FEATURE ARTICLE

Friday, August 7, 2020
Patrick_Alabi@yahoo.com

AFRICA AND CHINA DILEMMA - TROUBLES IN PARADISE
s Africans, we are in constant motions that we never or cannot control. Everything about this love between China and Africa is one-sided. Beijing neither hides nor disguises it. They come for the treasures in our African Treasure island. They lend money to us and they then use our debts against us to tie us to them.

There is no free lunch anywhere. China puts a lot of iron in the fire at the same time. They set many traps out and cast their net wide there for both suspecting and unsuspecting countries and patiently wait for those preys that will get trapped.

Sadly enough, we have been down this road too often, here we are again fighting a "giant demon" that is in the visible light and right on our faces. Yet, the more we look the less we see. How come we cannot discern now what this "giant" is up to? China neither covered it up nor pretended. Are we going to allow them to use our debts against us to tie us to them in perpetuity?

We seem to want to be running away from our shadow, yet we cannot get away from it. We already know we have a very bad habit; It is like we are addicted to debts and everything is falling apart but we cannot break or stay away.

When are we going to get ourselves together and have a new attitude to coveting material things that we cannot afford?

When are we going to tell them that they cross the line this time? Unfortunately, no one has been bold enough to bell the cat.

Are you still confused? If you are still very confused where I am going with this, please permit me to motion you to a sofa, and please follow me as I dive in and drill deeper. We will discuss our manufacturing industry, Mining, agriculture sector, and land purchases here plus many more. The main focus of course will be as they are related to China dominance in Africa/Nigeria. Nigeria is in Africa and Ekiti State is in Nigeria. We may have one or two things to learn here. Please follow me and let us go!

Many people have spoken, written and dwelt mainly on the agricultural sector of the economy where foreigners like the Chinese have dominated and seemingly crowded out the locals. Whilst this is the pure truth, it will interest you all, and painfully so, that this is not the only sector these foreigners dominate, pushing the locals to the back seat.

Do you know that even in the real sector and the construction industry, these people hold sway. Check out the construction industry in Nigeria for example and you will see how the Chinese construction companies are making significant inroads into our construction business. Lagos State, Nigeria, this year announced that some companies have been shortlisted to be reviewed for the construction of the 4th Mainland bridge, and guess what, about 50% of these companies are Chinese owned. CCECC, the Chinese construction giant has displaced Julius Berger and other giants we used to know back then. As you all may know, these Chinese people are so cunning and, in most cases, dubious. They are rarely straightforward if the things we see or hear about them are anything to go by.

Check what the Chinese government is doing in Zimbabwe presently where due to the inability of the Zimbabwean government to repay over due debts, the Chinese government is taking over their lands. Mind you, the lands are heavily loaded with minerals such as gold, diamond etc. Recall that Zimbabwe depends largely on revenues from minerals to fund their national budget. By taking over their land due to their inability to extinguish their indebtedness, what do you think the government of China is doing to Zimbabwe? Impoverishing them, simple! And mind you, the policy of the Chinese government for the past decade or more is to come to Africa, the emerging markets, and 'dump' on African governments loans and grants.

They start by giving grants, so these African leaders will be glad the Chinese government is boosting their balance of payments and then they cunningly throw the ideas of lending these African countries monies through the China Exim Bank or other multilateral organizations the Chinese government are heavily involved in, just to strangulate these African countries financially. Unfortunately, our leaders by their corrupt nature are either not seeing these things or pretending as if all's well and that there's no cause for alarm. But there is indeed fire on the mountain!

Oh boy! If you know the quantum of loans the Nigerian governments - at national and sub-national levels have taken from China, you will cry for this country! Ditto some other African Countries. That may be the reasons why our governments at various levels have turned to toothless Bulldogs that cannot even bark much less of biting when it comes to addressing the problems Nigerians and other Africans are facing in China and in the hands of Chinese. These Chinese are treating us like pigs or worst still, plagues, yet they come to Africa and take all the juicy contracts/ resources and our people worship them like gods. So, sad. Our leaders should stop behaving like traitors and selling our people cheap. If we do not respect ourselves no one will. If we are ready to sell ourselves cheap no one will raise our stock value for us. Please note that this is not an anti-Chinese campaign. It is about speaking the truth to the "evil" and finding solutions to it. They have no respect for us at their domain and even in our home. They even refused to allow our people to sit down and eat in their restaurant in Lagos, Nigeria. Was this not a height of disrespect and humiliation?

