Russia and China in Africa: The 2nd Coming of Colonialism?

By Oladipupo Jimoh, International Liaison Personnel of Revolutionary Socialist Vanguard, Nigerian Section of the RCIT, 3 October 2022, and


The ground seems to be shifting under the feet of the Western Powers. The sanction packages launched by the Western imperialist bloc led by the US against Russia seem to have boomeranged. Especially now that Russia has shut the Nordstream 1 gas pipeline constituting a large-scale drop-in energy supply to Europe sending energy prices and the prices of all other commodities with it right through the roof. Resulting from this, the value of the Euro dropped to $0.9876, the lowest level since 2002, and the British pound is experiencing similar turbulence. [1]

But that is not all. There is still plenty more damage the Putin regime can do to NATO countries and their Western allies if the proposed price cap at the G7 summit is implemented. [2] Even with increasing popularity and controversy that the push back of the Ukrainian forces has dealt the Kremlin, the problems in the West and all around the world, where the domino effect of the NATO-Russia conflict is felt, is far from over.

The Eastern imperialists, on the other hand are on the ascendancy, even though they remain the underdogs and despite the setbacks of Western sanctions the position of Russia and China is set to improve gradually and in the long-term as new superpowers. Hence the close collaboration between the duo which has prompted considerations of de-dollarisation -- using rubles and yuan in their bilateral trade. [3]

Since the imperialist system is based on the exploitation of the colonies and semi-colonies, this new level of acceleration of inter-imperialist rivalry portends a more acute scramble for the resources in the global south. Already, OPEC has approved increased quota for oil production for Nigeria. So, construction has begun to feed Europe with oil from Nigeria's south through pipelines which will pass through Morocco and Algeria. The US government tries even with little success to lobby the oil producing Gulf dictators to increase oil output. [4]

BREXIT, AUKUS, BRICS, etc., are the permutations for the next phase of this scramble. However there still remains doubt as to whether China and Russia would constitute imperialist powers. Many on the Left in Africa including socialists and Pan-Africanists still see China and Russia as altruistic forces challenging the hegemony of the West for a more equitable world. While the invasion of the Ukraine might have forced some in this camp to mutter "Russia is imperialist", such lip-service have not been deepened to form any concrete positions, that is, such a confession is a mish-mash from a sailor whose boat has been tossed by the wind.

Thus, this piece will focused not just on exposing the interventions of Russia and China in Africa as imperialist but on the intrinsic features of Russian and Chinese imperialism.


Imperialism a la Russia and China


Walter Rodney in his novel work “How Europe Underdeveloped Africa“, defined imperialism thusly:

"Imperialism is itself a phase of capitalist development in which Western European capitalist countries, the U.S.A., and Japan established political, economic, military and cultural hegemony over other parts of the world which were initially at a lower level and therefore could not resist domination. Imperialism was in effect the extended capitalist system, which for many years embraced the whole world – one part being the exploiters and the other the exploited, one part being dominated and the other acting as overlords, one part making policy and the other being dependent." [5]

There are two points here that are very crucial for our study. The one, that imperialism, that is, top of the food chain colonialism, is not expressed in and through only the economic sphere but also through political and also militarist means. It is in this light that Russian imperialism can at the surface be understood. Russia is the largest arms exporter, 2nd only to the US. It possesses an even greater number of nuclear warheads than its major Western rival, the US. Such colossal arsenal towering over East Europe certainly poses a threat to the Western Powers and seeks to expand its sphere of influence at slightest sign of weakness of its rivals.

The other is that at no time have Great Powers being solely composed of Western states, hence, the inclusion of Japan as an example. So, the perceived conflict in placing China, a country in the Eastern hemisphere, amongst the imperialist class is simply false. For one thing, the emergence of China as an imperialist power is hinged on certain factors in the new stage of capitalist commodity market which has placed vital importance on China’s maritime environs like the South China Sea and the South Pacific Islands. 60% of global maritime trade and more than 22% of total global trade passes through the South China Sea.

In addition, control of Taiwan is decisive given the fact that its industry is responsible for 63% of the global semiconductor market – a key component of any modern economy. Little wonder, small Taiwan can be the sticking point of US-China diplomatic crisis that bear every potential that can lead to military confrontation and turn the Pacific once again into a theatre for world war.

