By Field Ruwe
Please Note: The term “useful idiots” applies to those individuals, including politicians, who are being derisively used by the Chinese for a cause they are reluctant to fully comprehend.
Perhaps the best poem to come out of Zambia in recent times was written by Bishop Paul Bupe entitled “Africa wa Nsebanya” (Africa you’ve shamed me), the ballad which he masterfully delivered at the recent CBU commencement:
Africa, Africa, Africa, ooh wa nsebanya/Africa, Africa, Africa, ooh you’ve shamed me!
Africa, we mwana wandi uwa kwiyi fyalila/Africa, my very own child
Na kuchitile ichalo icha chindama/I created in you a glorious continent
Kabili ichi kankala ngashi/and extremely treasured…
With lilting cadence and authority in language, Bishop Bupe was eloquent, canny, and daring. As he piled image after image of a failed Africa in the mind of the onlooker, he hit on something close to home; something at the very heart of this article: You Africa, my beloved child, why have you turned yourself into a dumping pit in which all garbage is thrown. All the undesired conventions from the upper-course of the river are dumped here in Africa…
As the poet’s baritone voice ripped through my sensibilities, the image of Zambia came into full view. Only the other day I read in the World Bank 2014 report that Zambia’s exports were growing “driven largely by copper investments and supported by domestic demand.” According to the report copper exports had increased by 29%, non-copper merchandise by 22% and agriculture exports by 27%.
In addition, the Observatory Economic Complexity (OEC) reported that Zambia’s export business had skyrocketed. In 2013, Zambia raked $12.2 billion in exports. Copper (Raw and Refined) topped the list with $8.34billion (nearly twice Zambia’s external debt of $4.8b), Cobalt ($257million), and billions more in other minerals and agriculture produce.
What is difficult to fathom is how we Zambians continue to wallow in poverty year after year. If the reports are accurate, why are we among the most impoverished on earth? As recent as 2014, Zambia was the poorest in the world, worse than the war prone Gaza and earthquake ravaged Haiti. Where does the money go?
I looked to President Edgar Lungu for answers. He was just as clueless. He was oblivious, and in a panic. Eight months into his reign he had found himself tangled in one of the gravest economic crises in the country. As is typical of the slothful, he turned to God for help, and led the religious and vulnerable Zambians in using prayer as an excuse for laziness and passivity, discounting Sophocles’s words “And heaven ne’er helps the men who will not act,” words that have become the popular aphorism “God helps those who help themselves.” Words that the poet, in a voice transcendent and unmediated, was drumming home:
Shi mona siluvele, golide, diamodi, emalodi, umukuba ne fyuma na fimbi ifya ifulila/Look at Silver, Gold, Emerald, Copper, and other abundant natural resources
Nalishika mu mushili pakuti abapupu beka kwibila/I have interred them in your land so thieves don’t rob you
The above verse hurts because it exposes our failure as a people. It denies us bragging rights on earth. Our failure to take advantage of our God-given wealth has relegated us to the bottom of humanity and subjected us to racism. We are labelled lazy, unintelligent, and lacking imagination. The British took advantage of our ineptitude and now the Chinese are doing the exact same thing.
Now that I mention the Chinese let me turn my attention to them. Currently, Zambia enjoys a pragmatic symbiosis with the Chinese government whereby China has access to our abundant copper and other rare earths that we have no clue how to extract, and we benefit from what we believe is “The Good Samaritanism of the Chinese.”
Chinese politicians often emphasize the fact that China-Zambia friendship is unambiguous, and based on mutual cooperation, mutual trust, mutual respect, and equality. Edgar Lungu and his cabinet strongly agree. We are now at a stage where the majority of Zambians praise China for changing the face of the country and providing affordable commodities. Many are often emotionally defensive of the relationship. Like beggars, they are blinded by the Chinese “gifts” around them and would rather stick to the back of China like parasites.
Bushe we Africa utila nani na lasa pa fyuma ifingi pali ba munonko bobe bonse/You Africa, who do you think I have bestowed with abundant wealth among all your brothers
Shi mona ba bemba, imimana, naisushamo na masabi imitundu yonse/Look at the oceans, rivers, I have filled them with all kinds of fish
Icho naishiba ukuti waikala naba bapupu abafwaya ukutapula ifyuma fyobe/Because I know you live with thieves who want to take your wealth
While you digest the above verse, let me proceed. The Zambia-China friendship was put to test in September when the Kwacha plunged to a record 27 percent, the worst among the currencies of the world. Even as this was happening, China was claiming its share of profits from exports. The more than 100,000 Chinese residing in Zambia were going about their business. In fact Chinese farmers and merchandisers took advantage of the weak Kwacha to make a quick kill.
