China skirts Africa corruption

2012-02-09 18:50

Kampala - China last month sent a senior official to symbolically hand over the keys to a nine-story twin tower to house Uganda's president and prime minister, a gift from Beijing.

The white structures with a sloping roof cost China $27m to build. But - in a strategy that China is increasingly employing around Africa - Beijing didn't just deliver the money and let Ugandan officials see the project through.

It was built by Chinese workers in what aid watchdogs applaud as a model to help defeat the inefficiencies and cash-pocketing corruption associated with other systems of foreign aid delivery.

China has a growing economic footprint in Uganda and much of the rest of Africa, and some Ugandans natives complain of the rising number of Chinese arriving to set up shop. China's strategic interest in this East African country has deepened at a time when Uganda hopes to become an oil producer.

But the completion of projects like a modern hospital complex has softened China's reputation, while Beijing's efforts to produce turn-key projects are winning fans among Ugandans tired of seeing their officials ripping off foreign aid projects with impunity.

Instead of giving cash, the Chinese government prefers to pay Chinese companies to build roads and structures, bypassing local politicians, power brokers and construction crews, and to deliver them completed.

The China model is "more effective. It's less prone to corruption," said Sven Grimm, the executive director of the Centre for Chinese Studies at Stellenbosch University in South Africa.

He said the approach also bolsters China's economy, because "Chinese enterprises... go out and gain international experience."

$50m aid stolen

Experts say China's model of donating buildings and roads might help it cut the risk of aid scandals like the one that rocked the $22.6bn Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria over the past year. The Geneva-based financier gets donations from wealthy donor nations and private sources like Bill Gates.

But donors recoiled after the fund's internal watchdog documented more than $50m in losses due to corruption and other misuse and unauthorised spending, affecting much of Africa, including Uganda.

Western donors routinely threaten to cut aid to Uganda over corruption, which registers in millions of dollars every year.

In February 2010, in the aftermath of scandals that shook the faith of donors in the government's ability to cut wasteful spending and corruption, a World Bank official warned that corruption had become "endemic."

But Western nations keep giving aid to Uganda, infuriating anti-corruption activists.

"If I have abused your money and you give me more, it's like you are applauding me," Cissy Kagaba, who heads a watchdog called the Anti-Corruption Coalition of Uganda, said.

Transparency International ranks Uganda among the most corrupt nations, at 143 out of 182 countries in its most recent survey. Public officials in high and low places are constantly looking for opportunities to steal or be bribed and the offerings of foreign governments and agencies have traditionally been easy to abuse, critics say.

US and European aid money, for example, frequently funds workshops at expensive hotels. Participants of the "capacity building" programmes are given free travel to the sites along with per diems and accommodation.

Concrete things

"Capacity building ... is the easiest to steal because the only evidence is paper accountability," said Augustine Ruzindana, Uganda's former anti-corruption chief.

"The people who pay also know what they are doing, and so it's self-perpetuating. With the Chinese method it's easier to show that something has been done. They do concrete things which can be seen by several generations."

China's aid is not always welcomed. Last month new headquarters paid for by China for the African Union were unveiled in Ethiopia. Rwandan President Paul Kagame called it "pathetic" that Africa accepted such a donation and asked whether Africa couldn't afford to pay for such a building itself.

In Uganda, as in other African countries where it has strategic interests, China has polished its reputation with muscular projects which it then hands over as gifts. Prominent donations to Uganda include the headquarters of the ministry of foreign affairs and a sports stadium.

Even when the projects are tied to loans, such as in the planned construction of a four-lane express way from the capital to Uganda's international airport in nearby Entebbe, the Chinese insist on taking full charge.

This has shut down avenues traditionally used by public officials to inflate costs while doing shoddy work, to get paid for work not done or to insist on bribes before endorsing certain projects, anti-corruption officials say.

"The Chinese model is better," said Fred Guweddeko, a research fellow at the Makerere University Institute of Social Research in Kampala.

  • Frank - 2012-02-09 19:38

    Africa: Wake up, China will control the entire continent within 20 years. Independence wars were fought in all the colonies to rid themselves of European rule and now, barely half a century later, the continent is selling itself to the Chinese. The colonial cycle is repeating itself in a different form and a few politicians will get very rich taking bribes from the Chinese, but the rest will become subjects to Chinese rule. There is one big difference though: African nations fought for their independence from European rule and managed to win, we will never beat China. China is the parasite that will suck Africa dry of all its minerals, food and commodities until there is nothing left and only then will they leave. You welcome China with open arms and open pockets without realising what their actual purpose is in Africa. Open your eyes before it is too late, although it may be too late already.

      Fidel - 2012-02-09 19:56

      Drivel, mindless drivel from start to finish....

  • Fidel - 2012-02-09 19:53

    US and European aid money, for example, frequently funds workshops at expensive hotels. Participants of the "capacity building" programmes are given free travel to the sites along with per diems and accommodation. VS Instead of giving cash, the Chinese government prefers to pay Chinese companies to build roads and structures, bypassing local politicians, power brokers and construction crews, and to deliver them completed. The China model is "more effective. It's less prone to corruption," said Sven Grimm, the executive director of the Centre for Chinese Studies at Stellenbosch University in South Africa. And yet there are still idiots on these threads who try and dehumanise China at every opportunity they get even in the face of diametrically opposite and overwhelming evidence.

