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WAMANJI: Language and culture are instruments for expansion of Chinese empire

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By ERIC WAMANJI
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To catch a peek into China’s permeation in Kenya, you need a chance at Kilimani, a leafy Nairobi suburb. Chinese scripted business signage jostle for space with those in English or Swahili.

Change is here. There is a linguistic fad sweeping the continent and the world. Kenya is now entrenching Mandarin in the school system. Many other African states like Uganda, South Africa and Tanzania are also scrambling to teach the language. It is a statement and recognition that China has arrived as a global power.

Pragmatism ordains that since China is a rising power — will be the largest economy by 2020 according to Standard Chartered Bank PLC — proficiency in Mandarin, proponents reason, strategically prepares future generations for bountiful opportunities.

True. But that is where romanticism ends and real politics begins. “Language”, wrote Bishop Antonio de Nebrija, in Castilian Grammar, “has always been the perfect instrument of empire.” It is a tool of soft power buttressing the hard power of economics and military might.

Indeed, the dynamics of language in the international system are nuanced and complex. Language is an apparatus of power and prestige. It constructs and transmits ideologies. It vends culture and generates attraction. It manipulates and persuades. And, no matter sophistication in tanks, dominant powers desire to have their languages on the tongues of everyone.

That is why pro-Mandarin policies are a fantastic gift to China. Their symbolism is priceless as they procure psychological legitimacy for the red dragon. It is recognition from states, an acknowledgment of China’s primacy in the global political spectrum.

Currently, English is the king of dialects ruling over the world of diplomacy, commerce, technology, internet and entertainment. This is for a reason. During its golden age, the British Empire bestrode and controlled 25 per cent of the world, and spread English in the imperialistic expeditions.

English merchandised England’s values and culture. It altered national consciousness of colonies. Britain secured consent from the colonies to be ruled over in a phenomenon, which the Italian philosopher, Antonio Gramci, in his Prison Notebooks, described as “cultural hegemony”.

Indeed, in The Post American World and the Rise of the Rest, Mr Fareed Zakaria observes: “Britain’s stories and characters became more securely a part of the international culture than any other nation … So too did many English values.”

Britain still draws cultural and commercial dividends from the spread of English. The rise of the US as a superpower ensured English reigned supreme. It became the “ultimate instrument of the empire” as the US used it to consolidate its place in the hearts and minds of the world.

Indeed, today, English is to languages what the greenback is to currency. And now, Mandarin hankers to claim this place just as the yuan yearns to dislodge the dollar.

To understand the dynamics and politics of language you need a sojourn back in time — 1976 Soweto, South Africa. Pupils rose against the iron fisted apartheid regime. The iconic uprising was in protest against the introduction of Afrikaans as the medium of instruction. Pupils feared they would be manipulated and controlled by the language of the oppressor who would use it for ideological engineering. They preferred English. The Soweto Massacre, historians content, emboldened the struggle to dismantle apartheid.

That is why, when Mandarin joins our linguistic mix, you can be sure it will also transmit the Chinese value system and rework our consciousness. It will be a tool of propaganda in public diplomacy clandestinely embedded in narratives exalting the Chinese way of life and thought.

Yet, Mandarin seems unstoppable. In October 2018, Zambians woke up to a shocker. The Times of Zambia, a state-owned paper, had published the main story in Mandarin to much consternation of the public and opposition politicians.

Whilst the paper blithely defended use of Mandarin as a strategy to increase revenue, it was not lost to observers that Zambia is cripplingly indebted to China and the article was a scheme to normalise the Chinese into the public psyche.

Small wonder Kenya’s prolific novelist, Prof Ngugi wa Thiong’o, abhorred imperial language. In his Decolonising the Mind: The Politics of Language in African Literature, Ngugi observes “the language of power is English and that becomes internalised … you normalise the abnormal and the absurdities of colonialism, and turn them into a norm from which you operate. Then you don’t even think about it.”

Indeed, the clout of language, beyond the functional, has for long intrigued scholars. The proclivity of language for domination is a tool profitably utilised in politics by ruling cultures.

The ideological constructs of language subtly overrun the subconscious, and even redesign identity regularised as normal. Philosopher Pierre Bourdieu, in Language and Symbolic Power, links languages to hegemonic enterprises and even in the diffusion of dominant ideas, persuasions that Ngugi holds.

Since in the international system a state’s interest supersedes everything, deploying language and culture to win over the hearts and minds is critical as Bishop Nebrija noted in 1492.