Sorry for the little digression. Sometimes one cannot help it.

Chinese policy seems to be geared towards pushing out America and Europe out of Africa, thereby consolidating their hold of Africa. And why won't they do so? It only makes good business sense and logical. It is only mainly in Africa, because our economies are still evolving and emerging, that we can attain a GDP growth of 6, 7%. You may get that in only a few countries in Europe, Asia or America. In the majority, the most they will do is say 3% or less because their economies are already saturated. In many African Countries with a low GDP, it is owing to poor management of resources and the blindness or visionless of their corrupt leaders. Therefore, China knows this and she is aggressively pursuing her African dream with all of her might because their number one goal is actually to overtake USA as the number one economy in the world. China never hides this!

China, therefore, believe if she can consolidate in Africa with a population of roughly about 1.35 billion people and quite a number of untapped resources and unexplored markets, she will be growing her GDP massively the more. That's the reason you see the Chinese government funding power generation in Nigeria. Do you remember their current involvement with Mambila hydroelectric construction in Nigeria? Billions of dollars are being invested yearly by the Chinese government in many sectors of our economy. You can see, Nigeria has been busy borrowing, oh boy!

Why are we still falling for Chinese debt traps and "cheque-book" diplomacy?

Can we not hear or read the news despite the ubiquity of literatures out there on this topic? Why are we falling victim again and again?

Some people blamed our past woes on ignorance, greed, illiteracy, previous Slavery, and also the colonization of Africa by our Colonial masters. So, this time around, what are we going to tell our future generations as to why we are colonized for the second time? Ponder over this for a moment? Once bitten twice shy, they say. Are we going to be beaten for the second time? What are we going to blame it on? I really don't know this time.

I have a research background; therefore, I believe in data and trends.

In 2017, with more than $1 billion in debt to China, Sri Lanka surrendered the money-loser Magampura Mahinda Rajapaksa Port to companies owned by the Chinese government. Sri Lanka ended up leasing their Seaport to a Chinese Company for 99 years because of the heavy indebtedness to China. Djibouti, Africa is closer to being the next victim to cede control of their major Seaport to a Beijing-linked company if they have not already done so.

China dangles carrot in your face by lending countries money to finance infrastructure they know they cannot afford and maintain. They make the loan interest rate to be very attractive. China sets those countries up for failure and she has eyes far ahead for their land, natural treasures and other 'goodies.'

In simplicity, China, through her predatory strategy, lends money to other countries to build infrastructure that only Chinese companies will be allowed to build. Upon lending the money, those pieces of Infrastructure would only be built by Chinese firms using mainly Chinese Personnel/experts. They also ensure that the unfriendly contractual 'liquidated damage' clause is in place to be used to their exclusive advantage at any given opportunity if anything goes south. By the way, all the pieces of equipment and materials needed for the project are bought and brought in from China. In Summary, China provides the L.E.M. (i.e., Labour, Equipment, and Materials). What am I saying here? - Much of the loan given by China still finds its way back to China directly or indirectly as capital inflows (Note: I am not speaking of the loan principal and interest here). The money realized upon the completion of the project is repatriated to China to lubricate the Chinese economy. The debtors (the other countries) now have new infrastructure, and a huge more debt. As you already know, a creditor often requires a collateral from his debtor to secure a loan. Such is always the case with China loans. By way of making collateral calls when the borrower defaulted, the debt, in turn, can result in China receiving something more useful from nations with natural resources she covets. As part of their contracts, China often negotiates leverage to gain access to those resources, including land and mineral resources or even the infrastructure itself should there be a default. Many of the so-called infrastructure are mostly white elephant ones that are likely to fail and where the default rates are high.

