A comment made by an American professor at a recent Bank of Uganda organized-lecture, about China’s alleged exploitative tendencies in Africa dressed as humanitarian assistance, has attracted support from Ugandans but furious reactions from Chinese Embassy officials.
David Dollar, who is a senior fellow at the John Thornton China Center at the Brookings Institution in the US who also served as former U.S. Treasury’s economic and financial emissary to China told Ugandan and African leaders to ‘realize’ that China is not doing Africa a favour in rolling out hefty donations but that it is simply doing business.
“Even what African countries are considering as Aid (from China) is unfortunately not considered as the same by China. China considers it as business and business where it is positioning itself to get the most out of any weakness exhibited by those dealing with them,” said Dollar as he called for sobriety on the part of Ugandan authorities handling Chinese Aid and Investments in Uganda.
He was delivering a Keynote address at BoU’s Golden Anniversary Lecture series under the banner: “How Uganda can benefit from the economic rise of China.”
But Dollar’s characterization of the Chinese as merely shrewd uncompassionate business people who use diplomatic means to exploit Africans has attracted terse response from Chinese officials.
The Commercial Attaché at the Chinese Embassy in Uganda Zhang Domingo denied allegations that China is out to exploit African countries even after it has extended so much support to the continent.
“These are all false allegations being made by western people misinterpreting China’s relationship with African countries. And the worst thing is that they are ignoring the good things China has contributed towards the development of African economies as well as improving the lives of people in countries which are in partnership with China,” Domingo said.
Domingo added: “It is unfair for example if Uganda would ignore China’s contribution to the infrastructure development in various fields where the People’s Republic of China has made and is continuing to make a contribution.”
But Dollar’s word of caution to Ugandan authorities has struck a ccord with Ugandan economic experts who also argue that China is engaged in a give and take exercise disguised as development assistance.
Some of these experts indeed insist that China is not offering free lunch through its donations and should therefore press for more beneficial relationships.
Experts raise complaints raised by recent Parliamentary probes that indicted four Chinese companies for having involved themselves in fraud in the construction of roads.
Four Chinese companies were recently found guilty by Uganda’s Parliamentary Committee on Statutory Authorities and State Enterprises (COSASE) of misappropriating some Ushs26billion from the Uganda National Roads Authority (UNRA) meant for compensating people that were displaced by the construction of road projects including Acholibur-Musingo; Olwiyo Gulu ; Musita-Lumino-Busia and Kanoni-Sembabule-Villa.
But Makerere University Business School (MUBS) Economics lecturer Ramathan Ggoobi argues that it will be a major task for authorities in Uganda and other poor countries to shake off the Chinese influence.
Ggoobi argues that Chinese personalities in Uganda have engaged in corrupt practices with Uganda government officials to gain access to contracts and other resources such as agricultural land.
“The danger is that most of Uganda’s officials have been captured by the officials of many Chinese companies whom they are supposed to regulate to the extent that even when they flout rules, they easily and casually run away with it,” Ggoobi noted.
Ggoobi says he conducted a study and found that some Chinese companies were engaging in damaging some sensitive ecological places such as shores of lakes and swamps with the help of government officials.
He cited the expansive Lwera swamp in Kalungu along the Kampala-Masaka highway , which he says was given to Chinese companies to erect a glass-making factory. Ggoobi explains that since some government officials had been bribed, when the Chinese instead resorted to sand mining rather than building the glass factory, they could not call them to account.
Ggoobi alleges that it’s due to the ‘capture’ or the tendency to accept bribes and other offers from Chinese government officials tend to handle Chinese investors with kid’s gloves for their selfish interests.