The perspectives on the extent of China’s involvement and intent in Africa’s economy seem lopsided, tipped more toward the negative than the positive outcomes, proving Okonkwo’s cynicism right. According to history books, In the 1630s, the Dutch captured the forts of Elmina and Luanda, and the new Imperialism, between 1881 and 1914, resulted in the European conquest, occupation, slice-dicing, and colonization of African territories. In recent years, China’s immense investment in the African economy, begs the question, Is the scramble for Africa still on?
China has urbanized African communities, erected massive infrastructures, such as communication networks, railways, stadiums, and so on, making Africa the fastest urbanizing territory on planet earth in recent years. That’s great, isn’t it? One might ask? After all, China’s economic investments seem to increase Africa’s undebatable endowment of resources, which should make the continent in charge of its destiny in no time. Africa’s resources range from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) owning half of the world’s cobalt to her being half of the world’s known supplier of carbonatites. Well, that notwithstanding, the answer is seemingly not.
Many, including those countries that once colonized and may still be indirectly controlling the purse strings of Africa, frown at China’s involvement in Africa and accuse the Chinese government of taking over Africa one country at a time. There has been a massive outcry over China’s presence and activities in Africa, which include: Confucius institutes abounding throughout Africa, teaching locals entrepreneurship in Mandarin and China, at the dismay of the people; Chinese companies busing locals from their villages to the marketplaces, despite their bad roads; China building massive dams in Africa, while creating over 10,000 jobs, which many, believe to be an excuse to secure maritime routes for global trade; China setting up exclusive Chinese compounds that cater only to them while blacks are disallowed; African skies bustling with Chinese-made warplanes, bombing adversaries; and African businesses complaining of losing their markets to Chinese companies, and leaving them with limited opportunities. What happened to Africa, and how did things get to this point?
Author Panos Mourdoukoutas, Forbes former contributing writer, in his May 4, 2019 article, “What China Wants from Africa? Everything”, stated that “Africa has served global ambitions of many foreigners, … as missionaries, financiers, and infrastructure builders, promising to put [Africa] on the map and help its people out of poverty [. Still,] they ended up grabbing [her] riches, colonizing one nation after another, and letting their people steep into poverty.” That said, he cautions, “That may end up being the case again, with China’s recent infrastructure investment project in the continent.”
An article written by Dailymail.com, titled “How China’s taking over Africa, and why the West should be VERY worried,” on July 18, 2008, underscores the above points:
On June 5, 1873, in a letter to The Times, Sir Francis Galton, the cousin of Charles Darwin and a distinguished African explorer in his own right, outlined a daring (if by today’s standards utterly offensive) new method to ‘tame’ and coloni[z]e what was then known as the Dark Continent.
‘My proposal is to make the encouragement of Chinese settlements of Africa a part of our national policy, in the belief that the Chinese immigrants would not only maintain their position, but that they would multiply and their descendants supplant the inferior Negro race,’ wrote Galton.
‘I should expect that the African seaboard, now sparsely occupied by lazy, palavering savages, might in a few years be tenanted by industrious, order-loving Chinese, living either as a semidetached dependency of China, or else in perfect freedom under their own law.’
That said, is there a cause to re-examine Okonkwo’s fears as seen in Things Fall Apart, or is it too late? In revisiting some of these apprehensions and China’s activities in Africa, Africans, and those concerned about what might appear to be China’s encroachment on Africa, these doubts stand out: Did Sir Francis Galton see imminent investment by China in Africa back then in the 1800s? He must have been far ahead of his generation in his thinking of what to do with other countries then if China had no such thoughts to invade Africa, how would he nurture such ideas? When did the China-African relationship start for them to have such a large footprint hold in Africa? Are African governments giving them upper latitude, and why? Is there genuinely a trap in the conditionalities provided by China, or did Africa simply default in their promises, and why? How much money is China generating from its investment, and is Africa capable of creating and sustaining the same type of investments without help from any foreign country? How do young people see this relationship, and how prepared are they to deal with any adverse outcomes from China-Africa relations?