Thursday, November 14, 2013

Don't Count on Chinese Friends

There is this growing tendency for many countries in Africa to now rush to China in search of economic and technological assistance, with the Chinese being only to willing to embrace these friends with benefits. In some of these African countries Western Aid is seen as an albatross around their necks, with the West being viewed as being too questioning, too critical and too judgmental. Worst of all the West's insistence on proper democratic governance is anathema to the many dictatorial despots around the continent.

 Mugabe, Bongo, Bashir, Jammeh and many others under Western pressure see China as an escape valve. With now the second largest economy in the world, a population way in excess of 1 billion, industries hungry for the oil and raw materials from Africa, the Chinese are only very happy to extend a welcoming arm.
Chinese Leader Xi Jinping

African dictators and emerging tyrants see China as the friendly economic power who comes to your assistance but does not care whether you are a dictator, a tyrant, or just a plain old murderous despot. Countries like Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, Zimbabwe and other tyrannies around Africa that either have no democratic institutions or pretend to be democracies see China as the trusted partner, who can rush in to build national stadiums, relatively cheap skyscrapers and large scale agricultural projects that have no regard  for environmental impact or the impact on small a ale farmers. The Chinese are only too willing to close their eyes while you butcher your own people.

There is a worrying positive correlation between the closeness of African countries to China and the weakness of their democratic credentials. Leaders like Zimbabwe's Mugabe, Gabon's Bongo and now Gambia's Jammeh have either strong or developing relationships with China, but weak relationships with America and Western Europe.
Gambian President Jammeh

It was announced today that The President of the Gambia Yayah Jammeh who had long recognized the Island nation of Taiwan, has renewed diplomatic ties with China and given up Taiwan. Just about a month ago, with the UK being critical of the growing dictatorial tendency of Gambian leader, he withdrew his tiny country out of the Commonwealth of Nations, calling the body a relic a colonialism. The fact that many young Gambians benefit from Commonwealth educational assistance or that the commonwealth promotes cooperation among countries with an identical historical past, or even the fact that some countries that were never British colonies are trying to get into the Commonwealth was of relative little significance to Jammeh. So with the commonwealth out of the way, the Chinese have stepped in and the Taiwanese will have to find other partners, as China does not recognize the sovereignty of Taiwan. Jammeh now has the most repressive regime in West Africa.

China's policy of noninterference in other countries' domestic affairs bothers on the extreme. Its approach to African leaders is to be completely nonjudgmental and uncaring. If you want to kill your citizens, go ahead, China will be willing to sell you cheap guns to help you do so. If you want to engage in endless civil wars, China is only too willing to sell cheap landmines, weapons and ammunition to all sides. At the end of the day, China itself is a one party authoritarian regime which suppresses internal dissent and keeps minorities such as the Tibetans under suppression. So who are they to question anybody else's democratic credentials?
China Ambassador Victor Foh

One worrying trend in Sierra Leone is the growing relationship between the current Ernest Koroma led government and the Chinese, as exemplified by the fact that no less a person than the former ruling party Secretary General is now the country's ambassador to China. Sierra Leone delegations, from the President, ministers or political operatives now make Frequent trips to China, as we are daily informed by the country's hardworking press attache to the communist country John Baimba Sesay, a man who thinks China is second only to Heaven. In the past few months, the President spent a week or two in China and just in the past week, Foreign Minister Samura Kamara spent about a week or so in China and he left with glowing praises for the communist autocracy.

As the relationship between China and Sierra Leone has grown, so has been the growth growth of signs and symptoms of tyranny in Sierra Leone. This negative democratic trend is seen as a surprise to many, as President Ernest Bai Koroma in his first term had attempted to project the image of a true democrat. However, as the President and his government's relationship with China continues to strengthen, many of the negatives aspects of the  Chinese autocracy has started to surface in Sierra Leone. It is as if President Koroma is now taking daily lessons from China. China's high level of official corruption, repression of freedom of speech, tight control of the media and use of the police to stifle opposition or dissent are all starting to be commonplace in today's Sierra Leone.
Tiananmen Square Massacre

The Sierra Leone police that was proudly reformed by Ex-President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah is now slowly being transformed into an organ of state terror, with the law and order forces now increasingly turning their guns on defenseless citizens, all in a bid to muzzle public dissent, with national security being the new Koroma excuse. Some time ago in the towns of Bumbuna and Koidu, unarmed peaceful demonstrators protesting against working conditions were gunned down like animals with no concern by the government. A few days ago members of Sierra Leone's increasingly trigger happy police opened live bullet rounds on a group of protesting secondary school students right inside the capital Freetown. Unfortunately the President's sycophantic press were already calling the demonstrators alleged students.

