Billions from Beijing Africans Divided over Chinese Presence
Part 2: 'History Is Repeating Itself'
Tanzania is one of the focal points of the Chinese globalization strategy in Africa. In 2011, a large Chinese company invested $3 billion in coal and iron ore mines in the country. The enormous natural gas reserves off the Tanzanian coast -- an estimated 40 trillion cubic feet -- are of strategic interest. The China National Petroleum Company is currently installing a 532-kilometer (333-mile) pipeline from Mtwara, a port city in southeastern Tanzania, to Dar es Salaam.
When the pipeline is finished, supertankers docking at the new Bagamayo port will load liquefied natural gas, cooled to temperatures of minus 164 degrees Celsius (minus 263 degrees Fahrenheit), and transport it to the Far East. Mineral ores and agricultural products from Tanzania, Zambia and Congo will also be shipped from the port. The Chinese are also reportedly planning to build a naval base to protect their economic interests along the Indian Ocean.
"History is repeating itself," says Shaba, the journalist and cultural activist. "In the past, ivory and slaves were exported through Bagamayo. Today, it's natural resources."
Slaves once dubbed this town Bagamayo, which means "throw your heart away." Anyone who had not managed to escape the slave traders en route to the coast was lost by the time they reached Bagamayo.
China's economic offensive in Africa began before the turn of the millennium. At first, it was very gradual and inconspicuous. But, since 2000, trade volumes between China and Africa have grown twentyfold, reaching $200 billion in 2012. China has surged ahead of the old major powers - France, the United Kingdom and the United States -- to become Africa's most important trading partner.
A Chinese 'Irruption'
For years, China has engaged in an intensive campaign of visiting the continent. Presidents, heads of the government and ministers have traveled to almost all sub-Saharan countries that support China's policies and do not recognize Taiwan. They have forgiven debt, granted billions in loans, sealed defense deals and handed out generous aid packages. Most of all, however, they have secured access to Africa's natural resources.
China's "irruption onto the African scene has been the most dramatic and important factor in the external relations of the continent -- perhaps in the development of Africa as a whole -- since the end of the Cold War," wrote Christopher Clapham of Cambridge, England-based Center of African Studies.
There are now more than 2,000 Chinese companies and well over a million Chinese citizens in sub-Saharan Africa. They can be encountered in the major cities, in mining centers and oil fields, on plantations and even in the most remote jungle villages. They include managers and military advisers, doctors and agronomists, engineers and importers, itinerant traders, small business owners and contract workers employed on countless construction sites.
The Chinese are building conspicuous signs of their presence everywhere: presidential palaces, ministries, military barracks, conference centers, museums, stadiums, broadcasting companies, hotel complexes and large-scale agricultural operations. They are renovating railroad lines, paving thousands of kilometers of roads and building airports, dams, power plants and hospitals. Indeed, the Chinese are modernizing a large segment of the continent's infrastructure.
The Washington-based Center for Global Development estimates that, between 2000 and 2011, China provided about 75 billion in aid to Africa for a total of 1,673 projects, or roughly as much as the United States did in the same period. However, it is sometimes hard to tell where profitable investment ends and altruistic initiatives begin.
The competition from the West is often left empty-handed. Chinese state-owned companies operate with less bureaucracy, are faster and cheaper and, as a rule, provide financing for projects with low-interest loans from state-owned banks.
In return for developing the infrastructure, the Chinese receive lucrative licenses to exploit natural resources and fossil fuels. For instance, Angola, a war-torn and marginalized country until not too long ago, has become one of China's key oil suppliers, competing with Saudi Arabia for the top position.
An Unequal 'Marriage'
Other newly industrialized countries -- such as Brazil, India and Turkey -- have also discovered or rediscovered Africa. But no country is making its presence felt as strongly, from Khartoum to Cape Town, as China. Lamido Sanusi, the governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, already sees a "whiff of colonialism" in China's activities.
Senegalese intellectual Adama Gaye is even more concerned, warning of a second wave of conquest. In his polemic "China-Africa: The Dragon and the Ostrich," China, the voracious dragon, and Africa, the naïve ostrich, face off as an extremely unevenly matched duo. "They take what they can get," says Gaye, referring to the Chinese. He even accuses them of creating "an apartheid-like culture" through social segregation.
Azaveli Lwaitama, 61, takes a more relaxed view. "The Chinese keep to themselves and are just doing their thing," he says. A lecturer in philosophy, Lwaitama speaks on behalf of the Vision East Africa Forum, a think thank dedicated to the future of East Africa. "We are being globalized at the moment and are experiencing an accelerated battle for a share of our resources." In his view, this is merely capitalism with a different, "Chinese face."
It's hard to understand what Lwaitama is saying due to the deafening noise coming from a nearby Chinese construction site, where pile drivers are pounding steel posts into the ground. Dar es Salaam is one big construction site, with skyscrapers, office complexes and bank towers sprouting up from the ground. The streets are constantly congested, and half of the pedestrians are walking around with mobile phones in their hands.
"We have arrived in the modern world. It all looks promising, but we shouldn't be fooled," says Lwaitama. Despite an economic growth rate of about 7 percent in 2012, the majority of the 45 million Tanzanians haven't benefited much from the upturn. On the contrary, Lwaitama says, the gap between rich and poor has only grown wider.
"The African leaders have married China, the most attractive bride on the world market, and now the West is complaining about its unwanted rival," says Lwaitama. But, he adds, the Chinese are just as motivated by profit as the Americans and the Europeans. "However, they have a key advantage: They are tougher than the whites. They come from poverty and can survive under the most difficult conditions."