Anglo-American and Chinese interests clash over Zimbabwe's strategic
Mugabe's Biggest Sin
By F. William Engdahl
July 30, 2008
Robert Mugabe, the President of Zimbabwe, presides over one of the
world's richest minerals treasures, the Great Dyke region, which
cuts a geological swath across the entire land from northeast to
southwest. The real background to the pious concerns of the Bush
Administration for human rights in Zimbabwe in the past several
years is not Mugabe's possible election fraud or his expropriation
of white settler farms. It is the fact that Mr. Mugabe has been
quietly doing business, a lot of it, with the one country which has
virtually unlimited need of strategic raw materials Zimbabwe can
provide—China. Mugabe's Zimbabwe is, along with Sudan, on the
central stage of the new war over control of strategic minerals of
Africa between Washington and Beijing, with Moscow playing a
supporting role in the drama. The stakes are huge.
Zimbabwe's President, Robert Mugabe is a very very bad man. This we
all know from reading the newspapers or hearing the pronouncements
of George W. Bush, earlier Britain's Tony Blair and more recently
Gordon Brown. In their eyes he has sinned badly. They charge that he
is a dictator; that he has expropriated, often with violence, the
farms of whites as part of land reform; they claim he rigged his re-
election by vote fraud and violence; that he has ruined the economy
Whether Robert Mugabe deserves to be in Washington's honor roll of
villains alongside Fidel Castro, Saddam Hussein, Milosevic,
Ahmadinejad, and Adolf Hitler, however, it is not the reason
Washington and London have made Zimbabwe regime change priority
number one for their Africa policy.
What his sin is seems to have more to do with his attempts to get
out from under Anglo-American neo-colonial serfdom dependency and to
pursue a national economic development independent of the
International Monetary Fund and World Bank. His real sin seems to be
the fact that he has turned to the one nation that offers his
government credits and soft loans for economic development with no
strings attached—The Peoples' Republic of China.
Western media accounts conveniently tend to omit the second major
party to what is a huge tug of war between Anglo-American interests
and China to get control of Zimbabwe's vast mineral wealth. We
should keep in mind that for Washington there are always "good
dictators" and "bad dictators." The difference is whether the given
dictator serves US national interests or not. Mugabe clearly is in
the latter category.
Cecil Rhodes' legacy
Zimbabwe is the name of what under the era of British Imperialism a
century ago was named Rhodesia. The name Rhodesia came from the
British imperial strategist and miner, Cecil Rhodes, founder of the
Rhodes scholarships to Oxford, and author of a plan for a vast
private African zone, to be chartered from the Queen of England,
from Egypt to South Africa. Cecil Rhodes created the British South
Africa Company, modeled on the East India Company, along with his
partner, L. Starr Jameson of Jameson Raid notoriety, to exploit the
mineral riches of Rhodesia. It controlled what was later named
Northern Rhodesia (Zambia) and Southern Rhodesia-Nyasaland. The
model was that the British Government would assume all risks to
militarily defend Rhodes' looting while Rhodes and his London
bankers, above all Lord Rothschild, who was a close associate, would
assume all the gains of the business.
Rhodes, a seasoned geologist, knew well that there was a remarkable
geological fault running from the mouth of the Nile at the Gulf of
Suez south through Sudan, Uganda, Tanzania, down through today's
Zimbabwe on to South Africa. Rhodes had already instigated several
wars to gain control of the diamonds of Kimberly and the gold of
Witwatersrand in South Africa. This geological phenomenon he, as
well as enterprising German explorers, had discovered in the 1880's.
They named it the Great Rift Valley.
Rhodesia, like South Africa after the bloody Boer wars, was settled
by white settlers to secure future minerals gains for allied
interests of the City of London, mainly those of the powerful
Oppenheimer family and their gold and diamond enterprises in the
In 1962 when Africa was undergoing the wave of national liberation
from colonial rule, a wave calculatedly supported by "non-colonial
power" Washington, Rhodesia was one of the last bastions, along with
former British colony South Africa, of white Apartheid rule. Whites
in Rhodesia constituted only 1-2% of the total population so their
methods of holding on to power were rather ruthless.
White supremacist Prime Minister, Ian Smith, declared Rhodesian
independence from Britain in 1965 rather than agree to the slightest
compromise on race or power sharing with black nationalists. Britain
got UN trade sanctions imposed to force Smith to buckle under.
