Our last cruise was somewhat confusing. Were we in Africa, or did we revisit China?
Why would I open my blog with such a comment? Well, it is because Grandma P and I just completed our last bucket list cruise, by sailing around the African continent for what should have been 78 days. We began by boarding the ship in Bristol, England. We then went to Portugal, Morocco, Cape Verde Islands, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania, Kenya, Seychelles Islands, Comoros, Maldives, Sri Lanka, India, Egypt and Jordan. It was a fantastic adventure! We primarily wanted to see the animals of Africa and visit the sites of Petra, Jordan and the Valley of the Kings in Egypt. We were very successful with seeing the animals. We saw all of the Africa big five: lion, leopard, elephant, cape buffalo and rhinos. Our favorite animals, however, were the giraffes and the zebras. We also saw ostrich and about twenty different kinds antelope. The animals of Africa are very diverse and very interesting. To relate that riding a camel in Jordan was a ball-busting experience, would be an understatement.
Our trip was cut short because of the coronavirus pandemic. After Jordan, we were to go through the Suez canal, and visit the countries of Israel, Malta, Spain, Gibraltar, and Ireland. We were denied entry to any of these countries even though we did not have the virus on our ship. They would not even allow us to dock for food and fuel, even with passengers remaining on the ship. So…we sailed for fourteen continuous days from Aqaba, Jordan to Bristol, England without stopping. We arrived two days early. Bummer. But it all worked out and we got home two days after leaving the ship.
However, there was something else that we saw on this cruise besides all the amazing animals and wonderful sites. In practically every country we visited, we saw the influence of Communist China.
For example, in Walvis Bay, Namibia, the Chinese built this extremely large sea port. That is where we docked. This port not only had facilities for cruise ships, but huge facilities for shipping containers. Chinese shipping containers! Let me be perfectly clear, the Chinese did not build this facility out of the kindness of their hearts. They expected to be paid, and in Namibia, the payment was in the form of uranium! Yup. Namibia has uranium and the Chinese are taking it as payment for the port facility. Our tour guide was very upset about this trade arrangement with China.
In tiny Sri Lanka, the Chinese were building a modern, extensive highway system. This road network included all kinds of toll booths, and numerous concrete bridges. The Sri Lankan government approved this project and was paying for it on a 99 year lease! I do not know of any concrete bridge close to salt water that will last 99 years. Who do you think will be happy to do all future repairs at additional costs? China!!
These are just two of the examples of how China has become the preeminent trading partner to the continent of Africa. In Kenya, they constructed a railroad. In South Africa, many sea ports. In Tanzania, sea ports and road networks. These are just the projects that we saw, or were told to us by the locals in each country. China, China….everywhere!
Until 2007, the United States was the largest trading partner on the African continent. Since that time, China has become the largest trading partner and their influence in the region is accelerating at an amazing rate.
How did this happen?
Many of you that read this blog are old enough to remember in the late 60’s and early 70’s when the majority of African nations were striving to gain independence from their European colonial overlords. In many instances, these independence efforts fomented in civil wars. Eventually, all of these countries were successful. But there was one amazing event that should have been better recognized by the Western world. China, one of the most repressed civilizations in the world, always supported the faction in each country that wanted independence! In some countries, the Chinese provided money and weapons to those factions. This should have disturbed the Western world because Chairman Mao and his successors surely did not want a free and democratic China, but were supporting the factions that wanted to rid colonialism on the African continent. By 1978, China was giving more aid to Africa than the United States!
Eventually, the European countries did grant autonomy to each of the African nations. Some times this was a result of negotiation and some times it was a result of war. In the end, colonialism disappeared across the African continent.
Now each of the newly independent African nations faced the challenge of determining what type of government they would establish. In some of the countries the choice was easy. A dictator would assume power, usually through the use of guns and bullets. The guns and bullets made the choice easy for the constituents. In other countries, it was a little more complex. For instance, in South Africa, Apartheid was eventually abolished and we all witnessed the historic event of Nelson Mandela becoming the first black president in a predominately black country after serving 27 years in prison.
So now each country had some form of government without the involvement of European colonialism. And, as we are well aware, some of these countries ended up with politicians and leaders that were neither educated nor experienced enough to be effective leaders. But the one thing the majority of these new leaders and politicians promised to the newly liberated masses, were social -welfare programs for the improvement of their respective countries. Unfortunately, promising something and paying for something are two sides of the same shovel. The end result is the same, you end up in the hole, and that was what happened to many of these countries. They instituted programs that were not affordable. This was done to remain in power and to remain popular. To make matters worse, some of these leaders were crooked and unscrupulous and they robbed their countries of what resources they possessed. (Power + Prestige=Money! One of my favorite previous blogs!)
Enter the Chinese. In 1980 the total for Sino-African trade was US $1 billion. In 2005, that total was US $40 billion. In the first 10 months of 2012, that total in trade had reached $164 billion. What do you think that number is today? By having observed tens of thousands of Chinese shipping containers on our cruise, I can assure you it is exponentially higher! It is estimated that 800 Chinese corporations are doing business in Africa. These corporations are primarily investing in infrastructure, energy and banking. This Chinese investment has had positive and negative effects in Africa. It has created more jobs, but is has also displaced African companies.
Maybe the Western world should have seen this coming. Since 1997, over 40 African heads of state have visited the Peoples Republic of China. Firstly, the Chinese outsmarted us by supporting the ouster of European colonialism. Then, again as a part of their long term strategy, they have slowly increased their presence on the continent by providing long-term, low interest loans. Western countries would provide loans with higher interest and shorter terms and expect to be repaid with money. China will take money or, as in Namibia, resources.
Who is to blame for allowing all of this to happen? Well, we are to blame. And when I say we, I don’t just mean the Western world governments, but also you and I. Our western world society is a society of consumerism. We want cheap TV’s, cheap computers, cheap cell phones, cheap clothing, yada, yada. And where did we get these cheap items? Well, we bought them all from China. Unfortunately, we made the Chinese rich with our lust for cheap material needs and have done so for the last 40 years! Western world companies could not resist moving all of their manufacturing facilities to China to take advantage of cheap labor. The Chinese, being smart and patient, has kept their currency artificially low to supply our needs for decades.
What has China done with their new-found wealth provided by the Western world? Firstly, they have drastically upgraded and increased the size of their military. You just never know when you may need a well-armed collection agency, and the Chinese are getting one. Secondly, they are investing in third world countries, such as in Africa to gain resources and political influence throughout the region. (The majority of African nations supported the Chinese efforts to replace the Republic of China of Taiwan in the UN. Only one African country has a relationship with Taiwan today.)
Make no mistake about it, China wants to be the one and only world power. They have long range goals and are patient enough to see those goals come to fruition. A destroyed or crippled American economy, or a destroyed western world economy, would go a long way to assist China in meeting those goals. (Coronavirus?)