China’s communist head of state, Xi Jinping, arrived on Monday in Rwanda, the third leg of his Middle East and Africa tour to sell the nation’s “One Belt, One Road” (OBOR) infrastructure program amid claims China is using the initiative to recolonize Africa.
Xi spent the weekend in Senegal, where he convinced President Macky Sall to sign a deal to formally join OBOR, which has most commonly spread in Africa through Chinese predatory loans used to build major infrastructure projects like roads, ports, and railways. Xi insisted that Senegal would form a key part of the new Silk Road Economic Belt, alongside the Maritime Silk Road in the South China Sea that forms the other half of the project’s name.
Xi arrived in Africa just as a scandal erupted in Kenya, where Chinese workers are busy putting together the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR), the biggest infrastructure project in the country in decades. A report in Kenya’s the Standard this month revealed that the Chinese have established a system that multiple media outlets in the country have begun referring to as “apartheid,” in which Kenyan workers are not allowed to eat alongside Chinese workers, are not allowed to take the same buses from work site to work site, and are kept from all skilled labor jobs despite boasting sufficient training for many of the jobs needed. China had promised Kenya that the SGR would create local jobs but, instead, has imported thousands of Chinese citizens to do the work, ensuring that Kenya will always rely on China to maintain and repair the railway.
Senegal became the first West African country to sign onto OBOR this weekend during the first visit by a Chinese head of state in almost a decade, according to China’s state-run Global Times newspaper. Xi reportedly promised Sall that China would “uphold the spirit of ‘teaching a man to fish'” rather than make Senegal dependent on China, the way China has operated in Kenya. In a guest column published in the nation’s Le Soleil newspaper, Xi urged Senegal to “deepen practical cooperation” with OBOR, also known as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
Noting that trade volume between the two countries multiplied 16 times in the past ten years, Xi wrote:
China will work with Senegal to tap our respective strengths in the trade and processing of agricultural and aquatic products, infrastructure, production capacity, industrial parks and human resources development, all of which are important for Senegal’s capability to achieve home-grown development.
“The many China-funded projects, including the Foundiougne bridge and the Thies-Touba highway, will strongly boost Senegal’s economic growth,” Xi pointed out, citing some of the joint projects China is funding in the country.
Just as Xi insists that OBOR will lead to great independence for African states, so, too, did a Chinese expert commenting for the Global Times‘ claim that the arrival of OBOR to Senegal is a victory against “former colonizers.”
Professor Meng Guangwen contended:
The signing of such a document is of great exemplary value as an overwhelming majority of African countries are heavily influenced by their former colonizers, such as France and the UK, although there are many China-Africa cooperation projects already going on all over the continent.
Xi is expected to make the same pitch in Rwanda, the first visit of any Chinese leader to the country. According to the South China Morning Post, more than a dozen OBOR deals are on the table in talks between Xi and President Paul Kagame, including deals to allow easier travel to Chinese nationals into the country, “cooperation on geological surveys and concessional loans to fund key road projects,” Rwanda media reported.
Whether OBOR will become popular in Rwanda and Senegal will depend largely on how China can sell it to the leadership of those countries. Beijing is currently dealing with a major public relations disaster in nearby Kenya, where OBOR agreements have led to accusations of Chinese colonialism and apartheid.
As noted above, the Standard found extensive evidence of racist policies implemented by the Chinese officials running the SGR, from not allowing Kenyan workers to sit at the same lunch tables as Chinese workers or have any access to instruction manuals or anything but the lowest skilled labor. Some Kenyan workers complain that they may face physical punishment if Chinese workers declare their efforts are not up to par.
Outside of the work on the railway itself, the Standard found that China has made a mockery of its immigration system. While the Chinese government claims more than 2,000 workers in Kenya, the newspaper claims that China is sending an unknown number, totaling into at least the hundreds, of Chinese nationals into Kenya with tourist visas and having them work on the railway. When their tourist visa expires, they go home and apply for a new one and return to take more Kenyan jobs.
In response to these allegations, the Kenyan government questioned its citizens’ work ethic and urged Kenyans to work harder.