If the Chinese are giving leaders and policymakers in many parts of the world sleepless nights, it is only because those people have allowed themselves to be seduced by the dangerous courting of the Chinese driven by a single-minded desire to dominate the world.
But Tanzania’s President John Pombe Magufuli is not one of those leaders.
A video doing the rounds on social media has him telling his Tanzanian audience that he is not willing to “sell” Tanzania to people (read Chinese) who have no sense of fairness or respect for the independence or sovereignty of Tanzanians.
The no-nonsense leader was angered by terms that the Chinese were giving to build a large port in Bagamoyo, which terms included a demand for a 99-year free lease that virtually stipulates the port to be outside the jurisdiction of Tanzanian laws, authority to collect revenue from the port without interference for 32 years, commitment not to build or operate any port along the coast of Tanzania – including the Dar port, the port in Tanga, the ancient Kilwa port that served merchants the likes of Ibn Battuta, the Lindi port; and even abandon plans to build a port in Mtwara to exploit the opportunity of serving Malawi.
Magufuli said that only a madman can accept such conditions – terms that demonstrate extreme disrespect to Tanzanians.
Few right thinking people will agree with Magufuli on this one, even if they may be uncomfortable with his bull-headed approach to snuffling opposition and throttling media freedom.
The Chinese approach and style of doing business is unscrupulous, but only because they find plaint and completely willing partners to tango with.
And almost invariably, these willing accomplices are top leaders and/or their relatives all too happy to leverage their links to power to cut corrupt deals that mortgage their countries’ assets for personal gain.
Journalist Tom Burgis, in his compelling 2015 book The Looting Machine, details various such deals in several African countries, especially Angola, where investors from China built alliances with relatives of the former President to earn dubious millions from mortgaging oil fields.
Kenya is having its own very uncomfortable Chinese moment. From the hugely controversial deal to build and operate the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) to the almost comical spectacle of Chinese traders perched on stools selling second-hand clothes in the quintessentially Kenyan Gikomba market in Nairobi, we are seeing glimpses of the ugly side of Chinese invasion.
And this, not surprisingly, is taking away the gloss from the many other reasonable, legal and beneficial businesses Chinese are doing in Kenya.
In the Masinga area of Machakos, a Chinese community is slowly but steadily burgeoning.
One of them has acquired subsistence land (not sure under what law as it is not a company) and built a home, and like any other good neighbour, is now attending funerals!
He has attracted a compatriot investor that has put up a donkey abattoir that is discharging carcass effluent into a nearby river.
The community tried to mobilise and demonstrate against this pollution but demonstrators were beaten up by hired goons.
It is believed that a petition to the county government has been compromised. It is a pretty standard modus operandi by some Chinese.
The Ministry of Interior reportedly deported the Chinese in Gikomba for engaging in business not concomitant with their visas and promised Kenyans that the Ministry it is alert, vigilant and fully committed to protecting Kenyans against such predatory moves by foreigners.
It is a promise Kenyans are eager to embrace, though the same Ministry must answer the questions how and why it allowed the Chinese (or any other foreigner engaged in such basic activities as selling mitumba) in the country in the first place.
And how many such people are operating in full view of state operatives across the country?
The fact is that there are hundreds of Chinese and people from other nationalities working menial jobs that should be left for Kenyans.
The campaign that Interior Minister Fred Matiang’i launched last year to expel illegal nationals from Kenya should be a continuous exercise.
Deploy the administrative machinery of chiefs, village elders and even the Nyumba Kumi structures to smoke out and expel these characters.
Let Kenyan leaders not be the madmen that President Magufuli is referring to by allowing Kenya to be raped and plundered from the top by looters stealing billions through unsustainable projects to the bottom by petty thieves stealing food from the mouths of Kenyans by elbowing them out of basic survival livelihoods.
Tom Mshindi is the former editor-in-chief of the Nation Media Group and is now consulting. [email protected], @tmshindi