Like a Venus Flytrap China is dexterously masticating Zambia. First, let me explain what a Venus Flytrap is; it is a predator plant that attracts and captures insects and devours them. Posing as a normal plant it displays beautiful flower-like leaves in the form of lobe clamps. When the oblivious hungry prey sits on the leaf to taste the sweet sap, the leaf shuts in an instant. The prey is exterminated and consumed. Edgar Lungu is the prey in the Chinese Venus Flytrap. I will elaborate.
As Edgar Lungu deplaned and pumped up his fist in exaltation upon arrival from his “successful” China visit, the agonizing words of the godfather of racism Georg Hegel flooded my mind: “The peculiarly African character is difficult to comprehend…[In African life] the characteristic point is the fact that consciousness has not yet attained to the realization of any substantial objective existence.”
African academic pedants will admonish me for the quote and yet the same words chime in the ears of the majority Chinese. Like Hegel, the Chinese do not think much of Africans. During the November 2006 China-Africa Summit in Beijing, attended by Robert Mugabe and other African presidents and representatives from 48 countries, the African continent was portrayed as a jungle by the Chinese government. Billboards throughout Beijing showed pictures of African tribesmen amidst giraffes, lions and elephants in the jungle. They all bore the title: “Africa, the Land of Myth and Miracles.”
“The Land of Myth and Miracles” is a term used by slave traders and colonial oppressors to refer to the savagery Dark Continent. It was created to denigrate the richness of the African traditional cultures and to portray Africans as primitive, mysterious and half human. Slave traders used the term to undermine African intellect and to justify enslavement. Colonialists used it to dehumanize Africans, dominate them, and take away their land and natural resources.
The Chinese addressed by Lungu in the Hainan Province harbor similar sentiments. They see Zambians as unintelligent—semi-primitive. In as far as they are concerned there are no aspects of the Zambian acumen on which one can be assertive.
Have you ever wondered why China’s aid to Zambia, and indeed the entire Africa, does not include the building of fully-fledged scientific and research laboratories, motor manufacturing, technological industries, and other amenities that involve the training and nourishment of the African mind?
Instead, the Chinese build stadia (stadiums) because, according to them, every black African runs like a cheetah, and plays soccer just like every African-American plays basketball. They build hospitals because every African carries with him some sort of disease. They build roads, rail lines, and bridges to ensure extracted minerals find their way to Beijing. Isn’t this the Cecil John Rhodes imperialistic syndrome synonymous with colonialism? Remember Rhodes’ words: “the native is to be treated as a child and denied the franchise. We must adopt a system of despotism in our relations with the barbarians of South Africa.”
At the Kenneth Kaunda International Airport the ecstatic crowd chanted PF slogans like a thousand imperceptive souls. I asked myself, “Is there someone among them who understands the thinking of the Chinese? Are we so shallow-minded we can’t learn from the past? Is it ignorance and poverty that have driven us to a point of despondency? Do we not care for our children’s future? Are we so hopeless we can’t create wealth from our God-given resources?
I examined Lungu in the picture. His gullibility was evident. Oblivious of China’s hyper-secret foreign policy, he greeted his PF party members with a sense of personal accomplishment. Having signed $800 million worth of investment agreements with the Chinese business fraternity, he exuded a kind of feeling that denotes the self-perception of relevance—that of a noteworthy “hardworking” president.
Little does Lungu know, he like his predecessors, has mortgaged the country. Should I then concede and agree with Hegel who said “the African in the uniform, undeveloped oneness of his existence has not yet attained; so that the Knowledge of an absolute Being, and Other and a Higher than his individual self, is entirely wanting.”
Why did Edgar Lungu make China and not the U.S. as his first foreign visit? First, let me explain in a nutshell why China is in Africa. It is motivated by self-interest. The Chinese government’s concealed imperialist agenda is a gateway to global domination. It wishes to bypass the U.S. as the world’s superpower. In order to do so, it is plundering Africa’s natural resources to maintain its industrial boom. Another is its desire to acquire a quarter of the vote held by African nations in the United Nations. The third reason, the isolation of Taiwan, is a minor issue in this case.
From the start the Chinese knew it would be easy to lure Africans to their side. Africa is a poor continent in which intellectuals have failed to live up to their potential. They have become so intellectually disconcerted and have lost “the ability to comprehend reality.” As a result, they have left the continent to visionless, gluttonous, and corrupt politicians who fit seamlessly in the Chinese’s corrupt “dollar diplomacy.”
It may sound churlish to use the word “corrupt” on a people many Africans glorify as good Samaritans. I am merely dipping into the Chinese history. Xiaobo Lu writes in his book “Cadres and Corruption” that corruption in China lies in the “organizational involution” of the Chinese Communist Party.” Madison Condon, author of “China in Africa,” adds: “Chinese companies transfer their corrupt practices abroad, including a gift-giving culture of corruption that is ingrained in China’s business culture.”
It is a known fact that the Chinese government uses hard to prove bribery to advance its political and economic interests in Africa. Since the formation of Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) in 2000 China has been offering “no string attached” loans and dishing out money to African presidents. A presidential trip to China like the one Lungu undertook is extremely lucrative. Many African presidents and political leaders have become beneficiaries and made massive fortunes. They prefer going to China than the U.S., and the more trips the better. Zambia’s president has joined them in the Venus Flytrap.
I know Lungu’s supporters will be quick to defend him. In actual fact beneficiaries of the China-Africa affairs will brand the article as offensive and bordering on the absurd. Some will accuse me of being xenophobic and fueling hatred. Of course that is not my intention. I simply do not feel safe, and there are many like me who have learned from the past—from colonialism, IMF, and the World Bank. Wealthy nations have left us intellectually bankrupt and poorer than at independence time. Frederick Douglass once wrote: “where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob, and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe.”
Let me be blunt. There are too many ignorant people in Zambia who treat the Chinese with a mentality of positive naiveté. It is not only the uneducated but also academics. Lungu and his predecessors are squarely to blame. Visionless, they have allowed the Chinese to enter the psyches of Zambians and fool them into believing they are helping to improve their lives. Lungu and his cabinet have succumbed to China’s psychological rewards. They are masked by the “wonderful Chinese gifts” in buildings and money they cannot see the biggest bribery of the century. They cannot see one of the worst exploitations of man by man.
Let me end with Dr. Martin Luther King’s words: “Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.” We as Zambians must not choose to ignore the shrouded aspects of reality. Chinese expansionism is happening at a time when we are supposed to be curving our own niche. The Chinese government is undermining our efforts to foster democratic governance, and curb corruption.
How are we to join China at the apex of the civilization if we allow them to do everything for us and create an image of Zambians as dependents and failures? Zambia is our beloved country and Africa our motherland, we must set terms of our discourse and not accommodate elements of indoctrination. That’s all I’m saying.
My last quote is from racist Mahatma Gandhi: Feb. 2, 1908: “The British rulers take us to be so lowly and ignorant that they assume that, like the Kaffirs who can be pleased with toys and pins, we [Indians] can also be fobbed off with trinkets.”
Field Ruwe is a US-based Zambian media practitioner, historian, author, and a doctoral candidate.