The late Chinese prime minister, Chou-En Lai, upon being asked whether the French Revolution had been a good thing in world history, was reported to have said: "It is still too early to tell". Watching the Western media analyse the recent emergence of China as a major investor in Africa (from war-torn Sudan to besieged Zimbabwe and oil-rich Angola) and likely to become a new factor to rival the historical Euro-American ascendancy in African politics, one is even more justified in saying that it is "too soon to tell" what the outcome of the Chinese love affair in Africa will be. India is also increasingly mentioned as a new source of large-scale investments in Africa.
For the moment, the emergence of the Asian superpowers, themselves once in the sphere of British imperialism, as investors and trading partners in Africa, seems to offer an opportunity of shaking the "marginalisation" into which most African countries had fallen since the collapse of the Soviet bloc in 1989 which diminished Africa's strategic interest in the "Cold War".
In recent years, some Afro-pessimists have even begun to fear that the hopes of an African recovery from centuries of Western economic exploitation would be further compromised by the scourge of HIV/Aids and other imponderable setbacks arising from global warming and other environmental threats. But, apart from their historical past of subjection to imperialism, there is no rational reason why Africans or black people should necessarily be more idealistic or socialist than thou. I recognise that, within the cause of pan-Africanism, it is difficult to argue how Africans cannot conform and act within the prevailing global order.
Moreover, just as it is said that some Roman emperors employed servants to whisper in their ears timely reminders of their mortality, some Africanist revolutionaries should also always have accountants by their side to advise them on the economic costs of abrupt change or governance. Gone are the days when, for all his many qualities as a heroic leader of Frelimo, Samora Machel, upon assuming power in the newly-independent Mozambique in 1975, declared his intention of eradicating poverty in the country within one year, or maybe "two or three years" from the end of Portuguese colonial rule.
My belief in the need to balance revolutionary ambitions with common-sense accountancy is perhaps based on the unusual fact that, although privately conspiring against colonialism since my teenage years, I was actually a banking official by profession. In fact, I was arrested in January 1959 at the respectable offices of Barclays Bank DCO in Lourenco Marques (now Maputo), which then held most of the accounts of British and South African businesses in the country.
A group of six Portuguese PIDE state police agents who made my arrest burst in, in a manner that looked like a hold-up, and confiscated all my papers, books, etc, possibly with the consent of the British management of the bank. I had worked there for 10 years, since I was 19, and had managed to become the bank's economic analyst and business interpreter, while secretly accumulating knowledge and documents of the ins and outs of colonial economies, including that of South Africa, where the regional headquarters of the bank were situated.
I had to leave for London to continue my banking career as I had left behind a wife and a daughter in Mozambique who needed support. Through the National Union of Bank Employees, I found a vacancy in the Moscow Narodny Bank, the Soviet merchant bank, which in the early 1960s was in need of qualified international staff. At the time, the bank had vast sums in pounds sterling at its disposal and was actually keen on expanding its network of correspondent banks in other Western countries. I, by then working in their economic analysts department, made good use of my previous experience of observation in Africa. …