By Ali Askouri *
“Kill the victim and walk in the funeral” a Sudanese proverb
December 16, 2007 — China’s long term friendship with the government of Sudan is costing the country its reputation and image. Ironically, China has – over the last few years - worked out its heart and energies to upgrade its international acceptance and improve its image given that China is hosting the world biggest sport event (the Olympics) in the summer of 2008. However, as the recent protests in the camps of the displaced in Darfur against China peace keeping force demonstrate, China is no doubt paying hefty price for its strategic past mistakes.
Since around mid-nineties China has been supplying the government of Sudan with all types of weaponry, and ammunitions, including jet fighters, helicopters, small arms, machines guns etc…not only that, but China has upped its economic support for the internationally isolated government pouring billions of dollars into ill prepared infrastructure projects (such as Merowe dam). Despite the excessive human rights violation that the government security committed in these projects, China turned a blind eye to the suffering of the communities and continues to fuel the repressive machinery of the government with arms and money.
The protest of the displaced in Darfur camps should come as a surprise only to Chinese policy makers. The displaced communities have for long time known that the planes which attack their villages are Chinese made, and that the bombs that flattened their houses and burnt their huts are supplied by China. The fuel and lubricants that the planes use are produced by Chinese companies.
The Chinese leaders must have felt the shame knowing of the protests of the displaced against the presence of their supposed peace keeping forces. Indeed, in such humanitarian situations, nothing can help save a country reputation only creditably, genuineness, and neutrality. Given the past dealings of China with government of Sudan, the displaced are certainly aware that China has not been neutral in Darfur conflict. Indeed, on any impartial view, China lacks the creditability that qualifies it to take part in peace keeping.
China involvement in oil discovery in southern Darfur also casts more doubts on the genuineness of its humanitarian claims. China donation of a tiny 10 millions USD to an estimated two millions displaced communities who have been suffering for the last five years, no doubt undermined its humanitarian claims. Given the fact that China trade with Sudan will exceed 6 billions USD by the end of the year as was announced by China Deputy Minister of Trade earlier this week, the donation of a tiny 10 USD millions reveals China’s complete lack of magnanimity, fraternity and indifference to human suffering. This in fact confirms, yet again, that China is in Africa to plunder natural resources regardless of the suffering of African communities. Considering donations made by other countries which have not received a single drop of Sudan oil and have donated four or five times the amount China has, China humanitarian position becomes more unwarrantable.
The incident in the camps of the displaced in fact revealed to what extent China has isolated itself from Sudanese communities. To take another example, in northern Sudan, Chinese companies are building a series of dam projects despite opposition from the affected communities.
The first shooting incident took place in Merowe dam, where the dam authority flew in its security forces from Khartoum to uproot the riverian communities to desert locations. In April 2006, four farmers were killed on the spot and more than forty were injured when the dam security opened fire without warning on a community gathering in the local school courtyard. As if the loss of four lives was not enough to deter the Chinese companies, they went further north and started a new dam project in Kajabar village. Here too the dam security attempted to quash local opposition by shooting dead six villagers, two of whom were children aged 13 and 14 years. To date no investigations in the killings have been made and the perpetrators still remain at large. Again, these two incidents meant nothing to the resource hungry China. Following the shooting, the Chinese companies moved down the Nile and started another dam project in Al Shiraik. As tension continues to build up in the area, it is inevitable that more shooting will take place.
In earlier decades, Chinese personnel, like other expatriates were welcome around Africa in spirit of friendship and fraternity. However, once Chinese policy makers chose to befriend repressive governments at the cost of African communities the situation has changed; this may explain why China has been slammed in Darfur camps. It will no doubt, therefore, take China decades of hard work to get to where it was to win back African communities. Chinese policy makers must know that, in today’s world there is no hiding place. It will not help them to continue to deny their known complicity in supporting dictatorships and corruption in Africa. Gone are the days of secrecy and censorship.
To avoid further future international embarrassment and shame; China must distance itself from supporting dictatorships and corruption in Africa. China must behave as a responsible investor that promotes transparency and accountability. China must know that it is no longer possible to “kill the victim and walk in the funeral”. The Darfur displaced certainly don’t want China to walk in their funerals. The world is now too small, if China can escape complicity in genocide and crimes against humanity, it can’t escape international shame and distortion of its public image.
• The author is the director of Piankhi Research Group, he can be reached by email: firstname.lastname@example.org