Despite sanctions, there was considerable support from conservative
business interests in London. Britain's Tiny Rowland, head of the
Lonrho mining conglomerate, secured the bulk of his African profits
from Rhodesian copper mining and related ventures under the Smith
regime. The City of London knew very well what riches lay in
Rhodesia. The question was how to secure enduring control. Smith's
Rhodesian backers had little interest in giving it all to London.
Following a long and bloody struggle, in 1980 the leader of the
black African Popular Front coalition, Robert Mugabe, overwhelmingly
won election as the first Prime Minister of a new Zimbabwe. Twenty
eight years later, the same Robert Mugabe is under escalating attack
from the West, especially Zimbabwe's former colonial master,
England, including strong economic sanctions designed to bring the
country to the brink of collapse, to force him to open the economy
to foreign (read Anglo-American and allied) investment. Ironically,
the issue seems not all that different from the Ian Smith era:
London and US control of the resources of the rich land, and
Zimbabwean efforts to resist that control.
The Great Dyke
Within Zimbabwe, a portion of the rich Great Rift is called the
Great Dyke, an intrusive geological treasure zone running over 530
kilometers from the northeast to the southwest of the country, in
places up to 12 kilometers wide. A river runs along the fault and
the region is volcanically active. Here also lie vast deposits of
chromium, of copper, platinum and other metals.
The US State Department, as well as London, is aware of the vast
minerals and other riches of Zimbabwe. It states in a recent report
"Zimbabwe is endowed with rich mineral resources. Exports of gold,
asbestos, chrome, coal, platinum, nickel, and copper could lead to
an economic recovery one day...The country is richly endowed with
coal-bed methane gas that has yet to be exploited.
With international attractions such as Victoria Falls, the Great
Zimbabwe stone ruins, Lake Kariba, and extensive wildlife, tourism
historically has been a significant segment of the economy and
contributor of foreign exchange. The sector has contracted sharply
since 1999, however, due to the country's declining international
With considerable hydroelectric power potential and plentiful coal
deposits for thermal power station, Zimbabwe is less dependent on
oil as an energy source than most other comparably industrialized
countries, but it still imports 40% of its electric power needs from
surrounding countries--primaril y Mozambique. Only about 15% of
Zimbabwe's total energy consumption is accounted for by oil, all of
which is imported. Zimbabwe imports about 1.2 billion liters of oil
per year. Zimbabwe also has substantial coal reserves that are
utilized for power generation, and coal-bed methane deposits
recently discovered in Matabeleland province are greater than any
known natural gas field in Southern or Eastern Africa. In recent
years, poor economic management and low foreign currency reserves
have led to serious fuel shortages."
In short, chrome, copper, gold, platinum, huge hydroelectric power
potential and vast coal reserves are what is at stake for Washington
and London in Zimbabwe. The country also has unverified reserves of
uranium, something in big demand today for nuclear power generation.
It is clear of late that so long as the tenacious Mugabe is running
things, not the Anglo-Americans, but rather the Chinese, are
Zimbabwe's preferred business partners. This seems to be Mugabe's
greatest sin. He's not reading from the right program as George W.
Bush's friends see it. His real sin seems to be turning East not
West for economic and investment help.
The Chinese connection
During the Cold War China recognized and supported Robert Mugabe. In
recent years as China's search for secure raw materials escalated
its foreign diplomacy, relations have become stronger. According to
the Chinese media, China has invested more in Zimbabwe than any
Already back in July 2005 as Tony Blair turned the sanctions screws
tighter on Zimbabwe, Mugabe flew to Beijing to meet with the top
Chinese leadership, where he reportedly sought an emergency loan of
US$1 billion and asked increased Chinese involvement in the economy.
It began to bear fruit. In June 2006 state--owned Zimbabwean
businesses signed a number of energy, mining and farming deals worth
billions of dollars with Chinese companies. The largest was with
China Machine-Building International Corporation, for a $1,3bn
contract to mine coal and build thermal-power generators in
Zimbabwe, to reduce Zimbabwe's electricity shortage. The Chinese
company had already built thermal-power stations in Nigeria and
Sudan, and had been involved in mining projects in Gabon.
In 2007 the Chinese government donated farm machinery worth $25
million to Zimbabwe, including 424 tractors and 50 trucks, as part
of a $58 million loan to the Zimbabwean government. The Mugabe
administration had previously seized white-owned farms and gave them
to blacks, damaging machinery in the process. In return for the
equipment and the loan the Zimbabwean government will ship 30
million kilograms of tobacco to the People's Republic of China.
