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Monday, 25 October 2010

Harsh!

"Great Britain decolonized the African country of Zambia in the mid-20th century. China has recolonized it in the early 21st. The story is the same throughout the Third World from Sudan to Kazakhstan: China invests in a poor country in return for strategic benefits, usually an oilfield or a mine. Besides getting cash, local dictators get a weapons dealer and a protector at the United Nations..."
Toronto Sun's Ezra Levant using Zambia as the poster child of new Chinese led colonialism. In a recent review of The Beijing Consensus, I note the complexities of assessing Beijing's thrust on our nation. On the one hand the Collum coal incident reinforced the vision of a nation helpless before Beijing, on the other hand we have not seen tangible evidence of a country being intentionally transformed in Beijing's image. The sort of "black and white" pronouncements by Mr Levant is one which needs to be rejected for more sober assessment. China is not intentionally setting out to colonise Zambia - a sharp contrast to British foreign policy in the 19th century. As Halper rightly argues, Beijing's activities in Zambia are reactionary shaped by incentives at home, which gives our leaders sufficient potential to bargain, if they so wish. 

13 comments:

  1. Britain did not set out to colonise Zambia in the 19th Century; that was the British South Africa Company, a private company. And Zambia was never intended to be a settler colony, it was meant to have limited white settlement in certain zones.
    All that the BSA got from Zambia were mineral concessions-somewhat like the Chinese. Let us not conflate the actions of the empire in Zambia with its actions in Zimbabwe which was an entirely different kettle of fish-as history has shown.
    Not all colonies were treated in the same way and that was a result of conscious colonial policy.
    On the other hand let us also not forget the essential ingredient in British colonialism in Zambia: indirect rule through the chiefs(called collusion or collaboration); this also mirrors our current situation with the Chinese who make deals with our ruling elite in order to get certain commercial benefits. The idea of indirect rule was to preserve the old order and 'protect' 'traditional Zambian culture' from 'the evils of the modern world'(we can go into all sorts of arguments on the subject of the rationale for indirect rule and its effects). The parallels are striking when one also considers the level of Chinese immigration-it is a trickle, much like white settlement in Northern Rhodesia was.

    However, the 20th century since 1923 is a different story when Zambia actually became a part of the empire (yes, Zambia has been independent for longer than it was a colony: 41 years vs. 46(colony in the sense that Britain had an active part to play in running Zambia)). But much of what pertained under the BSA continued to apply after 1923. Just take a walk down to the national archives, near the UTH.
    Before dismissing the article perhaps separating Zambian from Zimbabwean history is necessary; once done we will see a lot of similarities between today and the last two centuries.

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  2. I view China as giving an opportunity to Africa to grow economically. The first economic growth opportunity after Independence for many African countries was squandered due to mismanagement. Then came a long period of low commodity prices which discouraged growth. Now high prices due to high economic demand from China are again encouraging growth, hopefully with good policies the growth will be long term in Africa.

    Other countries such as India are also investing in Africa, so what China is doing is not colonization. Instead it should be viewed as economic transactions - producing and selling commodities in return for cash, with the cash having economic benefits to varying extents in Africa. The amount of benefits are based on economic and technical system factors and should be understood as to how they operate.

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  3. Richard,

    The parallels are striking when one also considers the level of Chinese immigration-it is a trickle, much like white settlement in Northern Rhodesia was.

    One reason the British did not have a lot of people flooding into Northern Rhodesia, was that they couldn't even get enough 'settlers' to go to Southern Rhodesia. Remember that most of those before WWII actually came from South Africa, not directly from Britain.

    This is a big difference with the Chinese. China has a bigger population than the United States and the European Union combined. They could easily overwhelm the Zambian population 12 million with 100 million Chinese, and go from a Chinese population of 1.3 billion to 1.2 billion.

    That is the real danger with the expansion of Chinese power. If there ever was as catastrophic climatic event, like the drying up of the Chinese rivers because of the melting of gletscher in the Himalayas because of global warming, and they would want Zambia's fresh water resources, the Zambian army would not stand a chance against the army of the People's Republic.

