China and Africa: twist in the tale

China and its relationship to Africa is certainly getting increasing media coverage. For most, the story isn’t new: Western powers demanding that African nations respect human rights, are increasingly getting out-bid and out-spent by the Chinese who come with a cheque book and a less demanding approach to how government’s treat their citizens.

News today of two Chinese mining managers charged with attempted murder after 11 miners were injured during a protest on pay and conditions serves to reinforce this image.

This story has been told as a new relationship – the resource-hungry Chinese seeking out new resources in Africa.

But now there’s a twist to the tale. The relationship might be much longer than anyone previously thought. A 15th century Chinese coin found on Kenya’s north coast suggests that China’s legendary explorer, Zheng He, got to East Africa before Vasco De Gama.

If their histories are bound up more tightly that previously realised (at least in this one area) will this find change how Africans view their ties with China?