BY TAWANDA MAJONI
On a scale of one to 10, the next Chinese tender you will flip through in Zimbabwe is a bad deal. Call it the Sino effect.
That’s not because China is incapable of good deals, no.
It’s just that in Zimbabwe, pretty the same as in most of Africa, there are deliberate and naughty intentions to make deals bad where Chinese investments are concerned, as we ratchet with this nasty omen called Sino imperialism.
Sino imperialism — a nosy phrase meaning Chinese influence in Zimbabwe, Africa and elsewhere — comes in different shapes and sizes.
Get it good right from the start, China is not here to promote Chinese communism. Nobody is bothering about political ideology at all.
Sino-imperialism is a soft imperialism — as opposed to the brute and guns that brought western colonialism in the 19th and 20th centuries, sprinkled with spiritual tales from the Bible that tamed the native mind and soul, what Karl Marx must have been thinking about when he talked about “the opium of the people”.
Here, as elsewhere, it’s been coming mostly as business investments, a money thing, if you like.
In the past, Sino imperialism was meant to counter US and Russian influence in Africa.
While Beijing still wants to prove a point or two against the USA as a super power today, its increasing presence in Africa is mainly a bread-and-butter issue.
China has a squirming two billion population, or thereabouts.
That’s an awesomely dangerous situation if you won’t be able to feed all those ravenous mouths and give the people jobs and markets for whatever trinkets they are producing.
If you can’t get the raw materials to get local commerce running, you are damned too.
So, never mind the arrogance that is typical of Sino imperialism, Africa — read as the eating African elite, of course — is China’s messiah.
The imperialism, advanced by China’s state-owned enterprises and bits of private entities, comes in the form of investments and loans.
The Chinese are investing big time in road, sea and air transport, engineering, health, mining and oil, construction, agriculture and retail. But they are doing other things too.
The fact that state-owned enterprises are at the forefront of this Sino imperialism makes Beijing the real culprit of neo-imperialism.
They hardly do anything without a nod from the Communist Party of China which has ruled that sprawling country since Before Christ.
Besides selling you Sinovac and Sinopharm after authoring Covid-19, they are investing heavily in “cyber security”.
These are the dudes that are helping Zimbabwe and others with smart gadgets that peep into your phone and laptop without asking you.
Some say they are helping the government steal elections too, and we heard much about that in 2013 when we held our last but one polls.
China is good at giving Africa loans, never free money.
Between 2000 and 2006, for instance, it lent US$125 billion to Africa, and, at the 2018 China-Africa cooperation conference, pledged a further US$60 billion in loans.
But China is a classic example of a loan shark, a giant Sherlock.
Once you take its money, you are finished.
It forces you to mortgage anything and everything. From your minerals and farmland to your political power and soul.
It sets very intricate conditions that reduce your country to modern-day servitude and penury.
That’s how it almost took over the Kenyan port of Mombasa.
But the late John Magufuli saw through that and stopped the same happening in his own country
Magufuli stalled a US$10 billion deal that would have seen China Merchants Holdings International effectively take over a Tanzanian port and all that would come with this key asset.
When the Chinese come under the guise of foreign direct investment, they use what clever guys call purposeful isolation.
This is whereby they bring their own labourers, equipment, supervisors, etc.
And, when all is done, they remit every cent back home, save for the change that they use to bribe the local elites.
That brings in the major question. How are the Chinese managing to penetrate Zimbabwe and Africa with such ease and speed?
The major answer is — you must have guessed — corruption.
Here in Zimbabwe, the power elite hides behind a very thin phrase — all-weather friends.
They say China has supported Zimbabwe politically, financially and economically since the days of the struggle against western colonialism without wavering.
They say that makes China, Zimbabwe’s trusted and eternal ally.
They cite such examples like when China, together with Russia, vetoed a United Nations arms embargo against Zimbabwe in 2008 after hotly disputed elections.
As if Zimbabwe is at war and needs weapons that much.
Or, in 2009, when the same duo vetoed out a motion on sanctions against Zimbabwe.
But that’s a tall fib.
The truth is, China has found an easy target and pawn — not friend — in Zimbabwe, in its quest to find markets, foods and jobs in Africa to manage a potentially explosive population back home.
But then, what makes Zimbabwe a good pawn is the greed and corruption among those in power.
Here is what happens, generically.
A Chinese — often state-owned — company comes to Zimbabwe. Its directors identify key people who can make things happen.
They make use of their “grounds men” in Zimbabwe, the deal brokers who are making a living out of this.
They take them to a Chinese restaurant. They give them brown envelopes and then promise better money once the deal is done. It all depends on the kind of deal.
They take the minister or permanent secretary and parastatal heads or some other critical guys out for dinner.
Depending on the value of the projects, other more useful offices are involved.
After this, telephones start buzzing.
Respective procurement heads run around like native chickens. They get strange visitors at their offices. They are told what to do.
After that, tender and contract formalities follow.
The tenders are fixed. Deserving bidders are sidelined.
When they ask questions, they are told that this thing is coming from “high offices”.
It doesn’t matter whether or not the Chinese investors can do the job.
In fact, most of them can’t, or haven’t. And nobody is talking about the sensitivity of the job. Only the money is talking.
That is why almost every tender or contract with a Chinese signature is a bad deal.
Aviation communication, diamond mining, gold mining, farming, cement and tile production, shopping malls, steel, coal and power generation, you name it. Hundreds of them.
The bigger guys in the power elite can’t do anything, largely.
That’s where the politics comes in.
They know that China is holding them in its palm, literally.
More often than not, the government gets its politics wrong and attracts angry international responses.
When people protest, the protesters have to be “managed”, for instance.
That usually attracts angry emotions from western embassies. And when matters come to a head, issues of human rights abuses go to the highest global offices, the UN in particular.
Without China — and Russia — the power elite would be finished because there would be no-one to veto for them.
So, what better thing to do than to let Sino imperialism fester?
- Tawanda Majoni is the national coordinator at Information for Development Trust (IDT), and can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org