Much ado about Africa’s silence on China’s alleged human rights abuse

Thursday, May 6th, 2021 00:00 |
An anti-government protester throws a molotov cocktail during a demonstration near the Legislative Council building in Hong Kong, China, September 29, 2019. PHOTO/REUTERS

The above title was published as the heading of an article appearing on the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) website on Sunday. According to writer Dickens Olewe of BBC News, “African countries are not among those calling out China for its treatment of the mostly Muslim Uyghur population in the north-western region of Xinjiang.”

The article goes on to cite instances where African leaders have kept silent amid allegations of human rights abuse in China. In one example, Olewe says 25 African countries sided with China in June 2020 during a vote in June 2020 at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva about the controversial Hong Kong national security law.

In October the same year, the writer laments that no African country signed up to a stinging Western rebuke of China's human rights violations in Xinjiang, Hong Kong and Tibet. He goes on about indictments of China’s human rights record by the obviously biased Human Rights Watch that Africa steered away from.

The release of Hong Kong’s Independent Police Complaints Council in May 2020 exonerated the city’s law enforcement agencies from accusations of brutality or other human rights violations during the 2019 pro-democracy riots. According to the report, the use of police force was a justified response to specific acts of violence by the thousands of protesters.

On recent accusations of human rights abuse in Xinjiang particularly involving forced labour, Africa is not new to the demands in the cotton growing fields. In order to create employment, a lot of farm work is still done manually. Unlike the developed North, the South cannot afford the human opportunity cost of mechanization.

Further, Olewe quotes the Afrobarometer study that purports to show how Africans side more with the U.S. than with China on economic, political, and social matters. Nothing could be further the truth going by what the two partners have achieved both at the bi-lateral level and at the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation platform. Mutual respect between the partners has actually been the mainstay of the partnership.

The article was a clear incitement, particularly where the writer talks about how African youth are not supportive of Sino-African relations. He supports this assertion by quoting U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken who recently told African students: "We're not asking anyone to choose between the United States or China, but I would encourage you to ask those tough questions, to dig beneath the surface, to demand transparency, and to make informed choices."

If the writer read himself keenly, his theme revolved around an apparent tug of war between Africa and the West with China in the middle. But as he rightly put it, the two partners have an understanding on how they want to transact their economic and diplomatic relations.

Chinese President Xi Jinping delivers a speech in the Palais des Nations at the United Nations in Geneva, January 18, 2017. Photo/Courtesy

As the writer rightly noted, Sino-Africa relations are based on three planks: human rights, economic interests and non-interference in internal affairs. This mutual respect on each other’s internal decisions has been the major foundation in sustaining and growing the relationship between the two strategic partners.

Indeed, it is not a secret that the West has been spoiling for a fight to no avail. All conspiracy theories it has floated about China’s intentions in Africa have been debunked. The biggest crushing defeat yet is the debunking of the so called ‘debt trap’ which alleged that the second largest economy is fixing weak economies with loans they cannot pay. After doing the mathematics of who the continent owes more to, nothing more has been heard of the wild allegations.

The U.S. should be the last to throw stones on human rights abuse issues whether internally or externally. On the latter, U.S. soldiers have been cited for killing of innocent people in countries where they have occupied under the guise of restoring peace. It is an open secret that this was the reason that former President Donald Trump withdrew its support for The Hague based International Court of Justice.

The U.S. systemic race challenges with minorities has now come out in the open after decades of deception. It is now clear that both African and Asian Americans are second class citizens in the land of the free. Many of the black families in the country are carrying scars from the cold blooded killing of relatives and friends, with no respite from the justice system that is clearly skewed against them.

Africa does not need any advice to determine who is on the right side of history and who is still living in the past. Recently, China’s foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian stated that “if the US is looking for major-country competition and make African countries take side(s), it's sure to meet with rejection as that will only bring harm to the interest of African countries and people.”

The writer is the Executive Director of South-South Dialogues, a Nairobi based research and development communication think tank.

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