Thursday, February 25, 2010

An Example Of Why China Is Bad For Africa

Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe celebrated his 86th birthday last Sunday, and with millions of his countrymen living in poverty and hunger, you’d think that a big party might seem a big gauche. But that didn’t stop the Chinese from throwing a bash in Mugabe’s honor at their embassy in Harare, which marked the first time that Mugabe had even visited a nation’s embassy in his capital since 1980.

Many of Zimbabwe’s current problems can be traced back a decade to Mugabe’s ill-conceived “land reform” plan, which was meant to increase black ownership of farmland in the country but in reality turned out to be just a patronage plan for his political cronies. This led to chronic food shortages in the country and the collapse of the nation’s agriculture export economy. Earlier in February, Mugabe rammed through a new law that could have a similar effect on Zimbabwe’s business sector – requiring all 51% ownership by Zimbabweans in all foreign investments – possibly destroying the fragile coalition government with Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai in the process.

The United States and European Union have responded to Mugabe’s actions in recent years by slapping a series of economic sanctions on Zimbabwe. China, on the other hand, has been happy to trade with them. Unlike the Western nations, who increasingly have tied economic and development aid to good governance practices, China typically offers foreign aid and trade packages with no strings attached. China’s position is that this respects the “internal affairs” of each nation. A more cynical view though is that China really doesn’t care who they do business with so long as the countries in question can continue to supply China with the raw materials they need to fuel their domestic economic expansion – in Zimbabwe’s case it’s minerals; in Sudan’s, oil.

Of course the Chinese position works at cross purposes with that of the Western nations, since why would Mugabe, or any other local despot, change their style of governance when they know they can always do business with the Chinese? Assuming, that is, that they have something China needs.
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