China’s presence in the continent is creating an impression of a new saviour complex – the second largest economy in the world has come to uplift Africa from infrastructural poverty. China seems to be willing to help African countries to develop their infrastructure but it comes with price – sneer, questionable loans, and racial slurs.
In response to critics after the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) accepted $31.6 million Chinese freebies to build a new headquarters in Abuja, China insisted that the regional bloc requested for the assistance.
Jean-Claude Brou, President of ECOWAS Commission, in a statement, said the building was necessary due to the increasing number of staff which has forced the Commission to operate from three buildings away from each other.
The building will have offices, conference complex building, road facilities, electrical equipment, parking lots and security posts within the proposed site of the project.
Critics have been questioning the motive of China for the donation, especially after the revelation early this year by a French newspaper, Le Monde that China has been spying on the African Union (AU) $200 million headquarters that it built and donated in 2012.
“The construction of the new ECOWAS headquarters you mentioned was aided by the Chinese government at the explicit request of the organization,” Lu Kang, spokesman of Chinese Foreign Affairs Ministry said during a press briefing.
This revelation that ECOWAS requested for the assistance was contrary to the reports that it was China that offered the assistance. The announcement was followed with criticisms on why the 15 states-member organisation should allow a foreign power to build its headquarters.
Kang dismissed the insinuations of any ulterior motive by China, adding that it was a mere allegation by certain Western media.
“As for the groundless accusations of certain Western media, I can only say that they are measuring other people’s corn by their own bushel,” Kang said.
“I don’t know whether you have noted that Namibian President Hage Geingob, who is now on his state visit in China, said yesterday that China has never colonized or looted Africa, and always treated small and medium-sized African countries on an equal footing.
“China lent support to Africa’s just cause in the past and is now helping Africa to develop. China is the sincere partner and friend of Africa, and African people are opposed to those groundless accusations against China. I think that we’d better lend our ears to the voice of the African people.”
He pointed out that poor infrastructure is one of the main bottlenecks choking Africa’s development and progress, adding that the infrastructure projects constructed with the assistance of China are welcomed by African countries and their people.
“Please rest assured that the noises will not shake the determination of China and Africa for solidarity and cooperation, neither will it prevent us from forging ahead hand in hand,” Kang concluded.
AID COMES WITH A PRICE
China has become African largest trading partner since 2009, taking over from the United States.
China’s inroad into Africa is not just about trade as it has increased its aid to the continent, funding infrastructure projects in numerous countries.
Nigeria is one of the major beneficiaries of China’s aid and special loans for infrastructural development.
In 2012, China built and donated $12.5 million 150-bed hospital to the Nigerian government. The hospital in Jabi, Abuja which became Federal Staff Hospital at inception has since become Federal Medical Centre, Abuja.
China is also spearheading Nigeria’s rail construction with special loans as well as several other infrastructural investments across the country.
The Abuja-Kaduna Rail project was contracted to the China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC) Ltd at the cost of $874 million with China Export-Import Bank providing $500 million loan while the Federal Government contributed the balance as counterpart funding.
The other rail projects that will connect Lagos, Kano, Kaduna, Warri, Bauchi, Abuja, and Port Harcourt will cost Nigeria about $13 billion, much of which will be financed with a loan from the Export-Import Bank of China.
Critics say that this kind of loan that China is replicating across Africa is particularly worrisome because it will burden the countries and create dependency factor.
Rex Tillerson, the former U.S. Secretary of State, in his recent visit to some countries in Africa, warned African countries to be wary of a soft loan from China.
Tillerson said the U.S. approach of “incentivizing good governance” contrasts sharply with China, “which encourages dependency, using opaque contracts, predatory loan practices and corrupt deals that mire nations in debt and undercut their sovereignty.
“Chinese investment does have the potential to address Africa’s infrastructure gap, but its approach has led to mounting debt and few, if any, jobs in most countries. When coupled with the political and fiscal pressure, this endangers Africa’s natural resources and its long-term economic, political stability.”
DOES AID COME WITH DENIGRATION?
To demonstrate how Africans have welcomed Chinese aid, a controversial racist skit was broadcasted on widely watched CCTV’s annual Lunar New Year gala.
In the comic show, a Chinese woman in blackface with grotesquely enlarged buttocks balancing a fruit basket on her head was trotted out onto a safari-themed set leading a monkey (played by an African actor) to repeatedly proclaim, “I love Chinese people! I love China!”
The controversial segment of the show was designed to celebrate the links between China and Africa, including a new Chinese-built high-speed rail line in Kenya, but critics said the portrayal was to show how China was bringing civilization to the backward Africans.
Chinese television has faced accusations of racism before. In an advertisement aired in 2016, a black man is shown turning into a Chinese man after a Chinese woman “washes” him with the laundry detergent being advertised. In that case, it was later reported that the company behind the advertisement had apologized.
Last year, a museum in China removed a photography exhibit, which juxtaposed images of wild African animals with black African people, after complaints that the display was racist.
A section of the “This Is Africa” exhibit at the Hubei Provincial Museum in Wuhan included side-by-side photographs of animals and people displaying similar expressions.
One pair included a young boy and a howling chimpanzee, each photographed with their mouths agape. Other sets paired a man and a lion, both gnashing their teeth; and a man and a baboon.