The rise of Chinese imperialism can hardly be appreciated without understanding the general importance of the region in which it is situated in the new (IT&AI) stage modern capitalist economy and the fact that since it is a force to reckon with technologically, economically and militarily in that region it automatically becomes key player on the world stage. This is in line with one of Trotsky's essential observation on imperialism:

Marxism takes its point of departure from world economy, not as a sum of national parts but as a mighty and independent reality which has been created by the international division of labour and the world market, and which in our epoch imperiously dominates the national markets.” [6]

So imperialism is not a conspiracy or cooperation between European countries and the US to dominate world markets but is the result of uneven and combine development where the global economy is strewn together into an interlinked whole coupled with the cyclic crises of the capitalist system. There are however shortcomings to Rodney's definition of imperialism since he lived when there was effectively no Russia, that is, before the collapse of the USSR. Similarly, before the restoration of capitalism in China.

Thus, a more suitable definition of imperialism is as follows:

An imperialist state is a capitalist state whose monopolies and state apparatus have a position in the world order where they first and foremost dominate other states and nations. As a result, they gain extra-profits and other economic, political and/or military advantages from such a relationship based on super-exploitation and oppression. [7]


Peculiar Features


At first glance, it is the military arsenal of Russia that brings to bear its might as an imperialist force but in the current conflict with Europe we see it gaining economic dominance especially as one of the largest exporter of oil. Not only in its relations with other states is this dominance demonstrated but also in its own internal economics. The Russian economy is ruled by monopolies. A very fundamental factor in the making of an imperialist state, its home economy must run on monopoly capital.

In contrast to semi-colonial and regional powers, where the economy is dominated by foreign finance capital (like Foreign Direct Investment, FDI), most external capital entering Russia comes in the form of "phantom" FDI. That is money from off-shore accounts and tax havens of Russian oligarchs that is now reinvested back home as FDI only now it is camouflaged as coming from abroad. Furthermore this "phantom" FDI has been invested in other European markets while retaining its camouflaged status as FDI from the tax havens even though it is finance capital whose origins is the Russian monopoly.[8]

Thus, the reach of Russian finance capital has been greatly downplayed. By taking into consideration "phantom" FDI, the real ambit of Russian economic dominance on the global scale is realised.

As has been said because China is the most influential regional power in a region which is one of the most important, if not the most important for modern day capitalist enterprising, it must be a Great Power. Also, China houses the highest number of billionaires, ranking above even the US. It has the largest number of top-ranking corporations in the world. [9]

Its IT corporations like TikTok and Huawei are top contenders with US companies, Facebook and iPhone. Its online trading giant, Alibaba, is bigger than both Amazon and Ebay combined.


Intervention of Imperialists from the East


It would be naive to think that the Eastern powers would lead a colonising mission the same way the European powers did in the 19th century. Many Russophilic and Sinophilic left activists like to point to the difference in the intervention of Russia and China in Africa. For one thing, the conditions at the close of the Transatlantic Slave Trade and 19th century are very disparate with the present conditions. While it is impossible to impose direct rule in Africa, the Eastern imperialists would still not play by same neo-liberal rules employed by the West because of their contention with the Western imperialists.

To wit, China chooses to build infrastructure in Africa so it can more easily exploit it. While Europe and the US may offer debt relief to counter the influence of China. In the final analysis, the aim of all Great Powers is the subjugation of Africa and the perpetual exploitation of its natural, mineral, human and otherwise resources.

Thus, in a conflict between one and the other imperialist power, whether from the East or West, genuine anti-imperialists take no sides. They call rather for the defeat of both warring powers as this is the only way to liberate the semi-colonies from their grip. They equally oppose the oppression of a semi-colonial nation by any imperialist state like the invasion of the Ukraine by Russia.

Genuine anti-imperialists must solidarize on an international bases with nations within and outside the continent fighting for freedom, decolonisation and self-determination like the Sahrawi people of Western Sahara confronting Moroccan aggression; the people of southern Nigeria under Fulani hegemony; Palestinians fighting Israeli occupation; Catalonians calling for secession from Spain and of course, the Ukrainians fighting a just war of defence against Russian occupation.

Authentic anti-imperialists must, as a rule, be opposed to the neo-liberal governments on the African continent who sell out their people for a morsel of bread from their colonial masters and new imperialist masters. As the world enters a new era of Great Power contention for geopolitical hegemony, one thing is sure, Africa must not be colonised a second time!


References and Sources





[5] See on this; How Europe Underdeveloped Africa by Walter Rodney, Chapter One: Some Questions on Development, pg. 16

[6] See on this; Leon Trotsky: The Permanent Revolution, Introduction to the German edition (1930) pg.7

[7] See on this; Michael Pröbsting, Peculiar Features of Russian Imperialism, pg. 5

[8] See [7] above, pg. 5-7

[9] Fortune Global 500, August 2020. Hurun Global Rich List 2021.