China early this month invited African heads of state for the Forum on China Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) in Beijing. The objective was to strengthen economic cooperation with China. Each country went home with a basketful of goodies and huge promises for future development.
But a number of questions have been raised. Does foreign aid really add value to the recipient country? If so, do the citizens see the fruits of this aid reflected in their pockets?
Trade rivalry has been renewed, creating a new scramble for Africa. Britain invests over £8 billion in Africa. Prime Minister Teresa May visited Africa last month and announced that Britain would increase investments to £14 billion. Germany followed with a G20 conference in Accra, Ghana. Chancellor Merkel promised €1.1 billion to improve start-ups, energy supplies and curb migration to Europe.
President Macron of France reaffirmed this commitment of $76 billion to Africa with a July visit to Nigeria and Mali. French firms have invested $10 billion in roads, energy, communication and manufacturing in Kenya. The US has invested over $85 billion in commercial deals, $50 billion in digital trade and $100 billion in bilateral deals. But Africa is heading to China. Why?
The economic development of any country tends to favour established entrepreneurs. They can sit in conferences, raise collateral for money transfers and get loans. It is not easy for starters and upcoming entrepreneurs. But no billionaire has come out demanding to rebuild Kibera, Mathare, Korogocho, Mukuru, Kangemi slums for the poor. What we witness are demolitions and evacuation of families and businesses to pave way for roads. When demolitions occur the low paid Kenyans in these environments suffer the most.
So what is China bringing on board? Is it economic independence, interdependence or modern-day colonisation through loans? Why is China not telling or even advising Africa on good governance, eradicating corruption, inequality and ending forced migration? Can it advise governments on moral and ethical values for holistic development?
Edgar Lungu, the President of Zambia, has been accused of selling Zambia to China by making it a financial colony. Beijing has invested more than $2 billion in Zambia’s mining, agriculture, service and housing sectors. Zambia’s outstanding debt with China was $9.3 billion by 2018. China is the biggest investor in Tanzania, where debt is also growing. Tanzania has borrowed $1.46 billion from StanChart Bank to building its SGR. It will spend another $14 billion to build 2,600km railway between Dodoma and Rwanda to the border town of Rusumo.
Kenya has budgeted Sh326 billion for the Chinese built SGR from Mombasa to Nairobi. The country needs another $150 billion to build 120km from Nairobi to Naivasha. In 2017 Kenya exported goods worth Sh.9.9 billion to China compared to Chinese imports valued at Sh390 billion. The imbalance grows.
How about if we negotiated with China, UK, USA, France and other donors to have processing plants in Kenya to reduce unemployment caused by ongoing demolitions in slums and riparian lands?
Professor, Tangaza University College, CUEA, Karen