We didn’t expect that.
We also didn’t expect the four police cars and long black limos with tinted windows that filled the parking lot with their ominous presence and a disturbing but electric energy. The feeling that something important was about to happen.
As a sliver of gravel was found by the security guards for our car, we emerged hesitantly, and noticed the suited Chinese robot-types standing strategically around the lot. It was like an Asian replica of an American presidential security force.
It turned out that Ghana’s Vice President was meeting some Chinese foreign officials for a discussion over supper, and they happened to have good taste.
They dominated the space and the energy of the evening, as politicians and others with overblown egos tend to do – the entourage on both sides, ensuring their heavy presence was known and felt.
So throughout our supper, between my goat cheese and honey rocket salad and peppery yet creamy Portuguese chicken livers, I pondered the three Chinese guys standing outside, through the window in the front garden.
I thought about what the supper on the other side of the dining room really meant. I wondered what deals were being sealed over Cabernet Sauvignon and sole meuniere. I also thought it strange – important men from two cultures, both with strong and defined cuisines, choosing to dine together in another totally foreign restaurant…
Witnessing that meeting just brought home to me what I’ve been reading about and seeing from afar for years in Ghana – the slow undercurrent of Chinese stronghold in Africa. The new colonization in progress.
I thought it strange, when a few months ago we noticed the team of labourers who were busily erecting the colossal new Ministry of Defense building (funded entirely by a $50m grant from China), in Accra. They were all Chinese! In Ghana! Pushing wheelbarrows and heaving loads of cement.
You had to ask yourself why on earth there would be a need to import unskilled Chinese labourers to do grunt work in a developing country where the unemployment rate hovers around 71%!!!
A few years ago, China fronted $622m for the Bui Dam project in Ghana - and imported 500 workers from China at that time as well.
The stories about China’s extreme generosity toward Africa and specifically Ghana are abounding.
But the real question is what lies behind the grants and loans and projects.
The truth is that China stands to benefit, and indeed is already benefiting far more than Ghana. Government policies are bent and stretched and molded to facilitate China’s aims.
Ghana currently imports more from China than any other country in the world.
“From 2000 to 2008, China’s exports to Ghana increased manifold from $93 million to $1,512 million.” Something like 1500% increase?! I sense a trend here…
In terms of trade, Ghana exports raw materials like cocoa, gold cotton and timber at less than $50m per annum to China, while imports of cheap Chinese electronics, textiles, plastics etc. flood the market and threaten the precarious position of local manufacturers and merchants.
And China’s eye is on the big prize. Oil. China is only second to the USA in terms of oil consumption in the world, and large offshore deposits of oil have been discovered off Ghana’s coast in the past few years… a match made in heaven?
Recently a consortium of Chinese companies (CNOOC) out bid Exxon Mobil for a share in Ghana’s oil exploration. They allegedly added a $2billion concessionary loan to the Ghana Government, to help increase it’s infrastructure in gold exploration.
So they have secured their place and guaranteed China’s position to reap the rewards as the oil starts to flow.
Ghana’s professor George Ayittey, interviewed this week on TV3, warned that:
“Barter deals with China - in which China sets the rules - have a huge potential for graft and corruption. Everybody should be able to see exactly how much Africa is getting from the deal.”
Despite CNOOC’s dismal track record for human rights, environmental protection and general lack of experience, they now have a foothold and Ghana’s new oil business.
I wonder if the Vice President, having shaken hands with his Asian counterparts, then washed his French supper down with the bittersweet wine of his country’s impending colonialization.