Zero-sum is the name of the game. Who wins in this scenario that I painted above? Who is the winner takes all in this? Your guess is equally as good as mine!

The above is a pattern that has been sighted in many countries that have long indulged in Chinese investments, including Zambia, Venezuela, Sri Lanka, Cameroon, to mention but a few.

I like examples. To drive home my point here, who is benefiting mostly from the contract awarded to a Chinese company to build railway lines in Nigeria today? We borrowed from China for the project, right? All the equipment and tools needed as are many of the materials required are bought and shipped from China to Nigeria. Furthermore, most of the technical know how/personnel/experts or labours are all Chinese. What are we gaining as Nigerians? The loan or the money lent to us went back to China where it came from to begin with. Upon all of these, we still have to pay back the loan principal with interest. Therefore, what has our locals gained from the project aside from the physical structure? Nothing major! Meanwhile, the work on the rail project in Nigeria between Lagos and Ibadan had to be suspended earlier this year as an aftermath of the Confid-19 pandemic. Do you know why? Please move closer. It was because those Chinese labours and professionals working on the project went back home for the Chinese New Year celebration but they could not return to Nigeria on time because of the world-wide flight restrictions in place because of Covid-19. We are now stranded in Nigeria as a country and could not complete the said project on time just because we are at the mercy of the Chinese. So shameful, in a country with many local engineers though many of them are also corrupt to their teeth because they are mostly the architects and facilitators of those corrupt and sharp practices, and they also form part of the team that review and sign most of the bad engineering and infrastructural contracts that we signed with China.

Among others, we should always ensure that we review the terms and conditions properly before we sign any contracts with China and we must ensure they are favourable to our countries and without hidden clauses that can lead to any legal exposures. Sounds rudimentary, but why then are we still falling victim in Africa? Hellooooo! Which team at the Ministry of Finance, Nigeria, is reviewing contract agreements before they are signed? They are doing a shoddy job, no doubt. There is no point being economical with the truth.

Can Nigeria, for example, afford to fall victim of this Chinese "Belt & Road" initiative after all we have been through as a Nation - Slavery, colonization, Civil War, one bad government after another, etc.? I don't think so! What are we going to blame it on this time? I really don't know, this time. Greed and corruption, I heard you whispering. Laughing! You ain't right, these are from our own making! Sadly enough, Africa will not benefit from their belt and road initiative. They will use, rape, and dump us and Mama Africa will get no significant benefit, if any.

Nigeria has been very busy indeed. It has been the harvest of one loan from China to another. What are we going to do in Nigeria, for example, when those loans we collected will start maturing? Years 2030, 2032, 2033, 2034, 2036, 2037 and 2038 are all around the corner. Time flies, my brothers and sisters! We had better do something proactive and strategic now before Nigeria becomes available for sale in the near future! That 'near future' is at hand! I pray that the duet between Abuja and Beijing now does not become a duel then. Let us start calling a spade what it really is. Should we, therefore, start looking for a referee now? Sadly enough, the price of the mono product that we sell to the rest of the world (i.e., Oil) is on the decline. The demand for vehicles that use batteries rather than petrol is on the rise. Companies like Tesla, Karma Automotive, Fisker Inc, Nio Inc, Nikola, Rivian, etc. in electric vehicle industry or related industries are doing very well and attracting more customers daily. Then, what will happen to Nigeria and her loans in "post petrol vehicles" era where all vehicle users only turn to the Alternative- the electric vehicles, and they are not buying petrol? Will she be able to pay down these loans she is busy now accumulating, and also meets some other obligations? I doubt it! I am not a prophet but I can see it coming to pass. "When we get to that bridge, we shall cross it" seems to be our motto now from our attitude towards Chinese loans, right? All is not well!

Rotimi Amaechi, Minister for Transportation of Nigeria the other day was busy arguing with the National Assembly probing panels that they should not query the terms and conditions written in one of the loans that Nigeria collected. He was concerned and said that if they continued to do so that it could trigger or debar China from borrowing Nigeria additional money ($500 million) she also requires to build a railway line between Port Harcourt and Maiduguri. He was not bothered about the fact that terms and conditions of the loan we already collected from China pointed to the fact that we have signed away the sovereignty of the country. Hellooooo! Too bad! As we all know, most of the loan will equally be embezzled by our corrupt leaders and the local professionals alike. Corruption has eaten deep into our fabric in Nigeria.