If indeed a genial relationship does exist between China and Zambia, why has China kept quiet during Zambia’s most trying moments? Why did China fail to bail out Zambia when the Kwacha hit rock bottom? Why did the Chinese sit on the fence and watch Lungu succumb to the demands of IMF and watch us go back to those painful begging days?
We Africa ala wa nsebanya/You Africa you’ve shamed me indeed
Bushe wala sungila abana bobe mukupula/Are you going to raise your children through begging
Ichibemba chisosa achiti umwana wa mupushi ekuta ilyo nyina apulile/A Bemba proverbs says a vagabond’s child is fully fed after the mother has begged
I continue with more questions: If between 2001 and 2008 the price of copper quadrupled and production increased, how much was due to Zambia then? If between 2008 and 2014 profits hit the roof, why is Zambia still grappling with public debt? How come China is making a huge surplus and we are not? Could China be a fake ally: a cutthroat exploiter operating beyond Zambia intelligence?
The answer is a resounding “yes!” The economic woes that Zambia is currently experiencing are a clear indication that Zambians and Chinese are not kith and kin; that China is not interested in Zambians but Zambia. The relationship can best be described as the Dragon and the Hyena. The Chinese see themselves as the dragon, a legendary serpentine creature revered by them for its power and majesty and see Zambians as scroungers who feed on the remnants of the hunter. They call us “Lǎn hei ren” (lazy black people) for failing to exploit the country’s natural and mineral resources.
Here the poet replaces the hyena with a bush pig:
We mwana waba nomu sebayanya/My child you are a disgrace
Chinshi icho waichitila kapoli/Why are you turned yourself into a bush pig…
Think for a moment: It has been twenty-seven years since Non-Ferrous Metals Corporation (CNMC) bought a controlling 85 percent stake in Chambishi copper mine, marking the beginning of the China-Zambia trade relation. The relationship was further consolidated in 2000 when Frederick Chiluba appended his signature to the “Beijing Declaration of the Forum on China-Africa Corporation.” It was this treaty that saw the influx of the Chinese into Zambia.
So far China has invested $3.8 billion in Zambia most of which has been allocated to highway and bridge construction, sports stadiums, housing complexes and Chinese settlements. Chinese settlers have created more than 500 companies that are engaged in construction, mining and manufacturing, retail and trade, farming and logging, information and technology, pharmacies, and hospitals. With all the Chinese activity going on one would think Zambia is headed for First World status.
To the contrary, many economists have hinted that Zambia, like other African states, is being conned. Some describe China’s presence in Zambia as a brutal economic onslaught and a “methodical policy fashioned in Beijing” as part of an imperialist clandestine agenda to dominate Africans the way Europeans did a century ago. The strategy of bribery and appeasement was Huang’s hobbyhorse. He was a tenacious and shrewd senior Communist Chinese revolutionary and diplomat who served as ambassador to Ghana in the 1960s. This was a time when Chinese politicians referred to Africans as our “poor buddies.”
As a diplomat and later Minister of Foreign Affairs and Vice Premier, Huang travelled across Africa, dined and wined with African dictators, corrupt and ignorant politicians, leaders with misplaced policies, and understood why Africans had failed to take advantage of the diverse natural resource deposits and rise above colonialism.
Huang saw corrupt African presidents sell mines to foreign companies in their selfish quest to amass wealth. He saw how they pilfered the treasury, and moved large sums into their personal accounts abroad, and saw how easy it was to bribe them and exploit their natural wealth. In 1982, he organized a ten-nation tour of Africa for Premier Zhao Ziyang that saw the beginning of bribing African leaders, a practice that has become rampant.
Today, China’s psychological manipulation exercise is going according to plan. Let me define “Psychological Manipulation;” it is the application of “undue influence through mental distortion and emotional exploitation, with the intention to seize power, control, benefits, and privileges at the victim’s expense.” In essence, we are being used as “useful idiots” for the benefit of China.
Africa, Africa, Africa, ooh wa nsebanya/Africa, Africa, Africa, ooh you’ve shamed me!
We are hopelessly watching as Chinese investors bring in their own people to work in menial jobs. In 2011 China’s parliament debated a proposal to deploy 100 million more such people in Africa. To meet the high demand of human export, China is building more industrial parks under the pretext of improving Zambia’s infrastructure. What we don’t realize, and probably won’t, is we are being displaced at an alarming rate. Our naiveté is simply appalling. Listen to “Africa wa Nsebanya” at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gsqwuD8GZLU
Field Ruwe is a US-based Zambian media practitioner, historian, author, and a doctoral candidate. Learn more about him on his website www.aruwebooks.com. On it you shall access his autobiography, articles, and books. Contact him, blog, or join in the debate. ©Ruwe2012.