Three years ago, I bought a ‘nice’ wallet from a businessman who assured me that it was made out of authentic leather. For Shs.30,000, it seemed a good bargain, for I knew I was going to use it for more than ten years. The dear wallet started peeling so badly, that in three months, was in such decrepit shape that I discarded it. This little story testifies that there are Chinese products on Ugandan market. They are affordable to many Ugandans though their standard leaves alot to be desired. Inspite of this, many Ugandans are flocking Chinese shops and supermarkets; a move that ruffled the feathers of the complacent Ugandan retailers who in April last year stormed the streets to protest against what they called “unfair competition” from the Chinese traders. It’s not clear how many Chinese are doing business in Uganda; many come in as investors, but end up downtown Kampala and the ubiquitous presence of Chinese involved in petty trade there will explain why their Ugandan counterparts are jittery. It has not helped matters that President Yoweri K. Museveni is an avowed fan of Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Since 1962, Uganda has been in bed with China. The latter was one of the first countries to congratulate the former for gaining independence from Britain and immediately after opened a foreign mission in Uganda thereby officially establishing diplomatic relations with Uganda. Over five decades later, the things China has done for Uganda are many and so significant you wonder where Uganda would be without China. One has certainly heard of the China-Uganda Friendship Hospital in Naguru.
That state- of-art facility was built by the Chinese government at the cost of about Shs 20 billion as a gift to the government of Uganda. This came on the high heels of the1983 agreement between the Chinese and Ugandan governments whereby China would dispatch medical teams rotationally to Jinja. By 2012, a total of 15 medical teams from China had worked at Jinja Regional Referral Hospital and used the opportunity to train some of their Ugandan counterparts in the adept administering of acupuncture, a traditional Chinese therapy. Jinja Referral Hospital together with the China-Uganda Friendship Hospital Naguru are the only medical facilities in Uganda that have local acupuncturists, thanks to the training they got from China.
The multi-purpose Mandela National Stadium Namboole was equally built with a grant of US$36 million from the People’s Republic of China. The 51.4km Kampala-Entebbe express highway which cost Shs.1.5 trillion was done by the Chinese and was commissioned in June by President Museveni and the Chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference Mr. Wang Yang. In a recent national address, President Museveni bragged how the persistent problems of power outages will next year become history upon the completion of the Shs 6.7 trillion Karuma and Isimba Hydropower dams which are also being constructed by the Chinese. The money being spent on these plants was advanced to Uganda by the Chinese government as a soft loan with Uganda contributing only 15 percent as counterpart funding while China Export and Import Bank is providing funding of up 85 percent.
Meanwhile, the Karuma Project alone employs over 6000 Ugandans. “Local employees account for 13 percent of the managers, 50 percent of the technical workers and 87 percent of the technical workers,” said Chinese ambassador to Uganda, Zheng Zhuqiang. When the plant is completed, he added, it will generate four billion kilowatt hours annually and provide more than 200 million dollars in revenue to the Ugandan government, which is close to one percent of the gross domestic product.
The 600MW power plant will be a game changer in the provision of adequate electricity to the country’s economic development and will solve the lack of adequate and cheap electricity that has been pushing up the cost of production in the country.
China Railway Group recently won a tender for the construction of the second phase of the National Social Security Fund (NSSF) Pension Towers on Lumumba Avenue; a project that will cost NSSF a whopping Shs 273b. What the Chinese government has done for Uganda and for Africa generally is just the tip of an iceberg considering what is yet to be done. In September, President Xi Jinping who visited Africa four times during the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) Summit in Beijing promised to inject more monies in African economies (about Shs 224 trillion). A presidential statement released prior to the Summit read in part: “Regardless of how the international order changes, China will continue to maintain the policy of sincerity, real results, affinity and good faith, and uphold justice and shared interests to continuously support Africa in achieving prosperity.”
This is basically a scratch-my-back-and-I’ll-scratch-yours arrangement because China is no Santa Claus that it should give without strings attached. In helping Africa to achieve middle income status, China is guaranteed dividends in form of market for her numerous goods as well as a place of abode for some of her citizens, since Africa has vast chunks of unexploited land. Already, China’s exports to Africa comprise manufactured goods worth US $170b while it imports only raw materials and crude oil worth US $75b from Africa. By end of last year alone, according to China Ministry of Commerce, the China-Africa import-export trade had risen to Shs 626 trillion in effect becoming Africa’s biggest trading partner.
The 7th FOCAC Summit which was held on September 2nd-3rd, 2018 in Beijing was themed “China and Africa: Towards an even stronger community with a shared future through win-win cooperation.” This Summit, attended by President Museveni and other African Presidents discussed strategic partnership cooperation with China in areas of trade, infrastructure, economic development and energy. China’s obsession with Africa reveals much about her shrewdness. According to Dr. Ayodele Odusola, an economist of international repute, “Africa is the most profitable region in the world with the highest rate of return on inflows of Foreign Direct Investment – 11.4 percent. Africa’s economic growth prospects are among the world’s brightest. Further, according to IMF, between 2018 and 2023, Africa’s growth prospects will be among the highest in the world. Sectors where foreign companies could have a comparative advantage, such as banking, telecommunications and infrastructure are among the drivers of current economic growth in Africa – creating clear investment opportunities for foreign businesses.”
China is so farsighted that it cannot resist the temptation of spreading her nets wider in Africa because sooner or later, these nets will be bursting at the seams with a massive catch. Although supplementary adverts in the Daily Monitor of September 3rd, about FOCAC alluded to an old Chinese saying, “good friends feel close to each other even when they are thousands of miles away” and went on to contextualize it to the effect that the China-Africa relations today have not been slowed down by the geographical distance between them; that their friendship has stood the test of time, many pundits believe this relationship is not a genuine one because China is only interested in Africa’s huge market for its often substandard products.
That is why China continues to lend to Africa. Already Uganda’s debt to China which stands at $1.6 band is bound to increase as the country seeks more funding for the construction of the Malaba-Kampala Standard Gauge Railway. This debt and increased borrowing brings to mind a Biblical expression that the rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is the slave to the lender (Proverbs 22:7).
Based on this statement and looking at it from the context of poor Africa turning to China for unfettered loans, it’s only a matter of time before Uganda and Africa are reduced to bootlicking anything Chinese or walking around with slumped shoulders because of the heavy burden of debt from the Chinese government.
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