African descents seem to be short sighted. We do not look 300- 500 years ahead but just for our lives and possibly till our kids marry. That is like 100 years or so. While we strive for useless material stuffs/things, the Jews, the Chinese, the Russians, etc., are building for generations who will not be born for hundreds of years. We need to learn from them and turn over a new leaf.

The sad reality is, the Chinese in their culture works well collectively to pool mass resources, know-how, and skills so that they are powerful as a group. Then, they strike less organized groups. We have to learn from them and beat them at their own game.

Aside from the Chinese people, the Indians are another set of people aggressively penetrating our economy at a fast rate. A case study is the industry that my friend is operating in. In Nigeria, the aluminium recycling industry is dominated by the Indians.

The company which he works for was the first Nigerian company to give them a run for their money. The Indians in Nigeria could not believe the locals could do what they (locals) have been doing in the past few years. Nigerians are capable of doing anything if we are very focus. We Nigerians should also be dominant and not leave the aluminium recycling industry in the hands of Indians. There is a lot of money to be made in 'scraps.' Yoruba bo, wo ni: "igbe ni owo wa." Roughly translated as - "Money is available in bushes/forest." The foreigners know this but my people are yet to fully realize this seemingly. This local company l am talking about has been able to build a vibrant brand in the market, not only in Nigeria but also in India. To locally produce 1,000 metric tons monthly isn't a joke in this industry that he is in. I'm citing this example because that is the way the Indians also push aggressively to dominate many of our economic sectors and the government at Federal and State levels aren't doing anything about it. We are definitely sitting on a keg of gun powder which will blow off anytime. I pray it does not happen but we need to be strategic and tactical.

I talked about law and its implementation previously. We have some laws in these countries but the implementation is what is lacking. And it is due to the corruption that is pandemic in these African countries. We also need to make new laws and policies to address or because of these emerging issues of influxes of foreigners.

Our leaders, we followers and our governments don't care a hoot about our own people and the future resultant effects of surrendering our domain to foreigners. How can foreigners come to establish companies in Nigeria and Africa and our locals can't attain certain positions within these organizations? Majority of the jobs done by these locals are menial jobs, most times not matching their statuses. While the Chinese workers are at the helms and smile to the banks, our locals sweat under their helmets and have only peanuts to show for it.

You just need a visit to Ogun State, Nigeria to see first hand what l am talking about here. This is sad! And the government cannot make or enforce these laws barring these foreigners from doing that? It is shameful rather.

Our mining industry in Nigeria and in some Africa, countries are controlled by Chinese with the backings of some local or national 'who is who.' They embark on illegal mining that benefits only the Chinese, their government, and the local politicians/leaders. My people, we should remember that mineral resources can be depleted, and do have a limited service/useful lifespan. Several abandoned mining sites across the globe is a testament to this. The Chinese will use us and our resources and dump us when there is nothing to tap again. What is the status of those Chinese illegal miners caught in Zamfara and Osun State, Nigeria this year? We are in Nigeria; I am sure they are as free as "Mr. Liberty" himself now!

How do we check Chinese influx in Nigeria/Africa? What are the implications on our land purchase? and what are its remedy?

First, our governments at all levels should stop signing bad contracts with China. They should also stop collecting loans without some level of wisdom and reasoning.

Chinese people are everywhere. And they are evil geniuses.

There is no point being economical with the truth. Whatever is happening to us in Nigeria and Africa as a whole in terms of our land being purchased is as a result of the failure of our leaders and various levels of government who seem to not know their left hands from their right hands.

Inasmuch as we allow the Chinese people in our country, they will want to explore more so that they have the money. They have big and deep pockets. Nothing is bad in allowing foreigners to be productive in Nigeria but the controls must be there. We can turn this into opportunity for us that will benefit Nigerians and Africans as a whole.

