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But that was more than 100 years ago, and with legendary explorers such as Livingstone, Speke and Burton still battling to find the source of the Nile - and new discoveries of exotic species of birds and animals featuring regularly on newspaper front pages - vast swathes of the continent had not even been 'discovered'.Yet Sir Francis Galton, it now appears, was ahead of his time.'If the British were our masters yesterday, the Chinese have taken their place.' Likened to one race deciding to adopt a new home on another planet, Beijing has launched its so-called 'One China In Africa' policy because of crippling pressure on its own natural resources in a country where the population has almost trebled from 500 million to 1.3 billion in 50 years. While accounting for a fifth of the world's population, its oil consumption has risen 35-fold in the past decade and Africa is now providing a third of it; imports of steel, copper and aluminium have also shot up, with Beijing devouring 80 per cent of world supplies.Fuelling its own boom at home, China is also desperate for new markets to sell goods.
On June 5, 1873, in a letter to The Times, Sir Francis Galton, the cousin of Charles Darwin and a distinguished African explorer in his own right, outlined a daring (if by today's standards utterly offensive) new method to 'tame' and colonise what was then known as the Dark Continent.
And Africa, with non-existent health and safety rules to protect against shoddy and dangerous goods, is the perfect destination. Chinese-made war planes roar through the African sky, bombing opponents.
The result of China's demand for raw materials and its sales of products to Africa is that turnover in trade between Africa and China has risen from £5million annually a decade ago to £6billion today. Chinese-made assault rifles and grenades are being used to fuel countless murderous civil wars, often over the materials the Chinese are desperate to buy. Recently, a giant container ship from China was due to deliver its cargo of three million rounds of AK-47 ammunition, 3,000 rocket-propelled grenades and 1,500 mortars to President Robert Mugabe's regime.
Confucius Institutes (state-funded Chinese 'cultural centres') have sprung up throughout Africa, as far afield as the tiny land-locked countries of Burundi and Rwanda, teaching baffled local people how to do business in Mandarin and Cantonese.
Massive dams are being built, flooding nature reserves.
He already has high-tech, Chinese-built helicopter gunships and fighter jets to use against his people. While flying regularly to Beijing as a high-ranking guest, the 84-year-old dictator rants at 'small dots' such as Britain and America. Mugabe is orchestrating his campaign of terror from a 25-bedroom, pagoda-style mansion built by the Chinese.