Thursday, June 1, 2017

A Good Laugh and Second Wave Colonialism

       Yesterday, I came across an article at NPR entitled "Kenyans Cheer Opening Of Mombasa-Nairobi Railway." The article begins by stating that "[a] little more than a hundred years after the British built a railway through their East African colony, Kenyans celebrated building one of their own." (Underline added).

       The article then goes on to interview various Kenyans about how pleased with or inspired by this new rail road. One man exclaims, "the building of this train is already overwriting the colonial legacy left by the British." And for those who want to skip to the end, the article ends with this thought:
And as the train cut its way from one town to another, over the course of 300 miles, one thing became certain: This was a proud moment for Kenyans. As the train lurched forward, little kids ran toward it waving and smiling, and women and men left their fieldwork and sought higher ground to get a look at this new, marvelous machine.
      If all you did was read the first half of the article, you might have thought this a great national product showing that Kenyans were ready to advance beyond what the British had bequeathed them in infrastructure. But buried in the second half of the article is the ugly truth: Kenyans had nothing to do with this railroad, and they certainly didn't build it:
The rail line was financed with more than $3 billion borrowed from the Chinese government. A Chinese company built it, and a Chinese company will operate it for the first five years. For China, this project is part of a grand plan to revive the old Silk Road. In Africa, China imagines a vast network of rails, from Kenya, through Uganda and Burundi and up to South Sudan that can help it move its goods in and out of the continent with expediency.
       Moreover, it is not even clear that Kenya needed the rail road. The article reports that "Kenya was already running a railway left over from colonial times. According to a World Bank analysis, refurbishing that rail would have resulted in the same performance as the new line and cost less than half of what it took to build the new railway." The only result is that Kenya has gone into debt and accepted new colonial overmasters. It is, as Anonymous Conservative noted recently, as if r-strategists naturally drift toward being either slave holders or slaves.

       In any event, the story elicits a chuckle or two at the shear hubris that prevents the Kenyans interviewed by NPR from acknowledging that, no, they didn't build it; and a thought or two about whether sub-Saharan Africa is capable of sustaining the veneer of civilization without the assistance of colonial masters. In any event, this is another example of Second Wave Colonialism as China broadens the reach and power of its mercantile empire.

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