WORLD

Africa casts a shadow on the Olympics

PATRICIA TREBLE March 3 2008
WORLD

Africa casts a shadow on the Olympics

PATRICIA TREBLE March 3 2008

Africa casts a shadow on the Olympics

PATRICIA TREBLE

With less than six months before the Beijing Summer Olympics open on Aug. 8, China is under increasing pressure over its massive involvement in Africa. Last Tuesday, director Steven Spielberg announced he’d resigned as an artistic adviser for the opening and closing ceremonies because China, Sudan’s biggest trading partner, wasn’t doing enough to stop the violence in Darfur. More than 200,000 have been killed in the region and another 2.5 million have fled since 2003. Critics label the crisis a government-sponsored genocide and have accused Khartoum of obstructing plans for peacekeepers in Darfur.

China has poured money into the poor but resource-rich continent. Trade has grown 60fold since 1990, according to Fredrik Erixon of the European Centre for International Political Economy in Brussels. In 2006, it topped US$50 billion, while China is spending still more billions on dams, pipelines and other infrastructure. Importantly, for nations like Sudan with nasty reputations, the money comes without strings. “China has nurtured connections with rogue states for a long time,” states Erixon. “China doesn’t demand any corruption [reduction].” Leonard Vincent, of the watchdog group Reporters Without Borders, echoes the analysis, calling China and its non-interference policy “very toxic for democracy,” noting that African nations are increasingly imprisoning journalists with impunity.

China takes more than two-thirds of Sudan’s oil exports and, in return, the Khartoum government has received a bounty of military equipment. Chinese-made fighter jets are stationed in Darfur while janjaweed militiamen, responsible for many of the atrocities, carry Chinese AK-47s. Though it’s unclear whether the Asian giant, craving raw materials, will change its policy, the damage to China’s Olympic dreams is already starting to happen as countries and athletes echo the blunt words of actress Mia Farrow, who’s led the campaign to pressure China on Sudan: “How can Beijing host the Games at home and underwrite genocide in Darfur?” M