Can Russia, China, Africa remain friends for long?

Sunday July 12 2020


By Alan Tacca

President Vladimir Putin of Russia should be made an honorary African. If the African Union is too slow or not smart enough to realise the need, an imaginative college of cartoonists could forge a special medal and award it to His Excellency, recognising him as the supreme constitutional juggler Europe has produced since World War II.
After the acrobatic manoeuvres of way back, in which slow-motion pictures showed him somersaulting from the presidency through the prime minister’s loop and back to the presidency, Mr Putin has just executed another master stroke.

People who watch Uganda’s constitutional amendment games will remember the word ‘omnibus’. It refers to an arrangement where a rack of largely unrelated constitutional amendments are packed together. Some are to advance pure evil.
Others smell of calculating cynicism; with one or two dubious sweeteners thrown in. Parliament is then cajolede package whole. One time we even had a referendum.
One omnibus returned Uganda to multiparty politics; but most significantly it delivered a clock set at zero hours for Mr Museveni. He could start a third term in power because he was now deemed not to have ruled at all.

Mr Putin has just driven his own omnibus home, Afro-Russian style. And he could stay in power until 2036! Africa can only salute this great comrade.
China, too, has its Afroesque creativity, with an enormous capacity to beautify evil. To her old repression of Tibet, and her belligerence regarding Taiwan, as well as her more recent ‘corrective’ measures witnessed by Uyghur Muslims, she has now added the National Security Law to remove the myth of a special democratic and judicial system for the former British-owned Chinese entity called Hong Kong. If you breathe fire as a ‘radical’, or a democratic activist, or even just exude Hong Kong airs like yesterday’s liberals, and Beijing thinks your smell is bad for China’s ‘national interest’, you can now be legally taken to the mainland to be punished and/or reengineered into a decent Chinese citizen.

As you already know, none of these things should be interpreted as a demonstration of Chinese colonialism or imperialism; nor even of Communist authoritarianism. They are the works of a fatherly nation that knows what is best for its citizens and the other people in the region. Distant Africa must bask in its good luck for having a progressive friend like China.

There was something wonderful about America and Western Europe when they were unquestionably the leading benefactors giving loans and financial gifts to Africa. You could insult them before stretching your begging-bowl; or you could have your begging-bowl filled and then insult them. You could be naughty like an infant without provoking an overt reprimand. I don’t know whether this is what social psychologists call ‘infantilising’ the African.
But as Russia got economically stretched by the cost of the battles and arms race of the Cold War, Russia and (especially) China could get economically stretched by commitments of ‘soft power’ on a continent whose development is hampered by corruption.

Used to impunity in a pampered mindset, African rulers may ultimately find their expanding dealings with touchier Russia and China stressful.
For giving or lending their money to African states without “interfering in the internal affairs” of the beneficiaries, the Russians and the Chinese certainly expect total respect. For instance, they would probably feel belittled if a high ranking African official glanced at their democracy and proposed to elevate them to the status of honorary Africans.