Red Diamonds: Chinese Involvement in Zimbabwe

By Farineau, Katie | Harvard International Review, Summer 2013 | Go to article overview

Red Diamonds: Chinese Involvement in Zimbabwe

Farineau, Katie, Harvard International Review

During the summer of last year, the International Monetary Fund declared that Africa would soon be home to 70 percent of the world's fastest growing economies, with Ethiopia, Mozambique, Tanzania, Congo, Ghana, Zambia and Nigeria each growing at rates higher than six percent a year. In light of the ongoing Eurozone crisis, this boom has been heralded as promising and reassuring--the start of a new age for a continent rich in natural resources and untested potential. However, the gleam of such a gem is paled by a dark shadow cast thousands of miles away by the largest country in the world. With China's heavy involvement in Africa's booming economy, words like "exploited" and "corrupted" replace rosier depictions of the region's activity. Recently, phrases such as "human rights abuses," "volatile race relations," "unsustainable trade," and "labor violations" have resonated with oppressed diamond miners in Zimbabwe, subjugated copper miners in Zambia, and global watchdogs who had hoped the world had seen an end to the horrors of neocolonialism.


Since 2010, China emerged as Africa's most important trading partner and has had spectacular profits. Its strategy has been to provide loans for fledgling governments in exchange for natural resources and foreign markets for exports. African trade grew by over three percent in 2011, and the numbers speak volumes for the two-fold benefits that the dominant nation has enjoyed: over half of the US $110 billion netted from trade reached China in the form of natural resources, while Africa saw significantly less gain. Africa's importation of massive quantities of cheap Chinese goods has supplied Beijing with a steady source of alluring raw materials and a large market for exports. One cannot help but be reminded of the legacy of French occupation in Vietnam, the Dutch sphere of influence in Indonesia, and the sweeping ramifications of unequal trade and foreign exploitation throughout African history. South African President Jacob Zuma remarked at the July China-Africa Forum: "Africa's commitment to China's development has been demonstrated by a supply of raw materials, other products, and technology transfer. This trade pattern is unsustainable in the long term. Africa's past economic experience with Europe dictates a need to be cautious when entering into partnerships with other economies."

Imbalanced economics and resource exploitation by China pose pressing long-term concerns. China's human rights abuses, labor violations, and alliances with dictatorships in Africa are subjects of tension. Racism is inherent in the neocolonial actions of the Chinese, as well. African workers are paid significantly less than their Chinese counterparts, and working-hour statutes are regularly flouted. In Zambian mines, Chinese workers are paid three times more than their native counterparts. Worse yet, cheap manufacturing in China often undercuts the competitiveness of other African industries. According to Mara Hativagone, former president of the Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce (ZNCC), "There is no way Zimbabweans can compete with the Chinese, because they use cheap labor and mass produce while half the time we have no water and electricity in our industries."

Zimbabwe, the nation that recently had only $217 US dollars in the bank but whose elite reap billions from backroom diamond deals each year, has made itself the perfect mark for Beijing's ambitions. Zimbabwean leader Robert Mugabe recently forged a relationship with the Chinese government in exchange for funding for a new US $98 million military academy. The only catch is that the Zimbabwean government must repay the Chinese in massive shipments of questionably-obtained diamonds over the course of the next decade. Putting aside concerns about a dictatorial military academy, Zimbabwe's diamond mining industry has proved to be one of the most horrendously abusive in the world.

Discovered only in 2006, the Marange area in eastern Zimbabwe has become one of the most lucrative diamond mines in the world and one of the most targeted by smugglers, illegal miners, and international buyers. …

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