"I have carried salt and removed lead”, laments Yeshua ben Sira in the Book of Wisdom, a Christian canon, “and I have not seen anything heavier than that a man should pay back a debt when he did not borrow.”
Had he lived in Kenya, his lament would have been as relevant today as it was then. After all we are now paying back billions of shillings in loans taken in our names for unpopular projects whose viability remains questionable and whose costs were almost certainly inflated.
Most of these loans were taken from China, a country with deep pockets and which has shown an incredible willingness to finance the operations of even the worst economic basket cases on the continent.
The thinking goes that China’s open chequebook is part of a plan to colonise Africa, extract resources, dump its goods and excess population, create vassal republics and dominate the planet. A skilled Chinese rider on a sturdy African horse charging across the planet and overturning western hegemony is the image that comes to mind.
If Sri Lanka is an example, countries that default on these loans will be required to give up their most valuable assets to the Chinese such as mines, infrastructure, ports etc. There has been reports that Kenya’s ports are in danger of being lost to the Chinese should the country default on its immense loans.
I am not very concerned about these loans simply because I hold onto the ancient wisdom that small loans are the borrower’s headache while large loans are the lender’s. I will let the Chinese worry about the risk of default from the huge loans they have advanced us.
It must keep them awake at night especially now that their economy is slowing down. I am not even worried by the prospect of losing the Mombasa port to the Chinese. I trust that they are smart enough to know not to throw good money after bad and that if it came to that they would be open to a debt restructuring proposal. In any case, Kenya is still fully able to meet its financial commitments.
What worries me is something totally out of the polite, structured realm of official state relations; Chinese organised crime which has attracted very little attention if any in Africa. It is a fact of life that organised crime always follows the movement of capital, goods and people. The inflow of these into Africa from China guarantees that Chinese organised crime will have a presence on the continent.
These criminal groups take the form of the so-called Triad gangs as well as various syncretic sects who brutalise their own people while relying on a mixture of corruption and violence to carry out some of the largest economic crimes anywhere on earth, threatening the very viability of their host states.
Canada, has had a big problem dealing with these groups. In Vancouver, Chinese organised crime is so widespread that the city has lent its name to a complicated money laundering technique widely used by the Chinese mafia called “the Vancouver Model”. This technique relies on casinos, real estate and shadow banking.
The notorious smuggler, Lai Changxing, who was at one point responsible for one-sixth of imports into China, was known to be a fugitive in the city before he was deported in 2011.
His deportation was the result of very bitter recriminations between both countries with accusations that Canadian officials were protecting him.
In Africa, the activities of the legendary Sam Pa demonstrate the scale of the problem. Currently in a Chinese jail, Pa heads a criminal organisation known as the 88 Queensway Group.
In 2010, Pa is alleged to have attempted to take over the state security structures in Zimbabwe by offering to match the salaries of the entire Zimbabwean Secret Service, Police and Army to buy their fealty to the ruling party so that he could continue extracting diamonds and other minerals from the country.
Pa allegedly also funded the operations of Zimbabwe’s intelligence agency. In Angola, Pa’s group has won tenders for the construction of railways, airports and oil infrastructure that were never completed.
These two cases demonstrate the fact that the appetite for Chinese investment and technical skills must be matched by a serious commitment from African states to anticipate and interdict the inevitable, new, law enforcement challenges that are nothing like we have faced before.
Mr Kuria specialises in anti-financial crime. [email protected]