    The whole internationalisation of the Zambian economy is a disaster. We need localisation of both production and consumption. That is the only way to accumulate wealth locally and keep it there.

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  4. MrK,

    ”Britain did not set out to colonise Zambia in the 19th Century; that was the British South Africa Company, a private company.”

    The point surely is that British colonisation was intentional. If you recall clearly, the BSA expansion was under full British protection and support. At that time Britain was facing the German challenge. To the north, Leopold and his friends were also doing more work.

    A careful study will also reveal just how politicised the BSA was – and the role of London. I recommend “Diamonds, Gold and War” by Martin Meredith and "Rhodes: Race for Africa" by Antony Thomas.

    A key point of course is that the incentives facing Britain were different from China now. China is driven by the need to maintain growth. Britain was a world driven by expansion as the Foreign Minister Viscount Castlereagh himself said “I brought the new world into existence to redress the balance of the old”. It was an imperial and expansionist power. Driven by the thirst for domination. That is not China’s motive.

    ”And Zambia was never intended to be a settler colony, it was meant to have limited white settlement in certain zones”.

    You are referring to the nature of colonisation not whether Zambia was colonised or not. As MrK rightly pointed out, the nature of the colonisation process was driven not by some moral consideration but by the geographical consideration and military capacity. Indirect rule was both necessary and sufficient. Necessary because of the diseases and lack of manpower, sufficient because the chiefs were easily coerced.

    I think when we focus on the incentives that drove the British and how they went about their colonisation, we see that they differ clearly from China. Now I am not saying China may not pursue colonisation in the future, I am merely saying that it is not the strategy NOW.

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  5. Kafue,

    ”I view China as giving an opportunity to Africa to grow economically”

    It is an opportunity. But every opportunity has a trap. The issue is not whether Africa should engage with China, but HOW it should engage.

    ”Now high prices due to high economic demand from China are again encouraging growth, hopefully with good policies the growth will be long term in Africa.”

    Those good policies are largely missing. African governments should be maximising return from high commodity prices and leveraging that into infrastructure and manufacturing.

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  6. Cho,

    Now I am not saying China may not pursue colonisation in the future, I am merely saying that it is not the strategy NOW.

    The thing with the Chinese is that have they never let go of central planning, not only of their economy, but also of their policy.

    They never look at the short term, they look 50 years, 100 years, 200 years ahead.

    And we have Rupiah Banda.

    They came to power in 1948. They waited until the lease ran out to get back Hong Kong in 1997. That is looking 59 years into the future.

    So if at any time there is an environmental crisis in China, and they're looking for a place to settle their population, Africa would be a very easy mark unless we get rid of Western influence, unite, and get serious about defense as well as economic development.

    The single biggest legacy left behind by colonialism is after the foreign ownership of the economy, is division.

    Africa should not be 50 or so countries, with borders drawn up a continent away. There should be regional unity for defense and standaridization, supporting the concept of economic and administrative localisation.

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  7. Point made that the BSA was an extension of Britain in a certain form-but did it rule or influence?
    Whether Britain was happy with her imperial role is more open to debate. Quoting one imperialist's views does not speak for the whole nation at all times, imagine if we judged Zambian politics based solely on RB's remarks.
    Britain was indeed competing with other European powers and that led to it extending nominal control over large areas of Africa.

    As to the chiefs being 'coerced' I think it is evident that there was a mix of carrot and stick and our chiefs tend to like their carrots. The British magnified the power of chiefs and gave them powers they had never had before(very nice carrots, or they could have stick like the Ndebele); which one was a greater influence depends on which people we are talking about. The Barotse asked to be placed under Britain-but as a protectorate with a large degree of autonomy(more than Ireland had).

    The problem with the British empire is that there were continual conflicts within the ruling elite as to how to acquire and run the empire: some wanted to not even build one(Conservatives before Disraeli); some viewed it as a duty and others as a right; others thought they would be better than Leopold(not hard); there was a desire to bring what we now see as the dubious benefits of British civilisation to the rest of the world. To say that the only drive vis a vis Zambia was that of domination would be to misunderstand the internal dynamics of the empire and different British governments.


