The Chinese penetration of the African continent has seen many vicissitudes. The general view today is a negative view of Chinese investment in Africa. According to one report, 60 per cent to 87 per cent of Chinese companies Chinese government- owned or -sponsored companies operating in Africa, have paid “tips” or “bribes” to obtain licenses. A far more dangerous extension of this corruption has recently surfaced with the US national daily, The Times, reporting that Chinese nationals in Nigeria’s mining sector are funding terrorist groups to secure access to the country’s mineral reserves. In an exclusive report, the newspaper said through bribes and illegal transactions, “Beijing could be indirectly funding terror in Africa’s largest economy” as also illegally exporting natural resources to China. The Times report (14 April 2023) reveals that some Chinese nationals who have worked informally as miners in Zamfara (Nigeria) serve as runners for militant groups in the state and other north-western parts of the country. The Times informs that “Chinese companies working in parts of Nigeria where attacks are frequent have been striking security deals with insurgents”.
It is well-known fact that China, through state-owned and state-funded enterprises, has poured massive sums of money into sub-Saharan Africa, which is home to more than 1.1 billion people. This was further accelerated by the launch of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in 2013 to create more “international collaboration.” Africa’s rapidly growing population and increasing urbanization increased the demand for development, particularly in the infrastructure sector. It is estimated that Chinese companies were responsible for 31 per cent of infrastructure projects on the African continent in 2020 alone. China continues to pour billions of dollars into Africa in efforts to dominate the continent’s natural resources sector and use its presence in Africa to promote the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) anti-Western foreign policy agenda.
Pertinently, rapid Chinese economic growth under Deng Xiaoping occurred because of the existence of an autocratic governance system, high corruption, low human rights, and low environmental regulations. China has exported the same model in Africa making Chinese companies more competitive in Africa, in terms of its ability to peddle influence comparable to Western nations like the US and Canada. China’s involvement in Africa has raised several red flags, not only because of the Chinese government’s exploitative intentions but also because of the serious human rights abuses and corruption. According to London-based non-profit Business and Human Rights Resource Centre, of the 1,690 allegations of human rights abuses related to Chinese investments worldwide, 181 were reported in Africa. Most of these human rights abuses occurred in the mining and construction sectors.
In the case of Nigeria, research shared by SBM Intelligence, a Lagos-based analytical group with The Times has revealed videos on social media and WhatsApp of militant leaders boasting they were so powerful that Chinese workers wishing to operate in their areas must pay them ‘rent’. They have taken over swathes of north-west Nigeria, turning the region into the country’s bloodiest conflict zone. “In one pocket of Zamfara, researchers found, interaction with militants runs so deep that some serve as runners for Chinese miners who have spread throughout Nigeria, controlling digs for gold. Nigeria has some of the largest gold reserves in the world.The Chinese often operate
informally in small groups as contractors registered to clearing-house companies, they are proficient in local languages and stay for years, living in remote areas that Western companies consider off-limits. The Times reports that attacks on Chinese citizens, of whom there are said to be between 100,000 and 200,000 in Nigeria, have become regular occurrences in recent years amid the country’s many conflicts.”
The Times also said Chinese mining contractors, who often pay a pittance to locals working on their fields, often smuggle minerals out of the country illegally and are sometimes even arrested.The Times reports that “In 2020, 27 miners, including 17 Chinese, were arrested in Osun state. In October 2022, a Chinese citizen, Gang Deng, 29, was jailed for five years after being found with 25 tonnes of a mineral thought to be lepidolite, containing lithium, which is used in batteries. SBM has also found Chinese workers involved in the Boko Haram conflict in Nigeria’s north-east, with a case of a Chinese smuggler being paid to help a jihadist group move metal ore out of the country. In 2019, a Federal Court in New York sentenced Patrick Ho, former Hong Kong Home Affairs Secretary to three years of incarceration for his role in bribing African officials to boost a top Chinese energy company. As evidence in the case showed, Ho paid off top African officials to support the operations of China Energy and China National Petroleum Corp., in Uganda and Chad.
In another case, governments of China and Democratic Republic of Congo reached an agreement in which the two parties did not exchange actual money but instead operated in accordance with Beijing’s preferred policy of acquiring substantial equity stakes and operational control of companies in strategic sectors in Africa.This infrastructure-for-minerals deal between the Chinese and Congolese sides later became known as the “deal of the century.” Chinese companies, financed by state- owned banks, seized control of cobalt deposits in the DRC. The French investigative online newspaper Mediapart and the Platform to Protect Whistleblowers in Africa obtained documents that showed state funds were siphoned from the Central Bank of the Congo and the state-owned mining company Gecamines to former Congolese President Joseph Kabila’s family and associates. The documents revealed that Kabila and his family embezzled more than US$138 million between 2013 and 2018. China’s nefarious conduct in Africa and activities of funding terrorism in Nigeria undermines the dignity and freedom of the African people. China’s use of corrupt practices to exploit and gain an unfair advantage in Africa reinforces a system that imposes significant burdens on ordinary people, contributes to poor governance, and fuels internal conflict.The international community’s lack of awareness and a coordinated response to China’s egregious behaviour will undermine efforts to promote democracy, freedom, and the rule of law in Africa.