It is obvious that China is a growing superpower and would be a serious delusion for Botswana to ignore this Asian grand tiger.
We first saw the Chinese enter this country at the end of the 1980’s en mass and they were exclusively in the construction industry where they showed themselves to be committed to delivery. They were willing to work long hours with very little breaks in between their working days.
People here believed these were prisoners when looking at the manner in which they immersed themselves in their work. If they were free men, then they possessed very little labour rights. Batswana men who worked with them in the construction industry often claimed that the Chinese workers were taking turns on them. “One would take a break and handover his overalls to another so that you would think it’s the same person, ”they said.
China is clearly a communist country according to the country’s political manifesto. But what puzzles many is the speed at which capitalism has taken root in that country. From the days of the Cold war, we were made to believe that capitalism was synonymous with democracy. At least that’s what my history teacher taught me.
The Communist Party has clearly defined the lines between the way the country is run politically and the way economic affairs are conducted. In their recent meeting, the Communist Party allowed the media in their assembly for the very first time in the history of that country. And how did the Chinese earn their capitalism which seems to be flourishing? Carl Marx considered “19th century capitalism to be broken, keeping the average man bound to a life of work and poverty.”
This provoked him to author and publish his famous book, Das Capital, a book in which he chronicles the evils of capitalism. Marx’s mistake was to say its “broken” because that is the way capitalism works. When it’s broken, that’s when the system works toward reducing the gap between the different classes. Of course capitalism can be reformed in order to bridge the gap between the rich and the poor. For this gap to be reduced, it requires serious regulation and several stopgap checks and balances.
When Marx made the above statement which will for the purpose of this instalment form my thesis, he had not seen what is happening in modern day China. He would have fallen sick.
China in this case has adopted the 19th century capitalism where greed was allowed to be the only driving factor in the economy. Like democracy, if left unchecked, capitalism can ruin the very people who participate in it at the different levels of the economy. This is so because the driving force behind capitalism is greed itself. The world over, con artists depend on human greed for their success and this has become one of the world’s profitable crimes. We fall into their trap because greed has been wired into our human nature.
This year China has set its economic growth target at 7.5 percent the slowest in a quarter of a century. What is interesting about this country is that it has accumulated a sizeable number of billionaires over the past years when the economic growth rate was set even higher.
According to Linda Yuen of the BBC’s Talking Business, from just three billionaires a decade ago, China has seen a 12 000 percent increase in the number of China’s super rich. From the Red Army just two decades ago, Wang Jianlin has become the richest man in China and he personifies the country’s road to riches. With a Nett worth of $24.2 billion, (according to Forbes) seems like he will cling on to the country’s title for a while.
The question is, what has been China’s route to riches and how does that affect countries like Botswana and Africa at large? This question is relevant because China seems to have developed an all out policy toward Africa as far as business is concerned. It seems for Africa what matters most is the price tag on an item and quality comes second. This is why we have an almost white elephant project called Morupule B in our hands. This has consumed billions of Pula and it seems we are never going to get any meaningful value out of it.
While it is against the law for citizens of countries such as Japan and the US to push through bribes in their overseas business deals, for China it is open hunting season.
Chinese projects are laced with corruption throughout Africa. Botswana is highly rated in the Anti-Corruption index for Africa and yet we have so many Chinese projects that are linked to serious corruption, it shows that the rest of Africa is completely rotten.
China has ridden the crest of success on its very poor. And that’s the nature of free flow capitalism. The Communist Party has craftily designed an economy that feeds on the rural population for the benefit of the urban dwellers. The country has a system of what I would call selective citizenship. You are either registered as a rural or urban dweller. The rural population is obviously less educated and are therefore vulnerable to exploitation from the wider greed of the system of capitalism. Rural citizens are considered second class to their urbanite counterparts and this opens the door of exploitation wide open. The Communist Party does not allow the rural folks to even bring along their children, something that the BBC calls “the lost generation.” This creates an underclass that feeds the country’s insatiable appetite for industrial growth. Some social scientist refers to this as a catastrophe. China’s capitalistic Communist Party has deliberately designed this imbalanced social environment for the benefit of the capital investors.
China has a very poor industrial safety record and that is an open secret. The country ascent to economic stardom has left a trail of destruction on its path. The rate at which their economy has grown has given birth to two twin evils. One is the corruption of the environment and the second is the corruption of the economy.
According to experts, it will take a long while for the country to reverse the damage caused by its open ended policy on industrialization. China is the cesspit of environmental pollution. The government has over the years been aware of all this environmental damage but was deliberately allowed to progress in return it brought huge profits to the industrialists. This is the reason why China refused to sign the Kyoto protocol on environmental pollution years ago. China’s refusal to commit to this protocol prompted the US’s refusal to sign the same. The fear was that the US would be overtaken if they committed to the protocol because of its binding clauses. This would have given China a free fall to the corruption of the environment. The way business is conducted in China is more or less like an underworld operation. Even though corruption is punishable by death, for those with proper links with the Communist Party are able to ply the trade with their own rules.
Botswana as a nation and its citizenry must approach China with great caution because the Chinese are far from open in the way they conduct themselves in business and they are less genuine than we think they are.
The Chinese have a tendency of using underhand tactics in their business deals and will do as much as they can to unduly influence those in the corridors of power. This is why Chinese companies are top in the list of those contributing to the Presidential Housing Appeal. This may not look harmful on the surface. But all that they are striving to is to maintain critical influence on all those in the echelons of power.
The Chinese are literally dumping their low quality products into this country and they are taking advantage of the loose laws on quality. The growing appetite for bribery among the government officials here is also exaggerating matters. Is it time we court the Japanese who are more professional than their neighbour in the west? That’s the issue I will tackle next.
Richard Moleofe is a Retired Military
Officer (Distinguished Service Medal)