It is neither lost to the Communist Party of China nor any other power how language is critical in manoeuvring the dicey international systems and geopolitics. That is why for the past 14 years, the Chinese established a juggernaut — the Confucius Institute — to spread Mandarin and other cultural ideals. Today, the well-oiled machinery has operations in at least 170 countries. Through its charm offensive, 67 countries worldwide have sanctioned laws and policies to teach Mandarin and Chinese culture.

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And that is why for China, the Confucius Institutes are strewn across the globe numbering 500. The target was 1,000 by 2020. Africa is home to 54; first hosted at the University of Nairobi. Today, Kenya has four institutes and South Africa five. These two are trophy anchor countries serving as gateway to Africa for many powers.

This is a premeditated scheme. In 2007 at the 17th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party, the then Chinese President, Hu Jintao, knew a robust culture was critical to the rising China. “The great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation will definitely be accompanied by the thriving of Chinese culture,” he declared.

Language is at the heart of such renaissance. That is why in 2014, President Xi Jinping was bullish and committed to “increase China’s soft power, give a good Chinese narrative, and better communicate China’s message to the world.”

Indeed, soft power is a pearl that China needs in its meteoric rise. Currently China’s power is single-dimensional — economic. To be a true power, the capability to influence, without coercion, is indispensable.

The world’s lingua franca, English, is venerated back in the UK as a producer of “attractiveness”. In a report, The English Effect: The Impact of English, what it is worth to the UK and why it matters to world, the British Council, Britain’s cultural apparatus, observes “the global power of English has helped the UK to grow and maintain its position as a cultural superpower … with every chance of continuing to grow its soft power influence in today’s highly networked world”.

That is why it is still a paradox of sorts. In China folks are changing their first names to western sounding ones like Smith, Joshua or Kevin.

Millions others are studying English, including taking mass classes in stadiums. While the rich fancy western education and cultural products.

That is how sexy English is. In fact, the dominance of English is even unsettling folks in Brussels and more so the French. It has triggered some sort of race for the tongues.

Last year, French President Emmanuel Macron, rolled out an ambitious strategy to make French the dominant language in Africa, online and displace English in Brussels.

While addressing students in Burkina Faso, he warned “to refuse the French language in order to make English fashionable on the African continent is to be blind to the future …” a future he reckoned will be dominated by French in Africa and globally. He described French as the language of emancipation.

Since colonial times, France was obsessed with winning over the hearts and minds of Africans. It even crafted the assimilation policy a ridiculous ideological manipulation that suggested by adopting France’s culture and language Africans would become French.

Therefore, it must have deflated the ego and prestige of France when Rwanda dropped French for English. The switch, observers noted, was a political move, in protest of what was considered France’s role in the 1994 genocide.

Still, France is defiant. It is banking on Africa’s population windfall to be the bastion of. Indeed, of all the 300 million French speakers, 34.8 per cent are from sub-Sahara Africa, according to the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie. Macron is betting on education to achieve this ambitious crusade. That is why he even established a fund to boost education. It is like a race of sorts. But the British Council waxes lyrical about English: ” … it is the economically active, the thought leaders, the business decision-makers, the young, the movers and shakers present and future who are learning and speaking English. They are talking to each other more and more and English is the ‘operating system’ of that global conversation.”

The Confucius Institute can only dream of the day it can strut like British Council. Indeed, it will not be as easy as ABC to make Mandarin the international lingua franca. Most parents of the world still fancy English for its prestige and influence.

And according to the Defence Language Institute, Chinese is a difficult language to learn. In that league are Japanese, Korean and Arabic. Mandarin is even a pain to Chinese pupils.

Will the Kenyan pupil, saddled by heavy curriculum and starved of competent Mandarin instructors, crack this new logogram? Time will tell. But more important, it will be interesting to see the kind of cultural products that learners will be exposed to.

It is too early though to determine the influence and appeal of Mandarin. Beyond commerce, there may be no much robust incentives for its adoption after all. English had a strategic advantage — was easily entwined in culture, religion, education, commerce and administration. These instruments, save for commerce, are not readily at the disposal of China.

But as history has shown, language rises and falls with empires from the Hellenistic period to the wonder of Latin under the Romans, the fate and fortunes of hegemonies also dictate the fate of their language in the Gramcian sense of the word.