A few weeks ago some journalist in the country wrote a critical article in which the President was likened to a rat. For expressing such an opinion tthe editors of the paper were locked up in Sierra Leone's notorious Pademba Road Prisons and refused bail. It took an outcry from some important stakeholders in the country and the international economy for the government to allow them bail, even then setting bail terms so stiff that you would think the offense committed was treason. Even before these journalist were arrested and mistreated, the President's Special Assistant Sylvia Blyden openly bragged that the government will soon start "sanitizing" journalists in the country and her attacks on the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists have been taunting, demeaning and relentless with the President making no move to stop her harassment of journalist and thus indirectly endorsing her actions and her statements.
Billion Mouths to Feed
The fight against corruption is now almost lost in Sierra Leone. The Anti Corruption Commission set up after the war is now notorious only for the number of cases they lose. Some time ago, the Anti Corruption Commission lost a case against one of the rising political stars in the country, one Momoh Konteh who was filmed together with another government affiliate Alex Mansaray openly soliciting bribes in an Al Jazeera investigative sting. Both of these fellows were caught on tape asking for bribes and both escaped untouched. The same notorious Sylvia Blyden a tabloid journalist then, went after the reputation of the Al Jazeera investigators and is now the Special Executive Assistant to the country's President.

The Sierra Leone diplomatic mission in China tries to paint this new relationship as the best thing that has happened to Sierra Leone since independence and the gullible and uninformed public are swallowing this juvenile propaganda hook, line and sinker. However, many Sierra Leoneans who know the Chinese government's actions and their history are very skeptical of this new found love, as the Chinese are nobody's friends. China only cares for the interest of the Chinese, period.

To take a closer look at this new diplomatic charm between Sierra Leone and the communist autocracy, the country has had diplomatic relationship with the Chinese as far back as I can remember. It was the Chinese that were given the contracts to build the government Youyi building and the National stadium back when we were primary school kids. But where were the Chinese when we had the ten year civil war in Sierra Leone? They say a friend in need is a friend indeed. Which relief team did the Chinese ever send to Sierra Leone? China's was main interest during the war was in selling poor quality weapons to our armed forces. When the time came for intervention to stop the war, the Chinese were not around, they were nowhere to be found, the perfect fair weather friends.

China's diplomatic selfishness is not limited to Africa. A typical example of the real nature of the Chinese is being seen today in the typhoon Haiyan tragedy that is unfolding in the Philippines. While other countries are rushing to pour money, manpower and other essential aid services into the Philippines, the Chinese assistance is so paltry that even other countries have cried out against such a blatant display of selfishness and inhumanity.
Haiyan Tragedy
Don't wait for China

While the American government has committed over 1000 troops and over $20 million to aid relief work in the Philippines excluding the millions being collected by private individuals and organizations, Japan pledging up to $10 million, with even problem plagued Indonesia committing $2 million, the Chinese government with the second largest economy in the world,has only pledged a miserly $1.6 million according to the BBC. The BBC reports that just like their government the Chinese people do not care about the tragedy either. One Chinese citizen reportedly stated that what matters is not the amount of money that their government gives but the intention. What is the benefit of intention in the face of a tragedy as immense as Typhoon Haiyan which has claimed thousands of lives and destroyed whole towns in the Asian country.
Haiyan Destruction

Even with the tragedy in Syria, China with their veto power in the security council  has become a major obstacle to finding a quick solution to the growing human crisis in the country, with their refusal to condemn or even caution the Assad regime even in the face of heinous human rights abuses, just because Assad is a great customer for their weapons and to Beijing that is the only hing that is important.

So as the leaders in Sierra Leone continue to snuggle up to these fair weather friends, the Chinese, the citizens will have to look beyond the propaganda and ask the hard questions. What do the Chinese really want? The Chinese care little for human rights, environmental concerns and democratic progress, afterwards the government has over a billion people to provide for and if they can rape countries whose leaders are either too naive, too greedy or to corrupt to question their true motives, that will only make Beijing happy.

Though our men in China are being feted and made to report in glowing term about China, the civil society must remain vigilant to the danger that the Chinese pose to growing democracies around Africa.

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