China’s ties with Africa have been on the rise in recent years, andhistorians are now trying to confirm just how far back trade between the two really goes.
According to the Kenyan Standard, archaeologists in the coastal town of Malindi have found evidence of trade links dating back to the 16th century. The newspaper says digging continues for artefacts that could confirm a Chinese presence as far as back as the 9th century.
China’s increasing engagement with Africa has largely been welcomed by the continent’s leaders, including South Africa’s president Jacob Zuma, who has been in Beijing this week.
Previously Zuma has hit out at those who class China’s Africa policy as a poorly concealed grab for natural resources. “If they [the former colonial powers] did not develop Africa, but China comes to Africa and is ready to build roads, bridges, everything, what must the African countries do?” he asks.
The investment and aid comes without much political conditionality. As Stefan Halper puts it in his book The Beijing Consensus, China claims a neutral stance in terms of the sovereign affairs of other countries. This contrasts with that of the West, which blacklists African regimes accused of bad governance.
But even by the looser ethical standards of this ‘neutral’ approach, another African visit to Beijing last week marks something of a new low in the eyes of China’s critics.
After all, the man in town – Robert Mugabe – doesn’t seem to have an issue comparing himself to Hitler. Britain’s Daily Telegraph reports that the Zimbabwean president once announced: “I am still the Hitler of the time. This Hitler has only one objective, justice for his own people, sovereignty for his people, recognition of the independence of his people, and their right to their resources. If that is Hitler, then let me be a Hitler tenfold. Ten times, that is what we stand for.”
And Mugabe has been accused of acting the part too, with repression, election-rigging and racism (in Zimbabwe’s case, primarily against the country’s white minority).
His behaviour has prompted sanctions from the US and EU, and Robert Guest, the author of The Shackled Continent says it has also destroyed the country’s economy. “He has ruled Zimbabwe for nearly three decades and has led it, in that time, from impressive success to the most dramatic peacetime collapse of any country since Weimar Germany,” Guest comments.
Yet in Beijing Mugabe got an audience with China’s current leader Hu Jintao, and also the man reckoned to be his successor, Xi Jinping. He visited the Shanghai Expo for its Zimbabwe Day, and made time for a weekend of shopping in Hong Kong. His wife caused a stir there last year by punching a photographer.
But the big news to come out of his visit was broken by a Welshman. Not a real one, it must be said: it came courtesy of Welshman Ncube, the head of the country’s Industry and Commerce department. Ncube told First Finance Daily that discussions were underway to make China’s currency legal tender in Zimbabwe. “I hope that in the future, people in Zimbabwe will be able to use Chinese bank cards and the yuan to make purchases, even take out renminbi loans,” he said.
Ncube said that no final decision had been made on the currency move, and another round of talks would be necessary. But Zimbabwe’s currency has been battered by hyperinflation, meaning that the US dollar and the South African rand are preferred payment.
Should it occur it will mark a further step in the internationalisation of China’s currency and from Zimbabwe’s perspective make it easier for Chinese companies to make investments.
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