Corruption watch: Chinese embassy has gone rogue

There is so much that’s just not right with Chinese investments in Zimbabwe and Beijing’s relations with the Zimbabwean government.

BY TAWANDA MAJONI Where propaganda using the Zimbabwean media is concerned, boy oh boy, China is on steroids and will not be tiring any time soon.

By definition and description, propaganda is information with a purpose, the purpose to influence opinion and perception.

You need propaganda the same way you would oxygen if things are not going right for you.

If you are suffering from acute paranoia and you are just too anxious to be heard and to make a statement.

If you have lots of bad things to hide. So, in this sense, propaganda becomes some kind of compensatory behaviour.

It’s not like all forms of propaganda are lies, no.

Some of the information is actually true, some partially true, but the rest are a plain mound of lies and falsehoods.

There are favourite words to use these days where the last is concerned.

Disinformation and misinformation.

When it comes to China in Zimbabwe, the whole thing is so funny.

You just need to listen to how the Chinese embassy and its typical hangers-on are busy accusing other people of fake news, disinformation and misinformation in the same foul breath that they are doing exactly like that themselves.

There is so much that’s just not right with Chinese investments in Zimbabwe and Beijing’s relations with the Zimbabwean government.

The Zimbabwean elite is parceling out all manner of contracts to their imagined “all-weather friends”.

Nothing wrong with giving Chinese investors and proxy companies of Beijing contracts.

It’s simply that the contracts are mired in secrecy.

Where there is opacity, corruption thrives.

And that’s exactly what we are seeing and have been seeing for a long, long time.

The privileged elite from Zimbabwe is taking advantage of the secrecy to do fraudulent and criminal deals with the Chinese.

Forget this talk about foreign direct investment from China.

There is nothing like that. On a scale of one to 10, the Chinese are not investing in Zimbabwe.

They are just coming to milk our resources and take the proceeds back home.

If you move around Zimbabwe today and you are objective about it, you get this extremely sad feeling that, in the next 15 to 20 years, nothing will be left of Zimbabwe.

The only thing that the Chinese will not be able to take out is the air, but then, they are already making it too dirty to breathe.

Just move around Mutoko, for instance, and you will go back home wondering if, given the energy of the Chinese miners, there will be any gold or granite left in a few years to come.

There is talk of discoveries of lithium in that area, too.

The dragons are circling for the kill.

The local leadership is too happy with that because, if it’s not them that are benefiting directly, it’s their sons, girlfriends and cronies.

Not to talk of the usual stuff.

Serious environmental degradation, displacements, rampant abuse of workers with impunity, disrespect for local cultures and traditions, bribery, you name it.

In the midst of these ills, China has seen that it must do serious propaganda in Zimbabwe.

The messaging is predictable. It involves cooking up all sorts of conspiracy theories against the critics of Chinese investments and Sino-Zim relations.

In this regard, everyone who criticises Chinese investments and relations with the Zimbabwean elite has been sent by Washington and a select number of other western governments.

They are on western payrolls.

China must take the cup for being just about the most foul-mouthed diplomatic mission in Zimbabwe and, of course, other areas where Chinese interests are receiving critical reviews.

If you have a dim view of how Chinese enterprises and the embassy are doing their business in Zimbabwe, just make sure you have the strongest shock absorbers against the vitriol, name calling and hate speech.

Together with their local accomplices, they will call you a money-mongering good-for-nothing agent of regime change at the drop of a scarf.

The arrogance and impunity are so crass.

And, you guessed right, nothing happens to them because they enjoy the proximity to selfish and greedy power.

To do this, the Chinese have found willing pawns in some parts of the Zimbabwean media.

Quite unfortunately—but predictably—they abuse the public media.

If they feel like shouting at you or smearing you, they will go to the government-controlled media.

There, they have a blank cheque.

They will just issue vitriolic statements and foist them on the public newsrooms.

