Chinese influence in Africa VCG/Getty Images

The Imperialist People’s Republic of Africa?

To call China a colonial power is to diminish the true horrors that were faced by colonized communities. But that does not mean that African countries can be complacent as Chinese actors continue to deepen their economic engagement with the continent.

BEIJING – A few months ago, a New York Times magazine cover was emblazoned with the question “Is China the World’s New Colonial Power?” The notion that China is a twenty-first-century colonizer is not new: commentators have been batting it around for a decade. But, to anyone who has experienced or even studied colonialism, the claim seems inappropriate, if not insulting.

The colonialism described in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Walter Rodney’s How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, and Franz Fanon’s Black Skin, White Maskswas insidious and potent. Yes, there were strong trade and investment relationships, but there was always explicit dominance, exemplified in imposed curricula, curfews, and movement restrictions based on skin color.

In the countries that experienced such colonialism – including my home country, Kenya – the effects can be felt to this day. To call China a colonial power is to diminish the true horrors that were faced by the colonized communities, including by my own relatives, who were detained by the British colonial authorities.

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