In Canada for example, they have a lot of land and they do have a lot of Chinese people who are either permanent residents or even citizens as do other nationalities. People can buy land irrespective of where they come from originally. But there are some controls. Where we fail in Nigeria and Africa is not having laws and policies in place to checkmate and control things. Aside control measures not being in place, enforcement is also an issue as our enforcers if available at all lack integrity, honesty, and often cannot be relied upon. We also have many illiterate and poor land owners who only care about the money they received from selling land without paying any attention to the impacts.

Nigerians and Africans are also too nice to a fault. Thus, these foreigners are able to take advantage of our local land owners. South Africa is a case study that comes to my mind. Ask my South African people today who had surrendered their land knowingly or unknowingly and where the White people own most of the land and therefore the bosses who call the shots and control the economy indirectly because they own the wealth. The blacks in South Africa are still licking their own wounds. Because of this, most blacks over there work like elephants and eat like ants. I pray that our situation does not degenerate into that in Nigeria. We do have a problem and a big challenge at our hands in Nigeria and the rest of Africa. - a problem/challenge that is sending us a curveball.

A drastic problem they say deserves a drastic solution. Therefore, we need to put on our thinking caps of strong technical, analytical and problem-solving capabilities. Suffice to say, we need a positive, solution-focused mindset to control these evil geniuses. That is where our government involvement comes in. (We need their intervention and they need to act smart).

Specifically, what I think should be done to checkmate or control the activities of these Chinese people are:

(1). There must be some policies and laws in place for foreigners who want to purchase our land. Among others, I will suggest: instead of outright sale we should lease land to foreigners for a period of, say, 10 to 20 years at a time. Every land seller who wants to sell to a foreigner must follow these laws/policies and go through the State government to obtain necessary approvals. Such a foreigner must be made to sign a lease agreement. I will favour renting land to them over lease or outright sales, if possible.

So, pathetic, Sudanese government is alleged to be leasing land to China for repaying Sudan's debts. Sudanese farmers in El Rahad agricultural project, which straddles the border between Sudan's south-eastern El Gedaref and El Gezira states, have often warned against leasing the project's land to China, and called for transparency on the matter. (By the way, our government in Nigeria should provide a carefully worded rental or lease agreement template to be used state-wide or nation-wide). I suggest will go through the route of renting over lease or outright sales of land to Chinese. They are too cunning when it comes to contract negotiation. They are hard negotiators and have a winner takes all mentality.

(2). "Omo to ba gbon ku, iya a gbon sin" goes the Yoruba popular adage. Sometimes, you just have to play the role of a fool to fool the fool who thinks they are fooling you. Since Chinese are now using our land and exporting directly Agricultural produce (food) being cultivated in Africa for their own people instead of selling locally for our people, we need to do some things strategically and tactically. For example, while one of Africa's most fertile lands (Sudan) is struggling to feed her own people, Chinese Farms in Khartoum is producing food items and shipping to China directly in the blink of an eye.

Bringing the issue back home in Nigeria and to other African countries, Nigerian government and those of other countries in Africa should prohibit exportation of agricultural produce and insist on local supplies only. By so doing, it will enhance national food supply which will benefit the locals since a larger supply of food due to Chinese farming mechanization will bring competitions which will drag down prices of food items. In essence, Nigerian and African people will benefit more from these Chinese and their investments. This export discouragement can also be achieved though some export-targeted policies. By so doing, it may also serve as a deterrent to Chinese people from buying our land if there is no extra incentive from doing so by way of goods exportation back to China.

(3). Chinese people have a way of dominating people everywhere they go and hiring only their own people to work for them. They do that around the world. Just look around you and look at the compositions of workers at any Chinese buffet restaurants that you visit, you will see that they are mostly Chinese people. That is the same reason they plant China towns and have their Chinese markets/stores in major cities around the world. Therefore, a policy must also be in place in Nigeria/ Africa that dictates the composition of the labour force in every foreign owned farm or industry. For example, our government can make a policy/law that ensures that a typical farm or industry must have, say at least 95% local contents of labour force and this must be enforced. In other words, government must make sure that Nigerians are the ones employed mostly to work in those farms or industries. Incentive should also be provided in form of tax savings for any foreign owner who is able to raise the local contents above the threshold determined or specified by the government.

