First published in the BiCo News, 8 December 2009
The topic of Professor Kalala J. Ngalamulume’s talk—“The Second Scramble for Africa and the Congo/DRC Crisis”—seemed a world away from the sun-drenched calm of the London Room on Thursday morning.
The lecture was part of the “First Thursday” programs for Emeritus faculty members and guests, an ongoing lecture series that has included topics such as “Women in Deposit Banking in the Mid-Nineteenth Century” and “Medieval Churches in Rome: Life and Afterlife” among others. Lectures are given by current members of the faculty and provide a place for discussion, socialization and, of course, refreshments.
Dressed in shades of blue with a cherry red tie, Ngalamulume, Associate Professor of History and Africana Studies at the College, gave an overview of what he called the “first scramble for Africa” in the 19th century. The rush for the continent’s resources, which include oil, gold, diamonds, and other valuable minerals, was spearheaded by the European powers, namely France and Britain. The result was nearly a century of exploitation and colonial rule that left Africa in various stages of structural development and devastation.
Ngalamulume credited the rise of the Soviet Union, the action of the United Nations, and various student movements and strikes with “becoming the platform for anti-colonial discourse” in the 1950s. The grip of the colonial powers was finally broken in waves throughout the 1960s and 70s, up until the end of apartheid in South Africa as recently as 1994. The Organization of African Unity (OAU) was formed in 1963 to promote cooperation and solidarity between African nations and peoples, as well as to entirely abolish colonialism on the continent.
Ngalamulume then spoke of what he termed the “second scramble”—the rush for resources that began after the fall of communism in 1991. Perched on a desk in the warm sunlight, hands in his lap, the soft-spoken professor outlined the hungry new players dividing up “the African Cake.” “China and Brazil,” he noted, “oiland resource hungry countries…are all very eager to get a piece of these resources.”
China, which has invested nearly $107 billion in Africa, continues to pour money into the continent. While most loans from the World Bank and the IMF come packaged with conditions (the end of human rights abuses, stable governance, timely payments, etc), China’s loans often come with no such requirements, making them extremely attractive to many countries. Generally, however, China does not simply hand over large sums of cash. Instead the country invests it directly in infrastructure after its partner provides a list of what needs to be done.
The government of the Congo, a resource-rich area where Ngalamulume predicts the “competition will reach its zenith,” recently accepted $3 billion from China. The country plans to use the money for infrastructure development and strengthening of the government, which was devastated by war in the last decade.
And China isn’t only doing big business in Africa. Small merchants have begun to set up shop there as well, to the chagrin of many local vendors. These Chinese immigrants sell everything from colorful clothes to fried chicken on the streets of Africa’s largest cities and could create problematic competition for local merchants. Reportedly a Chinatown is even being constructed in Zambia.
Ngalamulume also hopes to begin advocacy work against the export of “blood diamonds,” stones that are the result of forced labor in rebel-controlled mining areas. He would like if women were to begin “refusing diamond engagement rings,” though he admits it doesn’t seem likely to happen in the near future.