Mr Wamanji is a Public Relations and Communications adviser [email protected] twitter @manjis



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Sordid tale of the bank ‘that would bribe God’

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Bank of Credit and Commerce International. August 1991. [File, Standard]

“This bank would bribe God.” These words of a former employee of the disgraced Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) sum up one of the most rotten global financial institutions.
BCCI pitched itself as a top bank for the Third World, but its spectacular collapse would reveal a web of transnational corruption and a playground for dictators, drug lords and terrorists.
It was one of the largest banks cutting across 69 countries and its aftermath would cause despair to innocent depositors, including Kenyans.
BCCI, which had $20 billion (Sh2.1 trillion in today’s exchange rate) assets globally, was revealed to have lost more than its entire capital.
The bank was founded in 1972 by the crafty Pakistani banker Agha Hasan Abedi.
He was loved in his homeland for his charitable acts but would go on to break every rule known to God and man.
In 1991, the Bank of England (BoE) froze its assets, citing large-scale fraud running for several years. This would see the bank cease operations in multiple countries. The Luxembourg-based BCCI was 77 per cent owned by the Gulf Emirate of Abu Dhabi.  
BoE investigations had unearthed laundering of drugs money, terrorism financing and the bank boasted of having high-profile customers such as Panama’s former strongman Manual Noriega as customers.
The Standard, quoting “highly placed” sources reported that Abu Dhabi ruler Sheikh Zayed Sultan would act as guarantor to protect the savings of Kenyan depositors.
The bank had five branches countrywide and panic had gripped depositors on the state of their money.
Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) would then move to appoint a manager to oversee the operations of the BCCI operations in Kenya.
It sent statements assuring depositors that their money was safe.
The Standard reported that the Sheikh would be approaching the Kenyan and other regional subsidiaries of the bank to urge them to maintain operations and assure them of his personal support.
It was said that contact between CBK and Abu Dhabi was “likely.”
This came as the British Ambassador to the UAE Graham Burton implored the gulf state to help compensate Britons, and the Indian government also took similar steps.
The collapse of BCCI was, however, not expect to badly hit the Kenyan banking system. This was during the sleazy 1990s when Kenya’s banking system was badly tested. It was the era of high graft and “political banks,” where the institutions fraudulently lent to firms belonging or connected to politicians, who were sometimes also shareholders.
And even though the impact was expected to be minimal, it was projected that a significant number of depositors would transfer funds from Asian and Arab banks to other local institutions.
“Confidence in Arab banking has taken a serious knock,” the “highly placed” source told The Standard.
BCCI didn’t go down without a fight. It accused the British government of a conspiracy to bring down the Pakistani-run bank.  The Sheikh was said to be furious and would later engage in a protracted legal battle with the British.
“It looks to us like a Western plot to eliminate a successful Muslim-run Third World Bank. We know that it often acted unethically. But that is no excuse for putting it out of business, especially as the Sultan of Abu Dhabi had agreed to a restructuring plan,” said a spokesperson for British Asians.
A CBK statement signed by then-Deputy Governor Wanjohi Murithi said it was keenly monitoring affairs of the mother bank and would go to lengths to protect Kenyan depositors.
“In this respect, the CBK has sought and obtained the assurance of the branch’s management that the interests of depositors are not put at risk by the difficulties facing the parent company and that the bank will meet any withdrawal instructions by depositors in the normal course of business,” said Mr Murithi.
CBK added that it had maintained surveillance of the local branch and was satisfied with its solvency and liquidity.
This was meant to stop Kenyans from making panic withdrawals.
For instance, armed policemen would be deployed at the bank’s Nairobi branch on Koinange Street after the bank had announced it would shut its Kenyan operations.
In Britain, thousands of businesses owned by British Asians were on the verge of financial ruin following the closure of BCCI.
Their firms held almost half of the 120,000 bank accounts registered with BCCI in Britain. 
The African Development Bank was also not spared from this mess, with the bulk of its funds deposited and BCCI and stood to lose every coin.
Criminal culture
In Britain, local authorities from Scotland to the Channel Islands are said to have lost over £100 million (Sh15.2 billion in today’s exchange rate).
The biggest puzzle remained how BCCI was allowed by BoE and other monetary regulation authorities globally to reach such levels of fraudulence.
This was despite the bank being under tight watch owing to the conviction of some of its executives on narcotics laundering charges in the US.
Coast politician, the late Shariff Nassir, would claim that five primary schools in Mombasa lost nearly Sh1 million and appealed to then Education Minister George Saitoti to help recover the savings. Then BoE Governor Robin Leigh-Pemberton condemned it as so deeply immersed in fraud that rescue or recovery – at least in Britain – was out of the question.
“The culture of the bank is criminal,” he said. The bank was revealed to have targeted the Third World and had created several “institutional devices” to promote its operations in developing countries.
These included the Third World Foundation for Social and Economic Studies, a British-registered charity.
“It allowed it to cultivate high-level contacts among international statesmen,” reported The Observer, a British newspaper.
BCCI also arranged an annual Third World lecture and a Third World prize endowment fund of about $10 million (Sh1 billion in today’s exchange rate).
Winners of the annual prize had included Nelson Mandela (1985), sir Bob Geldof (1986) and Archbishop Desmond Tutu (1989).
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Tracking and monitoring motor vehicles is not new to Kenyans. Competition to install affordable tracking devices is fierce but essential for fleet managers who receive reports online and track vehicles from the comfort of their desk.