Other Zimbabwe-China agreements included a deal between the Zimbabwe
Mining Development and China's Star Communications, forming a joint
venture to mine chrome, with funding from the China Development
Bank. Zimbabwe also agreed to import road-building, irrigation and
farming equipment from the China National Construction and
Agricultural Machinery Import and Export Corporation and China Poly
Group. Zimbabwe also relies on China for imports of
telecommunications equipment, military hardware and many other
critical items it can no longer import from the west because of the
Relations have become so important that Zimbabwe's police have a
dedicated "China desk" to protect Chinese interests in the country.
In April 2007 the chairman of China's top political advisory body,
Jia Qinglin, head of the National Committee of the Chinese Peoples'
Political Consultative Conference, flew to Harare to meet with
Mugabe. It was a follow-up to the 2006 Beijing China-Africa
Cooperation Summit where the Chinese government invited the heads of
more than 40 African states to discuss relations. Africa has become
a diplomatic and economic priority for China and its economy.
At that time, Beijing got an open invitation to help develop dormant
mines in the country. The deputy speaker of Zimbabwe's parliament
called for more Chinese investment in the country's mining sector,
according to China's Xinhua news agency. Zimbabwe's mining laws were
changed to allow the government to reallocate mining claims that
were not being exploited.
Mining generates half of Zimbabwe's export revenue. It is the only
sector in the country that still has foreign investors after the
collapse of the main agricultural sector. Western companies with
mining claims in Zimbabwe were not exploiting them. "We would appeal
to the Chinese government to come in full force to exploit these
minerals," Zimbabwean Deputy Parliamentary Speaker, Kumbirai Kangai
said to the official Xinhua.
Kangai assured potential Chinese investors that they would not
expose themselves to legal action if they took over claims held by
A few months after, in December 2007, Chinese company, Sinosteel
Corporation, acquired 67 percent stake in Zimbabwe's leading
ferrochrome producer and exporter Zimasco Holdings. Zimasco Holdings
is the fifth largest high carbonated ferrochrome producer in the
world. It used to produce 210,000 tons of high-carbon ferrochrome
per year, nearly all of it along the mineral-rich Great Dyke,
accounting for 4 percent of global ferrochrome production.
Zimasco has also the world's second largest reserves of chrome,
after South Africa. It was formerly owned by Union Carbide
Corporation, now part of Dow Chemicals Corp.
Oh, oh! Alarm bells went ringing in London and in Washington at that
China clearly views Africa as a central part of its strategic plan,
most notably for its oil reserves and vital raw materials such as
copper, chrome, nickel. The continent is also at the same time
becoming an important region for Chinese manufactured exports. But
the raw materials battle is at the heart, and the real reason by all
accounts, why Washington recently decided to form a separate Africa
Command in the Pentagon.
Controlling China's economic emergence is an un-stated strategic
priority of United States foreign and military policy and has been
since before September 11, 2001. The only delicate point in the
business is the fact that China, with well over $1.7 trillions of
foreign exchange reserves, most believed in form of US Treasury
securities, could trigger a complete dollar panic and further
collapse of the US economy should she decide for political reasons
it were too risky to continue holding its hundreds of billions of US
dollar debt. In effect, by buying US Government debt with its trade
surpluses, China has been indirectly financing US policies counter
to Chinese national interest such as the Iraq war, or even the $100
million or so annually that Condi Rice's State Department spends on
China is refusing to play by the rules of the Anglo-American neo-
colonial game. It does not seek IMF or World Bank approval before
dealing with African countries. It makes soft loans, regardless who
might be running the country. In this it does nothing different from
Washington or London. The Chinese see American influence in Africa
less entrenched than in the rest of the world, thus offering unique
opportunities for China to pursue its economic interests.
It may or may not be cynical. It may be Realpolitik. If it results
in the ability of certain African countries to use China as a
political counterweight to the one-sided Anglo-American domination
of the Continent, that itself could be a major benefit to Africans
depending on how they use it.
Clearly, it has been extremely positive for Chinese access to vital
economic minerals for its economy as well as oil from places such as
Darfur and southern Sudan, or Nigeria.
Mineral wealth has once more put Africa on center stage of a battle
for mineral riches between East and West. This time, unlike during
the Cold War era, however, Beijing is playing with far more assets,
and Washington with far less.
F. William Engdahl is author of A Century of War: Anglo-American Oil
Politics and the New World Order (Pluto Press), and Seeds of
Destruction: The Hidden Agenda of Genetic Manipulation
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