good for both China and the countries borrowing as long as we dont default. Once we default, tiza muziba yesu. So we need to invest this money in income generating ventures so that we can pay back. It is important to note that China is not giving us these projects for free. We have to pay back.
    Europe and Japan on the other hand have not given us much loans but they have given us huge sums of money for free to alleviate poverty. Examples are social cash transfer, luangwa to Mwami road, etc. The USA has given us the huge free drainage system. We will not have to pay back for these huge projects.
    In short, we need to understand that each of these countries…

  7. I agree with the author.. We must re-chat a new course with China than being little scared fellow who have resources we can’t do anything with. China must actually help build the capacity of our people in all fields.

  8. China – indeed like the West and UPND that are fueling anti-Chinese sentiments – is in Africa for business. UPND is a capitalist party that fan only thrive by having China and the West here. This issue is how we negotiate our agreements with China.

    Also, its true that Zambians are disconnected from China but connected to the West because the education the West has given us which is Western. The West have funded NGOs and thereby pocketing them into their pockets. China can also invest in human resource, training and promoting a cultural understanding of China, its cultures, its govt and systems. Author is spot on

  9. Mandela and Lungu are spot on. Africa must choose her own friends and her enemies. The enemies of the West must not be the enemies of Africa. We too must be allowed to make our own enemies and our own friends. China is truly being turned into an enemy of our people by the Western driven agenda but also the failure by China to invest in social sectors. If China meant well for Africa, she would have invested in education – the education of our people. America is taking 1000 young African on Obama Fellowship every year to American cities and American homes. That is in addition to scholarships being given by both Americans and the Britons. China must become strategic and follow that path and do it twice!

  10. People has anyone of you on this forum wondered why only Africa and a few other areas on the globe were colonised?

    They all shared the same stupidity I am seeing here!!! Has any of you worked with the Chinese as a director in a big multinational? Those who have like me know how crookedness is an integral constituent of Chinese culture…

  11. Continued……

    Chinese actually reward crooked initiatives…i worked with them as a customer for 7 years and then as a procurement director for 2 years…would not take their shut any longer and cut my contract after protracted disagreements over their crookedness in dealing with service providers…you can crosscheck these assertions with African firms working with Chinese customers….

  12. Since the advent of this anti- Chinese propaganda, I have heard no one who has perfectly and fearlessly explained the correlation between the West colonialism and what China is doing than the author. Edgar needed brains like these to surround him, and do these explanations. His ministers have done injustice to this topic. China must up its game too

  13. America sent over 90,000 of its citizens to train in China but you talking 1000 from SADC a year? Let’s be serious here guys. China can train 200,000 in SADC!!!!

  14. Priceless article. I would give the author an award for it. What we Africans have failed to understand are so many things such as who the Chinese are and who are the west are. What interest do they have in Africa and why the West will find education of our people in their countries. This article explains it all. China must begin to engage more and seen to be doing more for our people than just give loans and loans. Lungu needs to have more of people who can explain why we have chosen China. let’s not be xenophobic like our friends in the South m

  15. There is nothing wrong with China , and China sets out to help Africa expecting a
    ” you help me , I help you ”

    The problem is our corrupt theiving leaders through mismangment and corruption fail to take advantage of the Chinese bilateral relationship instead becoming bedbugs to chinese bribes, the situation is so bad that leaders like the corrupt theif lungu relay on Chinese money to stay in power, that is when the China relationship becomes a problem.

    Strong nationalistic leaders like kigame insist on moving manufacturing from to Rwanda unlike our corrupt theiving theif lungu who only moves loans from China to Zambia…..

    Spaka ®
    Most influential blogger
    All rights reserved

    • China is now realising that their
      “help those in power with no questions asked” policy is a dangerous one.
      A case is with our own chambia…China was just pouring money into chambia without questions of corruption, misrule or brutality. The ruling PF have built a lot of roads but they overlooked the short term economic fundamentals instead looking long term and investores pouring in….this has not happened and people are restless and will target the Chinese infact in these times of a trade war between west and China ,that restlessness is easily exploited …the Chinese have realised this and have super giving money to lungu…..

      Spaka ®
      Most influential blogger
      All rights reserved

  16. if your neighbour is a devil , can you be a friend to your devil neighbour’s friend? Colonialism was about dominance so it with eastern imperialism? if you hate colonialism also hate China’s poor human rights records.
    Money can not make you lose your rights as an individual or nation…. Mwanza and his Yali organisation stand for rule of law and democracy yet he support china that has poor human records because of the huge loans they give Lungu and him……..Principle stands above mammon.
    when a black man is shot at in America, mwanza accuses the whites of not respecting blacks rights. however, when a chinaman shoots a zambian he accuses Zambians of xenophobia… what a man and his boss?
    Do not not love money more than principle…..
    Soory Mwanza you have lost it

  17. China is not a friend as Hong Kong and Tibet, they will tell you the true colours of the Chinese, these are raciest and very evil people you are dealing with.

  18. You have hit where it matters Isaac. Nice article and spot on. Those who can’t see this China -West battle are too blinded or get threatened with how much they will get next. I love it that you speak your minds our without fear and with boldness! Very objective article it is

  19. Isaac you truly stand out as one of the most precious, well informed and independent thinkers of our generation who will not be swayed by the Western education you received. Personally, I don’t mind China or Westward countries. Doesn’t matter whether the cat is black or white so long it can catch a mice.

    Zambia needs both China and the West but we need men and women who can negotiate better deals and not this generation that negotiates based on their tummies. Am thinking we need more young thinkers like you to join policy making and shape Africa’s foreign policy. Like you said, China has been misunderstood compared to the West because the West have diluted our minds with their education. They have invested in programs meant for Africans to understand them. That is where China lags…

  20. Objective. If China is here to make money, what is the West here to do? Birds of same feathers except China doesn’t give out to these NGOs, so they have no need to support them. They would rather support the West. Doesn’t matter anyway, so long my grandmother has good roads built with China money. The rest can continue preaching in favour of those who feed their families from the West


  22. Private investment is different from public investment. If private investment is the source of friction, then focus on that issue. It is possible to address major concerns in private investments. If public investment is the source of friction, then focus on that issue. It is possible to address major concerns in public investments. It is unlikely that each business entity involving China is not performing well. If the entity is not performing well, then what is the extent of the poor performance? You may be surprised to find that xenophobia is interfering in dealing with business matters. As usual, xenophobia is based on misinformation, exaggeration and amplification. It is like laptops. The bad carpenter blames his tools.

  23. I am black American and I feel that overall China is doing some magnificent things in Africa; however, it is up to African governments to ensure that there is transfer of skills and that Chinese companies be required to partner with a Zambian company or form a partnership with government in the building of roads, schools, and hospitals. Ultimately Zambia must a plan to lean themselves away from depending on foreigners to build up their nation because he who is the borrower is the slave to the lender.
    I feel that Zambian leaders must be more transparent with the public when awarding contracts to non Zambian firms. China is to be commended for helping Africa in it’s effort to industrialize but they must do more to insure that their deals are transparent and that the countries…

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