It is hard to fathom, but Zimbabwe is sandwiched between the ambitions of two super powers to extend their influence over the African continent. Both China and the United States see Africa as the strategic focus in an ever-tense game of vying for hegemony. The recent outrage by the Bush administration at South Africa’s refusal (some would euphemistically call it ‘SA’s failure’ to support the resolution, but really, it was a conscious calculation of the pros and cons from the standpoint of ongoing trade relations with China) to support a UN resolution against Mugabe had nothing to do with some sudden realisation of moral backbone or rising to the need to provide moral leadership against a man (read Bob) pulverising his people; it has everything to do with America’s concern over rapid growth of Sino-African trade. We must look at this more closely.
Way back in the year 2000, Chinese trade with Africa was almost too modest (it was in the region of $10 billion a year) considering world standards. Last year it rose to a staggering $70 billion a year, making China the second largest trading partner of Africa after the US. And as we all know, the increase of trade signifies an increase in influence. The particular detail of this trade includes oil transactions (a third of China’s oil comes from Angola and Sudan whilst an agreement with Nigeria is pending). Large quantities of bottom priced consumer goods are supplied to Africa in return. This development is particularly worrying for the US.
When the Bush administration created Africom last year, it was, in the words of George Bush, “to strengthen our security cooperations with Africa and help to create new opportunities to bolster the capabilities of our partners with Africa”. This obviously means first and foremost developing the military outfit to ‘professional standards’ and by the US’ own standards elsewhere (Latin America, for instance) it can only mean creating a counter-weight of US friendly dictatorships to Chinese influence in Africa.
What does Zimbabwe, scorched and almost completely atrophied, have to do with this Sino-US tug-of-war? Firstly, Zimbabwe is strategically located between China’s two largest trading partners, South Africa and Angola. Secondly, Zimbabwe is next to China’s biggest infrastructure projects in Africa, a railroad linking the east coast of Angola (oil) with Zambia (copper) to the east port of Tanzania. Thirdly, China is reported to import considerably in the areas of tobacco, chromium (probably for steel manufacturing) and platinum. It is not far-fetched to wonder whether China’s recent weapons shipment to Zimbabwe had something to do with Beijing’s concerns of US intervention in Zimbabwe.
The US outrage against Mugabe is not as a result of the man’s political gangsterism or as a result of Mugabe-sponsored violence prior and post that country’s rigged elections (who does not remember Kenya’s elections in December last year and the US government’s acceptance of the elections results?). We can go further afield, but the trouble we’ll have is repeating instance after instance of adverse meddling and US support for totalitarian interests and regimes when it safeguarded its interests. There are examples where the US support for individuals whose names begin with “Mu” is tied to like atrocities as those committed by Mugabe (the dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, Musharraf of Pakistan). Zimbabwe is the chosen field to engage in the current phase of the battle for hegemony in Africa between the US and China.
The wrangle between China and America for influence in Africa is not devoid of a moral tussle, but neither of these imperialist powers has morality in their bookkeeping; they cynically tap into the moral outrage of ordinary people across the world to the human tragedy in Zimbabwe.