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Wake up Namibia! It is only a matter of time before Mandarin is taught in our schools

Wake up Namibia! It is only a matter of time before Mandarin is taught in our schools

The ever-escalating interest of China in Africa is amply demonstrated by this image showing a meeting on Friday 10 October between South Africa’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dr Naledi Pandor, and her Chinese colleague, Mr Wang Yi.

Foreign affairs ministers do not meet for no reason, and while it may be more difficult for the Chinese to get control of the South African economy, there certainly are no restraints to their diligent efforts elsewhere in Africa.

For instance, a recent trip to Zambia unequivocally showed that the whole Zambia now belongs to the Chinese. The in-your-face confirmation of this statement hits you when you disembark at Kenneth Kaunda International Airport near Lusaka. The official signage and many of the other billboards are in Chinese and English. This is something we have not yet seen in Namibia except for the bilingual English Chinese signs on some of the overhead cranes in Windhoek.

A quick internet search for Lusaka’s airport provided another stunning reality-check of China’s pervasive control of Zambia. The top three Google references were all in Mandarin or perhaps Cantonese, I am not sure.

Going about on Lusaka’s streets offered thousands more clues of how Chinese enterprises control the entire economic system. Many, and by many I mean hundreds of public billboards or signs are in Chinese and English.

This presented a unique anomaly. One does not see many Chinese faces on Lusaka’s streets, on the contrary they are rather scarce. This begs the logical question: Why would the Lusaka municipality bother to have signs in Chinese, or allow private individuals and companies to display Chinese signs when there are only a few visible oriental faces.

A clue was provided by a Namibian living and working in Ndola. In this fair-sized city, the same visual attack from Chinese signs confronts the visitor, same as in Lusaka. But according to the information provided by my long-lost friend, the reason for the absence of Chinese faces is because they are all in the back of the businesses.

My friend could not state a number but estimated that about 80% of the smaller to medium businesses in both Lusaka and Ndola, belongs to Chinese owners. The typical pattern is that a new arrival will start up a very small, almost informal small shop from which a selection of cheap Chinese goods are sold. These goods are supplied as consignment stock and it is only after a few months that the new shop owner is expected to start paying something back. This is to ensure the financial success of the new venture when cashflow restrictions may be a limiting factor for any other small business which does not enjoy this Big Daddy protection. During this start-up phase, the owner will typically stay on the premises, most of the time in a small room at the back or in the second storey. It also often happens that entire Chinese families stay in one or two small rooms on the store premises.

Does this sound familiar? Go to any small rural Namibian town, and by that I mean ANY town. Whether it is Opuwo or Katwitwi or Khorixas or Omaruru or Mariental or Karasburg or even Lüderitz, the ubiquitous small Chinese traders are there.

A week ago I travelled to Eenhana, the administrative capital of the Ohangwena Region. I was astonished beyond measure to see how many Chinese shops there are and how these are systematically pushing out small indigenous traders and even bigger businesses. And here the same anomaly presented itself as in Ndola: – during a whole day’s walkabout in Eenhana, I only saw one Chinese on the street. The only difference to Ndola was that the Eenhana signs were all still in English.

These observations got me wondering what exactly are the Chinese’s longer term vision and plan with Africa. It was then that I dug up a gem on the internet, published by a group styling themselves as the Committee for the Abolition of Illegitimate Debt ( Click this link and check it out. It may seem hilarious were it not for the serious and ubiquitous presence of Chinese nationals everywhere in Africa.

Quoting one Richard Krah writing for the Daily Rant in Ghana, the author also referred to the international airport in Lusaka.

Now remember Zambia and Ghana are a fair distance apart. I would say in the order of several thousand kilometres. Furthermore, Zambia is in southern Africa while Ghana is in West Africa so there is nothing tangible linking the two countries. The only link is that both are former British colonies, so English forms some sort of tie.

Nevertheless, Mr Krah stated that it is obvious that China, the Chinese government, and Chinese nationals are colonising Africa, “appealing to the ignorance and selfish interests of our leaders.” Now this sounds a lot like Namibia.

Mr Krah continued, “China is now proposing to take over the Kenneth Kaunda International Airport should Zambia Government fail to pay back its huge foreign debt on time. The issue of whether Zambia posses the required economic muscle to repay that debt is in contention considering the amount involved. It’s typical of the Chinese strategy.”

And more: “the Chinese own 60% shares of the Zambian National Broadcasting corporation which means Chinese have an influence over what should or should not be premiered on their sets.”

Does this sound like Namibia? Not yet but the NBC, TransNamib and Air Namibia are certainly candidates begging for investors and with that will come financial and operational control.

Reverting to his native Ghana, Mr Krah fired the parting shot: “Ghana is equally towing same lane as our leaders have started signing contracts already; Chinese owned company, STARTIME is gradually gaining grounds over our major institutions, our biggest mining companies will soon be “taken” over by a Chinese company and many others. Now if this is not modern day slavery, what then is it? The 21st century African slave is never in chain; we are in debt caused by the ignorance or selfish interests of our leaders. Pathetic!”

Does this sound like Namibia? It certainly does!

Photograph by Yandisa Monakali of the South African government’s Department of International Relations and Cooperation.


About The Author

Daniel Steinmann

Educated at the University of Pretoria: BA (hons), BD. Postgraduate degrees in Philosophy and Divinity. Publisher and Editor of the Namibia Economist since February 1991. Daniel Steinmann has steered the Economist as editor for the past 32 years. The Economist started as a monthly free-sheet, then moved to a weekly paper edition (1996 to 2016), and on 01 December 2016 to a daily digital newspaper at It is the first Namibian newspaper to go fully digital. He is an authority on macro-economics having established a sound record of budget analysis, strategic planning and assessing the impact of policy formulation. For eight years, he hosted a weekly talk-show on NBC Radio, explaining complex economic concepts to a lay audience in a relaxed, conversational manner. He was a founding member of the Editors' Forum of Namibia. Over the years, he has mentored hundreds of journalism students as interns and as young professional journalists. From time to time he helps economics students, both graduate and post-graduate, to prepare for examinations and moderator reviews. He is the Namibian respondent for the World Economic Survey conducted every quarter for the Ifo Center for Business Cycle Analysis and Surveys at the University of Munich in Germany. Since October 2021, he conducts a weekly talkshow on Radio Energy, again for a lay audience. On 04 September 2022, he was ordained as a Minister of the Dutch Reformed Church of Africa (NHKA). Send comments or enquiries to [email protected]