No matter how defamatory their statements are, the official media will just reproduce the froth and sometimes even put it on the front page for a good measure.

The statements, again, are predictable.

Hate speech, conspiracies, name calling and all sorts of other unpleasant things. Very false information in there too.

This, naturally, tends to have a bad bearing on the ethics of the profession of journalism.

The official media habitually don’t care about what’s right or wrong.

They will publish damning information about you and don’t even bother talking to you or verifying what they have been given.

In other cases, nameless journalists—shameless gutter journalists to be more precise—cook up stories and send them to the editors at the public media.

Because the content is pro-China, no problem.

This strategy is successful for the Chinese because the official media is so, so manipulated by the elite, which, as already said, is eating with Chinese investors et cetera.

It’s been like that for a long time. The public media don’t enjoy editorial independence.

But that’s also because some journalists from the public media are getting bribes from the Chinese embassy in Zimbabwe.

There is a budget for that at the embassy.

In other words, China is promoting brown envelope journalism in Zimbabwe.

That becomes an irony considering how the Chinese embassy habitually fumes and foams about independent journalists being paid by imaginary western sources to criticise Chinese interests.

That the independent journalists are objective and factual—as they are most of the time—doesn’t matter at all.

The Chinese embassy is always whimpering about sponsored journalists.

Don’t worry with that crap.

It knows full well that that’s exactly what it’s always doing but hoping people won’t know.

There is a growing trend whereby the embassy is funding online media outlets.

These include a fairly new platform called Review&Mail whose founder recently gave his kid a Chinese name, has been doing PR for the embassy and calls himself an “expert on Zim-China affairs”.

This particular platform receives salaries, equipment and other forms of support from the Chinese embassy.

It wasn’t going to be a bother if the Review&Mail was doing PR-based propaganda for the embassy.

You can’t be faulted for that.

The problem with this publication is that it has got into the habit of spreading falsehoods just so as to please the master.

So, what this online news blog does is that it writes its brazen lies and, because it’s still unknown, hands the content over to the official media for the reinforcement of the lies, the propaganda.

Some of the content goes to Xinhua, a news outlet run by the Chinese government.

But, surely, if the Chinese embassy was smart enough, it should demand a refund from the Review&Mail.

That platform is doing a shoddy hatchet job in its quest to please the master and justify continuing getting more money from Chinese taxpayers.

Like, recently, it carried this load of gook about how an independent journalist “lied” in her story.

What happened is that the Chinese embassy gave money to some propaganda journalists to go to Hwange to counter the story that was commissioned by my organisation, Information for Development Trust.

What does this team do when it gets to Hwange?

The worker who was quoted exposing Chinese labour abuses is forced to appear before the Chinese managers where the “journalists” have been planted and later claim critical independent journalists are spreading lies about Chinese investments Such a naïve fallacy!

That guy needs his job.

He was fired at one time for an altercation with a Chinese manager who sprinkled water on him and later assaulted and injured him.

So, what do you expect him to say?

Of course, he denies saying the things—true things—he said in the first place.

He was being subjected to smart duress.

Funny thing is that the Review&Mail went ahead and called what it did in connivance with the Chinese, an investigation, when it was, in fact, journalistic fraud.

 After that, the online publication gave the story to one of the public newspapers that did an equally despicable propaganda job that a Martian would not believe even after a crate of the local brew.

The embassy also uses its Twitter account to enhance its propaganda.

The tweets are mostly against other foreign governments and critics of Chinese interests.

Here, it pays jobless and under-employed youths, among them journalists, to troll perceived foes.

Once the embassy posts something, the trolls take it up and bring the war to your doorstep, literally.

For the uninitiated, these trolls are “patriotic” Zimbabweans defending Sino-Zim relations, but the real truth lies elsewhere.

So, social media has become another tool for Beijing to do its vicious and paranoid propaganda.

  • Tawanda Majoni is the national coordinator at Information for Development Trust (IDT) and can be contacted on [email protected]

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