    The Chinese are not setting out to control Zambia but their internal pressures may mean that the party will have to begin extracting more from other nations and thus to increase their levels of coercion-this will not mean outright colonialism but an economic one and a highly corrupt form.
    The main point I wanted to make was that the Chinese model in Zambia mirrors that of the British while it is not a clone: they offer incentives to the elite to cooperate. This is even more effective now than previously because the new elite have more total control than chiefs of the old mold. It is not rule but it is influence that can be used to get all sorts of results-Bigram explosives should have had much more serious repercussions but didn't; need we ask why?


    And to MrK: Why would China invade Zambia when Southeast Asia has the water they want? Zambia is thousands of miles away and landlocked. Britain faced similar problems with Rhodesia after UDI and if Britain (the great naval empire(great in the sense of awesome power, not good)) could not do it what chance would China stand? Second, our water resources are not boundless: the Kalahari used to extend to the Congolese border and it is growing again. Deforestation is reducing catchment areas and silting up rivers. By the time China's water runs out we may not have much of our own and if we do have some I imagine that our foe will be a lot closer-South Africa.
    And white settlement was never intended for Zambia-all in the government archives in Zambia.
    Then in terms of population: demographics have changed in the last 100 years. When Britain acquired Zambia Europe had a much greater share of the world population and could have spared the people for colonisation. The fact that over 20 million Britons left(after 1850) shows that there was plenty of manpower but it was directed to Canada, Australia and the US. The fact that this happened indicates that rather than a lack of manpower it was a lack of will that dictated colonisation's course in Zambia.
    Wikipedia has a page on world populations, scroll down and you'll find tables with comparative 19th century populations.

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  8. Despite the analogy with China I agree that they are not actually colonising, they are instead trying to gain influence in the same way the USSR and Yugoslavia tried during the cold war. The opportunity they offer is a good one but we need to be cautious and set as many of the terms ourselves. The fact that we have an opaque form of leadership means that we will, sadly, be unable to benefit in the manner we should and the Chinese will be able to use corruption to a much greater extent which harms us yet more. We should try and play the Chinese and the West against each other in the way that KK did during the cold war.

    I just like to play devil's advocate, hence my stance on the British empire.

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  9. Richard,

    The problem with the British empire is that there were continual conflicts within the ruling elite as to how to acquire and run the empire: some wanted to not even build one(Conservatives before Disraeli); some viewed it as a duty and others as a right; others thought they would be better than Leopold(not hard); there was a desire to bring what we now see as the dubious benefits of British civilisation to the rest of the world.

    There was another motivator, that has since been repeated - rivalry with other European powers.

    The British did a lot of things so they could get there before the Germans and the French. Remember that they were regularly at war with eachother, and controlling more colonies meant access to greater natural resources, including for war.

    Before them, there was the big rivalry for converts between protestantism and catholicism.

    After them, there was the big rivalry between the USA and Russia and China for access, something that is still going on.

    The need to 'get there first' was a great motivator.

    On European colonialism in Africa - they ran out of people.

    Let's see:

    Australia: 22.5 million people
    Canada: 34.2 million
    UK: 62 million

    This is the population of British only (until recently) colonies. The United States population grew much faster, because they were also taking populations from Europe, which is they their population today is 310 million. Compare that to Canada - 34.2 million.

    Not only Britain, but Europe ran out of any kind of excess population that would voluntarily go to the colonies very quickly. That's what the literature says, and the numbers back it up.

    I think a major cause was the mass deaths during the late Middle Ages. It is estimated that upto 25% of Europe's population died from the plague.

    And to MrK: Why would China invade Zambia when Southeast Asia has the water they want?

    Why not Southeast Asia? They depend on the Mekong River, which originates on the same Tibetan Plateau. So if those gletschers melt completely, there is no Southeast Asia to go to, the same for India.
    Plus, population wise:

    Vietnam: 85 million
    Zambia: 12 million

    And by the way, China has a long history of war with Vietnam.

