Africa, with its vast economic and energy resources and developing economies, is undoubtedly set to play a major role in global growth and development in the future. For the people of Africa, who have faced the brutal tyranny of colonial occupation, and continue to suffer from widespread sectarian and religious violence, the need for inclusive socio-economic growth is paramount. For years now, these people have braved adversity and established the foundations based on which they can harness their natural resources to catalyse the much-needed changes.
Such progress inevitably requires the investment of capital and technology. Ideally, this is acquired through foreign assistance, which facilitates the development of skills and capacities among the local populace, while creating a balanced economic environment of production and imports.
However, what Africa received, was far from this. Beijing’s wolf warriors and crony capitalists descended across the continent offering large loans, with almost no ‘bureaucratic red-tape’. To political leaders of African countries, most of whom were under immense pressure to deliver quick and visible results, these loans seemed like a godsend.
This, however, could not be more distant from the truth! The fast-tracked loan clearances were designed to avoid due diligence of the viability and sustainability of projects, particularly expensive infrastructure projects. Some notable examples of Chinese investment in Africa include the $12 billion Coastal Railway in Nigeria, the $4.5 billion Addis Ababa–Djibouti Railway, and the $11 billion mega-port and economic zone at Bagamoyo (Tanzania).
Are projects becoming a financial burden?
Not all these projects are delivering growth and development, with most of them becoming financial burdens. Moreover, there is negligible skill development or employment being generated through any of these investments. Ultimately, these become ‘traps’ which Beijing springs on the recipient nation to extract favourable (predatory) trade agreements, land-grabs and market access for dumping its surplus products.
It is reported that Kenya, which is one of China’s biggest trade partners in Africa, recently pushed back at Beijing’s suggestion to hand over control of its main port at Mombassa as a collateral for the debt accrued for the ailing Mombasa-Nairobi rail line (also a Chinese led project). There is, however, no doubt that the CCP leadership will continue to pressurise countries across Africa to gain such control… fallout in Africans notwithstanding! While the examples covered are mainly from East Africa, similar trends are seen in the West, which will become clear in the near future. It is, therefore, just a matter of time before this ‘neo-colonialism with Chinese characteristics’ takes firm root across Africa.
Does Pakistan’s ‘engage Africa’ matter?
As African countries started to push back at these tactics, Beijing deployed its willing stooge Islamabad to the continent. Even as Pakistan’s economy stands at the brink of collapse, Islamabad has launched the ‘Engage Africa’ initiative. So, the question remains – “If Pakistan is bankrupt, what can it offer Africa?” The official position of the Pakistan state is trade agreements, experience and expertise sharing as well as cultural exchanges. Let us analyse each of these – very briefly.
Neither Pakistan, nor Africa will gain anything
The trade agreements would largely result in easier access to African markets for Chinese products shipped through the CPEC. Neither Pakistani nor African people would benefit in any meaningful way… while China’s puppets in Islamabad would gain the CCP’s continued favour. Moreover, such agreements would facilitate resource extraction from Africa at low cost by Pakistan, which could then be passed on to the ‘iron brother’. In fact, an article in the Express Tribune, a Pakistan daily, in September 2020 categorically stated that Pakistan should engage Arica through a CPEC+ approach, by having twin-port arrangements between Gwadar and important BRI ports – an established Southern Route – to allow Pakistan to gain from China’s trade flow.
Interestingly, the article also states, explicitly, that Pakistan’s Engage Africa must work with the BRI to “counter the Quad and the India-Japan AAGC initiative”.
As it stands at present, Africa’s biggest import from Pakistan are likely to be crime and drugs. For years now, Pakistan-based transnational criminal organisations have spread lawlessness and fear across South Africa, with kidnapping and ransom being their major areas of expertise. Not surprisingly, these syndicates have been linked to Pakistan’s infamous spy agency – ISI.
For instance, an August 2020 article on News World.com stated that “Supply of drugs, kidnapping, human trafficking, and killing of businessmen in near past has been the responsibilities of Jehaidi element networks of Pakistan high commission military attache that comprise 70% of the crimes in South Africa.”
Another important point made in the same article was that “these Pakistani kidnapping syndicates are supported by Pakistan Intelligence Agency ISI staff working in South African High Commission, that gets their dirty work of political assassination also done by these Pakistani Kidnapping syndicates in South Africa”.
Recently, the enormous scale of drugs being shipped from the Makaran coast to East Africa was also exposed by international news agencies. A recent study by GITOC exposed the emergence of a new crystal meth supply line from Pakistan to Africa, which is contributing significantly to the rising drug problem in East and South African nations. The report states “heroin is produced in bulk from Afghan opium and packaged in Pakistan, before being shipped by dhow along the so-called Southern Route, departing from ports along the Makran coast of Pakistan to African markets”.
This is possibly the single biggest cause of societal problems in the region where drug dependency among the youth is rising and leading to wide-ranging security issues, including radicalisation of the youth. Moreover, the origin of these drugs is in Afghanistan, and with the Taliban becoming even more powerful in this region, this supply line is likely to grow significantly.
What is not good for Africa’s future?
Lastly, cultural exchanges with Pakistan have long been a euphemism for proliferation of Pakistan’s version of Islamic thought. This, in itself, may not be a concern. However, given the widespread radicalisation of youth across Pakistan, who identify with a more militant translation of the Holy Quran, such exchanges may not bode well for Africa’s future. This remains true throughout the continent, where terrorism has grown at alarming levels since 2018. Notably, countries like Nigeria and Benin, which have large number of students completing their education in Pakistan, have witnessed a sharp rise in extremist activities.
Beijing’s ploy to use Pakistan as a proxy in Africa
It is, therefore, more than likely that Beijing’s ploy to use Pakistan as a proxy in Africa is meant for such purposes only! By allowing the Pakistan model of cooperation and governance, which include – crime, drugs, social-disharmony and economic-mismanagement, to infect Africa, Beijing would seek to establish conditions more favourable for it to ‘swoop in and take control’. Naysayers of such theories would do well to see how China has used Pakistan against India for decades now, with a fair amount of success. It would, therefore, seem to be a popular strategy among the CCPs wise men to unleash their puppet on the vulnerable peoples of Africa.
What Africa can do to avoid another colonial exploitation?
It is essential for the responsible nations of the world to counter these selfish designs, through exposing the true intentions and countering the Chinese financial juggernaut with viable alternatives. Neither Beijing nor Islamabad is likely to bat an eyelid to address the problems being faced by Africans, beyond their own economic interest. If Africa is to avoid another period of colonial exploitation, there is a need to identify, arrest and correct the various lines of action being pursued by the CCP and its proxies towards this end.
This would not be easy, given the huge needs of Africa’s people for well-planned investments and growth. However, if the poorly named ‘Dark Continent’ is to indeed shed this unfortunate epithet, it will need responsible and capable players across the globe to work in unison to counter this new wave of ‘neo-colonialism with Chinese characteristics’.