By so doing, this will prevent their influxes and discourage Chinese people from bringing more of their own people from China to come and work in Africa/Nigeria. Our local people who are employed will also be able to learn from these Chinese farmers or industrialists the acts of mechanized farming or manufacturing and become independent with time to embark on such ventures. It will therefore, be a win-win situation. Our government should also make sure that our locals who are employed by these foreign companies or businesses respect our people and treat them right and with dignity.

(4). Pieces of equipment for mechanized farming are capital intensive. To encourage locals to go into mechanized farming, our State governments should also invest in procuring mechanized farming equipment, tools and implements that can be lent/rented to would-be local farmers for a daily fee. Private organizations and individuals should also be encouraged to participate in the equipment leasing business. This is what is being done in places like Canada, America, etc. For example, I can own many Sections of land (or through a lease) and moonlight as a farmer and have another primary job that has nothing to do with farming. All I need to do is to get the service of another company to go and do the clearing and ploughing of the land for me by the Planting Season. Afterwards, I can request the service of another company to go and sow for me, say, Wheat. During the harvest time, I will hire another company that specializes in harvesting for them to do the task for me.

There is also a Wheat Board there that will buy the produce from me. Of course, every task is done very fast because of mechanization and a lot can be achieved in a jiffy. These companies move from one farm to the other helping farmers. There are also some farmers who have their own equipment that they use by themselves, and they can also help other farmers for a fee. Our local government or state government can acquire these pieces of capital-intensive equipment and lend/rent them out to farmers for a fee. They will make profits by so doing - a win-win situation, and everyone is happy.

(5). Our governments must make sure they (foreigners) pay taxes that commensurate with their output/revenues. The local government should also be allowed to charge them some additional property and land taxes.

(6). We should also have a policy in place and provide them with arrays of agricultural food items that they can grow in our domain. We should also demand for quality produce and ensure best farming practices from them.

Aside the Chinese, I think the activities of Indians and the Arabs in our country and Africa need to be examined and controlled.

As a foreigner, you cannot even own a house in China much less of buying a land. Another intervention that will facilitate or likely make some of my earlier recommendations possible is the addressing of issues of the deep poverty in the land (Nigeria/Africa). That is because the majority of these locals will willingly sell their lands to these foreigners most times not even at market values but just to get something to feed their families. Ogun State, Nigeria is just an example that we need to visit. Ekiti State and many other States in Nigeria or Africa at large are not immune to these flaws as long as no policies are in place to protect the poor land sellers who control the family lands that make up the majority of each state's land. For example, do we have the right policies/laws in place to curb the Chinese menace in Ekiti State, Nigeria as recommended above? Ditto, many other states in Nigeria or some other African Countries. I am not too sure. But if not, we need to do something strategic about it now. This is very important and urgent.

Generally speaking, in Africa, so, as long as the governments at all levels will continue to impoverish the people for their selfish political gains, the foreigners will continue to take advantage of our people and the systemic flaws.

Laws/policies are made to either encourage or prevent something from happening. We can use proper laws or policies and strict enforcement to control these Chinese people or foreigners. Capital inflows to Nigeria/Africa will help in lubricating our various economies. Every free economy needs some inflows. They foreigners have the money to spend but we must still show them that we hold the four aces. Let us learn from our Middle East counterpart about the way they carry themselves with dignity and deal with wisdom with all foreigners including those who are even mightier than them. I need not shed more light on this, right?

More to say but I will sign off here. The bottom line is that we need a generation of new leaders in Africa who will have the capability and political will and nerves to fashion, formulate, channel, and implement right policies and laws for the good of the generality of our people, and who will facilitate enforcement while still being independent so that the tripod forms by the three arms of government does not develop a high blood pressure. We must be self-reliant, no doubt. Above all, we should stop signing bad contracts and collecting loans to build infrastructure that we do not need and which we cannot or are not prepared to maintain.

We should stop biting more than we can chew. Enough is enough!

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