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Agricultural Development Corporation Chief Accountant Gerald Karuga on the Spot Over Fraud –

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Gerald Karuga, the acting chief accountant at the Agricultural Development Corporation (ADC), is on the spot over fraud in land dealings.

ADC was established in 1965 through an Act of Parliament Cap 346 to facilitate the land transfer programme from European settlers to locals after Kenya gained independence.

Karuga is under fire for allegedly aiding a former powerful permanent secretary in the KANU era Benjamin Kipkulei to deprive ADC beneficiaries of their land in Naivasha.

Kahawa Tungu understands that the aggrieved parties continue to protest the injustice and are now asking the Ethics and Anti-corruption Commission (EACC) and the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) to probe Karuga.

A source who spoke to Weekly Citizen publication revealed that Managing Director Mohammed Dulle is also involved in the mess at ADC.

Read: Ministry of Agriculture Apologizes After Sending Out Tweets Portraying the President in bad light

Dulle is accused of sidelining a section of staffers in the parastatal.

The sources at ADC intimated that Karuga has been placed strategically at ADC to safeguard interests of many people who acquired the corporations’ land as “donations” from former President Daniel Arap Moi.

Despite working at ADC for many years Karuga has never been transferred, a trend that has raised eyebrows.

“Karuga has worked here for more than 30 years and unlike other senior officers in other parastatals who are transferred after promotion or moved to different ministries, for him, he has stuck here for all these years and we highly suspect that he is aiding people who were dished out with big chunks of land belonging to the corporation in different parts of the country,” said the source.

In the case of Karuga safeguarding Kipkulei’s interests, workers at the parastatals and the victims who claim to have lost their land in Naivasha revealed that during the Moi regime some senior officials used dubious means to register people as beneficiaries of land without their knowledge and later on colluded with rogue land officials at the Ministry of Lands to acquire title deeds in their names instead of those of the benefactors.

Read Also: Galana Kulalu Irrigation Scheme To Undergo Viability Test Before Being Privatised

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“We have information that Karuga has benefitted much from Kipkulei through helping him and this can be proved by the fact that since the matter of the Naivasha land began, he has been seen changing and buying high-end vehicles that many people of his rank in government can’t afford to buy or maintain,” the source added.

“He is even building a big apartment for rent in Ruiru town.”

The wealthy officer is valued at over Sh1.5 billion in prime properties and real estate.

Last month, more than 100 squatters caused scenes in Naivasha after raiding a private firm owned by Kipkulei.

The squatters, who claimed to have lived on the land for more than 40 years, were protesting take over of the land by a private developer who had allegedly bought the land from the former PS.

They pulled down a three-kilometre fence that the private developed had erected.

The squatters claimed that the former PS had not informed them that he had sold the land and that the developer was spraying harmful chemicals on the grass affecting their livestock and homes built on a section of the land.

Read Also: DP Ruto Wants NCPB And Other Agricultural Bodies Merged For Efficiency

Naivasha Deputy County Commissioner Kisilu Mutua later issued a statement warning the squatters against encroaching on Kipkuleir’s land.

“They are illegally invading private land. We shall not allow the rule of the jungle to take root,” warned Mutua.

Meanwhile, a parliamentary committee recently demanded to know identities of 10 faceless people who grabbed 30,350 acres of land belonging to the parastatal, exposing the rot at the corporation.

ADC Chairman Nick Salat, who doubles up as the KANU party Secretary-General, denied knowledge of the individuals and has asked DCI to probe the matter.

Email your news TIPS to [email protected] or WhatsApp +254708677607. You can also find us on Telegram through www.t.me/kahawatungu

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William Ruto eyes Raila Odinga Nyanza backyard

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Deputy President William Ruto will next month take his ‘hustler nation’ campaigns to his main rival, ODM leader Raila Odinga’s Nyanza backyard, in an escalation of the 2022 General Election competition.

Acrimonious fall-out

Development agenda

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