Meet the new imperialists

Riots in Zambia: The song remains the same

Published October 3, 2006 9:32PM (EDT)

Gangs of looters are reportedly targeting Chinese-owned shops in Lusaka, Zambia, as anger over the defeat of Michael Sata in the recent presidential election has spread through the capital city.

Sata had made China's growing presence in Zambia's booming copper mining industry a campaign issue, even at one point threatening to establish diplomatic relations with Taiwan.

His accusations weren't purely political. Working conditions in the mining industry in Zambia are miserable, and by the end of the campaign, the incumbent, Levy Mwanawasa, was scrambling to respond. Last week, he ordered the arrest and prosecution "of investors in the country's copper mines who are breaking labor laws."

Living up to that campaign promise may be a bit tricky for Mwanawasa. Chinese companies are among those who have been accused of mistreating miners. An explosion last year that killed 40 workers was followed by the shooting deaths of six workers earlier this summer at one Chinese-run mine. But when China threatened to pull out of Zambia after Sata's overture to Taiwan in August, Mwanawasa sounded distraught, noting that "if that happened the people would suffer as Chinese investment had created many job opportunities for Zambia."

It's not just the Chinese who are stirring resentment in Zambia. India is also getting flak. Protests erupted when Vedanta, one of India's largest mining companies, was able to purchase a 51 percent stake in the Konkola Copper Complex for "peanuts."

Call them the New Imperialists. Look upon their works and despair. Who could better understand the pain that can be inflicted by corporate colonialism than China or India? But no one appears to be learning the lessons taught by past tragedies.

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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