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  10. Indeed China has penetrated Africa and has brought/is bringing a lot of what can be percieved as development. China has indeed driven the prices of the commodities to record levels as have never been seen before. The question that lingers is, how to tread this path of partnering with China so that we too benefit.

    Am not sure of China colonising Zambia, but one thing is clear, that China is here to get as much resorces as they can to support their expansion programmes. This therefore means that the only way that Zambia can benefit is if we come up with policies that will ensure that we bebefit from our resources. Even though i agree with Kafue001 that we should view this as an economic transactions, are we getting a fair deal from this transaction?

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  11. The European population rebounded remarkably fast after the Black Death in the 1350's (a long time ago). The European population also exploded during the 19th century because of improved medicine(not necessarily health) and diets(somewhat like Africa in the last 100 years). Mass British emigration continued until after WW2 (Australia taking many people).
    Canadian growth has really exploded since WW2-mostly non British while beforehand it was mostly British-once more there were large numbers of Brits available. Europe had 'excess' population but ended up using it to kill each other. Following WW1 the British economy was depressed until after WW2-another push factor that sent immigrants to the more prosperous colonies. Northern Rhodesia was always attractive: mines provided jobs, weather is beautiful.

    The competition with other powers is a given, I was stressing other important factors. The acquisition of empire was due to many factors which arose at different times and for all sorts of reasons. It was complex, just as its dismantling was. Initially Germany was a non-factor (until the 1870's). French competition existed but when one considers the Fashoda incident we see how minimal the challenge was: the French and Russians combined couldn't match British naval power and they were the two next biggest naval powers. It was a common joke in the FCO that France had been 'given' 'light land' (desert).
    India was always the heart of the empire and Britain derived remarkably few resources from Africa (palm oil, gold, diamonds)-the Americas and and Asia were the most important sources of materials for industry and consumption. Some colonies were added to protect India or make it easier to get to: Egypt, the Cape, Burma.
    Maybe I should write another paper on the topic of empire, it interests me and I have a large library at university. Then we could debate it extensively if history has a place on this site.

    As for China and Southeast Asia: its close to home, has a lot of rain and China has a very weak navy but a very big and experienced army which means it would prefer to wage a land war; getting to Africa will require a navy and the US and UK would make it very difficult for China to do so, plus India would have an interest in making the Indian Ocean Indian. The US fleet off Taiwan is probably more powerful than the entire Chinese navy, and that is just a fleet. China will find other solutions to its water problems-perhaps Russia will sell it to them or they will ration it. Then there is the point I made before: we may not have our cherished water for that long because we are mismanaging it. If we are to fear invasion lets look at some of our neighbours-if Congo ever sorted itself out (not likely) we and the entire region would be in trouble. South Africa is also bigger than the rest of SADC combined and Angola doesn't like us(small matter of supporting UNITA).

    I feel China will simply use our internal problems (centralisation and corruption) to gain the advantages it needs, there will be no overt attempt to control Zambia, merely the flow of its resources. The main obstacle to our benefiting from our resources thus becomes our society, values and politics. The fact that China will be able to extract concessions from us will rankle like colonialism and will be a refinement of British forms. In the sense that internal developments will be subject to external control (as opposed to influence which exists in every state) we will be colonised.

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  12. Richard,

    Yes. We do discuss history here. You will see it is one of our "themes" on the tag cloud.

    Precious pieces are here:
    http://www.zambian-economist.com/search/label/history

    So do pen your thoughts and we'll make these available for centred discussion.

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  13. In the discussion above, the description used to describe the entities involved in acquiring resources from Africa are countries. In actuality it is individual companies that form the basis of these economic transactions, with their originating countries providing a varying supporting role, although of course some of the companies may be state owned.

    So I would not say that there is a conspiracy to acquire Africa's resources by certain countries outside the continent, instead Africa is just one area in the world among others (such as Australia, Russia and South America), that companies acquire resources from.

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