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China in Africa: win-win development, or a new colonialism? (The Guardian)
July 31, 2018
By Nick Van Mead
As their hand-built wooden dhow approaches the shore, Ibrahim Chamume and his fellow fishermen take in the sail and prepare to sell their catch to the small huddle of villagers waiting on the white sand. He has been making a living like this on the Indian Ocean since he was 14. His father was a fisherman, too.
Now in his 30s, Ibrahim says earning enough from traditional fishing is tough, but has its compensations. There is the view across the tranquil lagoon to the mangrove swamps; the unspoiled beaches and bays; the lush vegetation and smallholdings growing maize, cassava, cashews and mango. Such scenes must have played out in the tiny Tanzanian village of Mlingotini for centuries.
In a decade, however, the mud-and-thatch homes of Mlingotini, and a further four villages along this coastline 30 miles north of Dar Es Salaam, will be gone – razed to make space for a $10bn Chinese-built mega-port and a special economic zone backed by an Omani sovereign wealth fund.
There have been concerns about these loans. Research by the Centre for Global Development found Djibouti was among eight Belt and Road countries significantly or highly vulnerable to debt distress from the loans – with IMF figures showing its public external debt swelling from 50% to 85% of GDP in two years. Before his visit to Africa in March, former US secretary of state Rex Tillerson accused China of predatory loan practices; when she was secretary of state, Hillary Clinton warned of China's "new colonialism". Four months into the job, Tillerson’s successor Mike Pompeo is yet to visit.