Monday, May 29

Chinese Investment in Nigeria: Dining with the Tigers

At The Maroonsquare Discourse on National Development held on the 28th and 29th of March, 2019 held at the Science Auditorium, Federal College of Education (Tech), Akoka, Yaba, Lagos sponsored by the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation. Osaze Nosaze discusses the complexity of Chinese investment in Nigeria. Below is an excerpt of the paper delivered.

China represents its relationship with Africa as benevolent and rejects charges that it is neo-imperialist or, at least, proto-imperialist. Rather, it contrasts that relationship with the imperialist one of the West with the continent. Thus, for instance, Liu Guijin — former Chinese ambassador to South Africa — cited the visit by Zhen He, a 15th-century Chinese admiral and mariner, to the continent 600 years ago in evidence of the non-colonial character of China’s contact with Africa since Ming Dynasty times. Liu noted that during or following this voyage “China did not occupy an inch of any newly discovered land or set up any military fortresses,” in contrast to the outcome of Christopher Columbus’ visits to South America between 1492 and 1502. In his words, China’s primary purpose in the Sino-Africa relationship is to help African countries “improve their own development ability. 

Yet Africa’s historical experience advises the exercise of some healthy scepticism of China’s altruism. After all she is the unnamed but undeniable alpha among the Asian Tigers and, as Chinweizu has observed, “Clearly, it is suicidal for lambs to see, think and act out of assumptions about the world that reflect and further the interests of the lions and jackals preying upon them.” That scepticism need not imply a knee-jerk rejection of any possibility of China’s sincerity in her declared intentions. Rather, it calls for a calm and clear-headed debate on the Sino-Africa relationship — in all its implications and ramifications. Those politically committed to the self-liberation of Africa’s working people from the barbaric existence thrust upon us by the global capital system must take their watchword from Aimé Césaire. Concerning colonialism, he said: 

“In dealing with this subject, the commonest curse is to be the dupe in good faith of a collective hypocrisy that cleverly misrepresents problems, the better to legitimise the hateful solutions provided for them. In other words, the essential thing here is to see clearly, to think clearly — that is, dangerously…” 

Therefore, this contribution on the China question is not a detached analysis. It is rather an exploratory attempt to think clearly about contemporary Sino-Nigeria relations from the perspective of their implications for the self-emancipation of Nigeria’s working classes. If such mental lucidity is at all dangerous it could only be so to those who wish to hide or misrepresent the truth about that relationship. 

We have been disturbed since the late 1990s by China’s activities in Africa but had never bent our attention to the matter. We were delighted therefore to be invited to present a paper on the subject, “Chinese Investment in Nigeria: An Imperial Project?” It was an opportunity at last to look into this troubling China question. We took the liberty in doing so of conceptualising the primary question in a manner that it seemed would be more fruitful in enabling us reach the heart of the issue. For the phrasing of the subject as given immediately conjures up the term “imperialism,” and if — as Hartwich contends — the term “neo-liberalism” is today a swearword that has usurped the place or blunted the acuity of critical analysis “imperialism” preceded it in that office by decades. Rather than engage in a barren “labelism” that could only produce cliched reasoning, we thought to grapple with the substantive questions involved in the China problem. In the final analysis, those questions reduce into one: whether Chinese investments in Nigeria are bringing the country into relations of structural dependency on China that enable the latter to dominate and exploit her. 

This question is of the utmost relevance today. This is so in light of Africa’s historical experience of enslavement, occupation, and colonisation. It is even more so given that the structural relations into which Nigeria was brought in that period with the central countries of the global capital system continue even today to reproduce the underdevelopment, poverty, and barbarisation of our existence that we have suffered since then. The question is valid therefore whether the relationship developing between Nigeria and China is a new phase in the tighter integration of the former into a self-perpetuating system of exploitation and domination. Is what we see taking shape not a new version of the imperialist robbery in the 18 th and 19th centuries of the peoples occupying the area that is modern Nigeria, in which exchanges the rulers of these peoples sold off the young and strong for such fripperies as mirrors and glass beads? The balance of evidence in our preliminary investigation indicates that Chinese investments in Nigeria are part of a broad strategy that is bringing the latter into relations of dependency on former, the effects of which relations include:

1) Facilitating global accumulation by Chinese capital through the direct and indirect exploitation of Nigeria’s labour force, the extraction of her natural resources, and the sale of China’s surplus commodities in her market. 

2) Reproducing Nigeria’s neo-colonial role and place in the current configuration of the global capital system as well as in the new one that China and its allies are seeking to create, and

3) Hampering, and limiting the compass of, Nigeria’s capacity for effective independent agency in pursuit of her self-liberation from that role and place and from the underdevelopment and adverse structural consequences deriving from them. 

These theses raise involved questions that demand careful and close investigation. This paper is only a preliminary exploration of the primary question posed: it therefore cannot and does not attempt to answer the questions raised in any significant detail. We aim here only to identify the principal questions and to sketch out some ideas and lines of inquiry that could serve as inputs in the involved investigations they call for. 

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Osaze Nosaze is the Editorial Director of XtriMedia Limited, a content-production and publishing services company. He was previously the Executive Director of the Civil Liberties Organisation. Copyright © Osaze Nosaze, TheMaroonsquare, 2019

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