"Africa is, indeed, coming into fashion." - Horace Walpole (1774)



Well, South Africa's government just denied a visa to - of all people - the Dalai Lama. The president's spokesman was quick to note that, "The South African government does not have a problem with the Dalai Lama." Which is probably true. But the Chinese government has a big problem with the Dalai Lama, and South Africa's decision is just one more indication that Chinese investment in and political influence on African states is growing exponentially.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out what happened here. Even the Chinese embassy's spokesman says that his government had warned the South Africans of negative consequences if Tibet's spiritual leader were allowed into the country. Things have changed since the Dalai Lama's last visit in 2004. South Africa's economy is growing, and their trade relationship with China involves about $10 billion per year. What that means is that China gets to call some of the shots these days, and that South Africa - along with most African states - must consider the consequences of its actions in relationship to strategic interests involving not just the West, but now China as well. And that puts the ANC in the very difficult position of being a movement birthed out of a struggle for freedom that is now denying travel rights to the leader of another struggle for freedom. Being a second-tier power ain't easy.

(nb, "usisikelele" = "bless us" in Xhosa. It's the last line in the first verse of South Africa's national anthem, "Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika".)


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