Saturday May 4 2013

Tracking the Land of the Dragon’s billions in Africa

By ERIASA MUKIIBI SSERUNJOGI

Kampala

The government of China wishes to keep the details of the billions of dollars it pumps into Africa as a secret but this has only stalked curiosity, especially from the West.

According to data released by American researchers on April 27, China spent some $75b on aid and development projects in Africa in the period between 2000 and 2011, coming agonisingly close to the estimated $90b that the US poured into the continent during the same period.

But given that much of Chinese aid goes into supporting physical projects like infrastructure and mining projects as opposed to US aid which mainly focuses on the so-called War on Terror and humanitarian assistance, there is debate on which of the two powers will emerge as victor in the battle for Africa’s hearts and souls in the long run.

Over a period of 18 months, researchers at AidData, based at the College of William and Mary in US, scrutinised media reports published in Chinese and English languages for information on China’s donations to African countries. In the end, they looked at some 1,700 projects in 50 countries during the period under review.

The resultant data revealed, among other things, that the range of projects in which China has invested in Africa challenges what had previously been thought – that China only targets Africa’s natural resources. Whereas China has invested substantial sums in mining and energy, it has also pumped money in health, education, culture and governance over the period.

The data, presented at aiddatachina.org, is summarised on an interactive map that shows the details of how much and in which projects China has invested in each of the 50 African countries in which it is active over the period under review.

Most other donors provide data on their aid activities to Africa, like under the auspices of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in the name of facilitating aid transparency, but not China. This partly informs the hunger for information on China’s aid to Africa.

The website shows Uganda as the leading beneficiary of China aid in East Africa, reaping $4.67b during the decade, closely followed by Tanzania with $4.57b. Kenya comes third with $1.64b, while Rwanda received about half a billion dollars and Burundi $165.6m. But China invested more in the neighbouring DR Congo (9.16b) and Sudan (7.91b), with investment in Africa’s youngest country, South Sudan ($27m) picking up too. In Uganda, aid from China over the period went into a wide range of projects, from transport and Storage ($388.5m) to communications ($106m), action relating to debt , agriculture ($74.8m), trade and tourism ($16.6m) and health ($8.6m).

Zimbabwe reaps big
China’s critics who accuse it of fomenting dictatorship in Africa can seize on Zimbabwe, which received substantial funding from the Asian giant during the decade when its economy degenerated terribly mainly due to President Robert Mugabe’s politics.

The relatively small southern African country, with only close to 13m people, received $26.92b from China over the decade, which is more than half of what Nigeria ($51.11b), a country with about 13 times more people than Zimbabwe, received.

Critics say that China aid should be contingent on the observance of human rights and democracy by the reciepient countries like the Western powers do. But Mr Okello Oryem, the state minister for foreign affairs in charge of internal affairs, says this is unnecessary. “Has the song about democracy and human rights turned us into a developed country?” Mr Oryem wondered, adding: “If I want to give you a chicken or a goat do I first ask you whether you beat your wife?”

Mr Xu Yuwei, secretary to the consular at the Chinese Embassy, said China provides aid to support Africa’s development in furtherance of “a historical friendship”. Mr Xu says many African countries backed China when its membership to the United Nations was in contention due its internal politics until the issue was resolved in 1991.

emukibi@ug.nationmedia.com

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