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 of Zimbabwe.
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
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
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 defend militarily
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
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 region.
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 percent 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
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 on Zimbabwe,
�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.
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 image. [sic]
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 percent of its
electric power needs from surrounding countries--primarily Mozambique. Only
about 15 percent 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
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.
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 other nation.
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 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 British-led
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
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 Western
A few months after, in December 2007, the 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.
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
Oh, oh! Alarm bells went ringing in London and in Washington at that news.
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.
China�s economic emergence is an unstated 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
trillion 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 Tibet.
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
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.
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,
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,
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.� He is at work on a
new book, from which this has been adapted, �Power of Money: The Rise and
Decline of the American Century.� He may be reached through his website.