Beware of new Greeks bearing gifts

China and its arsenal of economic, social and diplomatic largesse was in Africa this week, winning over governments with multi-billion dollar plans and initiatives.

From energy, to health, to infrastructure, climate change, peace, trade, agriculture and even cyber security and biodiversity conservation, China has pledged to stand by Africa as a development partner. Hidden within the centuries of colonialism Africa endured under European powers was the establishment of systems, infrastructure and mindsets geared to ensure the Dark Continent’s reliance on Europe, beyond the independence era.

Indeed, the great colonialist, Cecil John Rhodes, dreamt of a Cape-to-Cairo railway linking all British territories and carrying to Britain, precious metals and other inputs and to Africa, more colonial settlers, military personnel/equipment and European values. The French and the Portuguese had similar dreams and the result of these is that all over the continent, countries have leaned westwards for economic partnerships, trade and aid.

China, one of the world’s fastest growing economies, the principal buyer of all African commodities and the major origin of global tourists, indeed represents an unmissable opportunity for a new growth partner in Africa.The billions of US dollars in projects unveiled by Chinese president, Xi Jinping in Zimbabwe, South Africa and to other states, are indeed the icing on top of a new deal that many Africans will be angling to benefit from. However, in the midst of the euphoria, a word of caution from a country that has seen the underbelly of the new deal should not be flippantly disregarded.


It must and cannot be forgotten how billions of Pula from the public purse were spent and lost in contracts to Chinese developers, starting from 2009 with mega projects such as Morupule B, the expansion of Sir Seretse Khama Airport and national stadiums all either incomplete or completed over cost and time. Besides this, the quality of Chinese projects has been a major headache for Batswana, with local authorities among the loudest complainants. China wooed Botswana with social development schemes such as “free” schools and health facilities, as sweeteners to the contracts for major works and rightly or wrongly, the blame for shambolic projects has been laid at the feet of Chinese contractors. A more sober analysis also points the finger at inadequate monitoring by government, obscure project briefs and many other systemic weaknesses. Botswana’s experience with the Chinese largesse is a cautionary tale for the rest of the continent. Even as the Chinese come bearing gifts, it is critical that Africa’s systems and capacity protect its own interests and add value to ordinary citizens.

Quality, labour laws, SHE compliance, anti-corruption and money laundering, repatriation of profits, environmental protection, social impact and the value added over time must be critically analysed before engagement. The same prudence should apply to trade and diplomatic agreements, lest the excitement of the billions of dollars clouds judgements.

Today’s thought

“Alliances and partnerships produce stability when they reflect realities and interests.”

 

- Stephen Kinzer

Editor's Comment
What about employees in private sector?

How can this be achieved when there already is little care about the working conditions of those within the private sector employ?For a long time, private sector employees have been neglected by their employers, not because they cannot do better to care for them, but because they take advantage of government's laxity when it comes to protecting and advocating for public sector employees, giving the cue to employers within the private sector...

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