By Kumar David –
Usually if goods are on sale and a buyer purchases at an agreed price, one certainly cannot blame seller for putting items for trade unless they are defective nor blame buyer for grabbing a bargain. But then if an indigent lady, maybe with children to feed, puts her services up ‘voluntarily’ is she a soiled person or are men who visit her degraded predators? The argument can go on till daybreak. Sociologically, are people destitute and hungry ‘voluntarily’? No. In a hand-to-mouth world will someone watch her children go hungry? In a streetwise sense if the offer is voluntary and the transaction agreeable, morality apart, are two adults entitled to do as they please?
These are matters on which I am not erudite, but the parallel in global economics and politics is an extension of the topic that I am comfortable to comment on. Let us say that Zambia or Sri Lanka spends more on imports than it earns on exports and say that it incurs large debts as project loans. Say the projects are failures (stupid decisions, corruption or incompetence). Indebtedness will grow year by year as it cannot service its commitments. In this case the President, Central Bank Governor, Finance Minister and the other jokers who run the country will have no option but to do the glorified equivalent of what the unfortunate lady was compelled to do. Now say a knight in shining armour riding a dragon or a saviour from Washington comes by and spotting a joker in distress offers a loan. The interest, repayment terms and penalties in the event of default are made clear. Here’s the moral of the story: Should the ‘benefactor’ refuse to lend to the impecunious supplicant, walk away and leave the tramp to squirm in the dust, or should a stern economist read out the riot act to this nation of easy virtue? Tell me reader what’s the right answer? Don’t say “just hand out billions” because that doesn’t happen in the real world.
Zambia fits this tale of whoring. She mismanaged per finances, sold copper and her people ate a part of the income while political pimps purloined the rest. Now, espying the glitter of Chinese gold she sells what’s left of her body. National resources are mortgaged or leased for up to four generation, ZESCO (Zambia’s CEB), the country’s principal airport (Kenneth Kaunda Airport), National Broadcasting Cooperation are handed over to China. Prime land in Victoria Falls has been sold and Konkola, Zambia’s second largest copper mine complex has been or soon will be Chinese owned. And much more. It is first African country to default on its debts and is unable countenance $23 billion in investment $ 3 billion in loans from China. Zambia has fallen on its face. Over 600 Chinese enterprises operate in the country and there were 80,000 Chinese people living there.
What I do not accept is the notion that innocent Zambia was ravished by rapacious China which lavished billions of dollars on an unwilling virgin. The terms and conditions of loans and investments were always clear. Charges of deception have to the best of my knowledge not been made by serious analysts. Did China take advantage of Zambia’s plight and other African nation to spread political influence and to make profitable investments? No doubt the answer to that question is a resounding YES. I would be amazed if China or any other powerful country with surplus resources to invest had not done the same. If the United States, or Germany or Japan (everybody else is too broke to play on this scale) which could lend and invest profitably would have done something similar. The terms on offer may have been tougher especially if the investor was a profit seeking capitalist enterprise.
The predatory dimension of this story is the strategic competition between superpowers. The Belt & Road Initiative is intended to further China’s strategic and economic clout. Will China offer better terms to whores who deny favours to competitors and will it seek to entice the most well-proportioned and nicely positioned (pun intended) partners? Sure it will. Is China to blame for post-colonial world third world impoverishment? Certainly not. Who is to blame for Lanka’s indebtedness and misery – corrupt political whores, or a country which consumes more than it produces, or the Masters of the Middle Kingdom who strike a good deal when it is on offer? Whatever your judgment on that issue, surely you cannot say that I have misstated the facts though I have couched them in a pungent idiom for your enjoyment.