      James - 2012-02-09 20:03

      You are missing the point. Curbing corruption is not the issue the Chinese are smart and ruthless. They do not care about a corrupt Africa. What they care about is land and Minerals. Currently they control 91% of Rare Earths.

      Fidel - 2012-02-09 20:30

      How about Westerners stop treating Africans like children? and telling them 'what's good for them'. Europeans have been telling Africans what religion to follow, what politics to practice, what language to speak, what clothes to wear, what art to admire, in short, what culture (i.e. European) is superior. How about letting Africans make their own mistakes and learning from it? What are you recommending as an alternative to the Chinese model? More of the same aid programs that have seen billions of dollars sink into the continent and disappear without a trace? There are as many starving children in China as there are in Africa. So it's up to Africa to practice good governance and promote the best and brightest to negotiate with the Han. Oh, please visit the Centre for Chinese Studies website and read their discussion papers. Whilst at it read up also on the Forum on China Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), the official vehicle for Sino-Africa relations, and stop displaying your unfounded prejudices

      Frank - 2012-02-09 21:32

      You are clearly the most knowledgable around here Fidel; cutting and pasting bits of the story doesn't really change the reality of what is actually happening. The Chinese build roads and infrastructure straight to the mines, along with some other structures to bribe politicians and placate the locals and sceptics. If you actually think the Chinese care about uplifting Africa at all you are a fool. European and American TV is filled with adverts showing malnourished and sick children in Africa which results in the public donating millions of dollars out of compassion and in many cases guilt. You don't see those adverts in China, they are not investing in Africa for humanitarian reasons. What they have done is found a way to get what they want more effectively. Why spend millions on paying an African company to build you a shoddy road to the mines which you plan to exploit when you can build a good road using your own people and in less time? Read the second bit about the Chinese model again and sit and think about it. If you have any vision, experience and intellect you will begin to see exactly what it is they are doing. The Chinese are smart, have money and they need commodities; Africans have commodities but need money. There is such an obvious opportunity for exploitation and it will happen, the Chinese are not a compassionate nation, ask anyone that has done business there. But keep looking at the diametrically opposite and overwhelming evidence you fool.

      Fidel - 2012-02-09 21:49

      I invariably enjoy your contributions, since they can be guaranteed to be incoherent, wrong, self-refuting, or just plain bonkers, all in an entertaining way. The Chinese have parked the sanctimonious and patronising codswallop mouthed by your governments and offered improvements in basic services and infrastructure in return for access to raw materials. Abuse the Chinese all you like, but their presence in Africa is far beneficial than the western experience. They are in Africa for the resources.. Africans know this and everyone else does. They are not turning Africans into buddhists or forcing us to speak Chinese. They are not professing to help us 'develop' politically into 'healthy democracies'. We are responsible for our own future, it is up to US how we gain from China and other foreigners. Confucius said a thousands years ago that you don't impose to others what you don't want to impose to yourself. You can't understand these plain words? China doesn't do things the western way, therefore western assumptions often don't apply, therefore people in the west often do not understand.

      Michael - 2012-02-10 05:47

      That's fine fidel, we will let Africa learn from its own mistakes. Don't go crying to the west as per usual, when Africa has nothing left! Which brings me to another point. Africa wants the Wests bailouts and money, but they want the Chinese hands taking money out of Africa's pockets. A viscous circle that you seem quite content with. I just hope the West wakes up and stops giving Africa so much aid.

      Fidel - 2012-02-10 07:37

      @Michael The conscience masturbation that is Western aid has been utterly corrosive of African states, all too often lining the pockets of a corrupt ruling class and reducing the populations to a state of dependency. I call it corruption facilitation. Read up on the subject of "Development Aid". The west has never cared one jot about Africa except how to profit from the corruption it has installed. The fact is that post-colonial Africa, has not been helped to be autonomous by the so called liberal democracies. Yes I know there is the glib hand outs here and there but what about the exploitative business dealings and promotion of corruption? The Chinese are bringing economic modernity without passing comment on local customs and this is right because in the long run only us, Africans can reform our societies. This important feature seems to be escaping a lot of pro-western sentiment. The Chinese are building bridges, dams and railway lines, while western powers are dropping bombs on the continent and you still wonder why Africans prefer the Chinese as their trading partners. This sort of disconnection from reality is, forgive me for saying, reminiscent of some sort of psychosis.

      DuToitCoetzee - 2012-02-10 11:20

      Ja, Fidel. be careful to comment on things you know little of. Sometimes one's mouth becomes bigger than one's brains. The idea of donating money and do the project yourself was started by western countries. One of the 1st and a good example was Zambia. Being one of the countries who received the most donations the west realized it was the wrong way and they started changing it already in the 90's. The difference is they they bring over a management team, using locals, training the people and when leaving there are a structure/project that just need management. The "leaders" was not much in favor of this and they started looking for alternatives. Their pockets did not get full fast enough. This is where China comes in. The different is they bring all labor with with, their aunts, uncles and distant families. Yes, they built the stuff, but they spend the money on there own people. While doing that they "polish" hands. So it look like they do it the right way, but there is always a BUT. When a project is done they stay and went into "other" ventures. They can because they are now "connected". There way of operating is to suck everything dry, irrelevant if the people loose. Go and look to the white crosses on the hills at the Copper-belt in Zambia. All done in "good faith" while oiling hands and ignoring rights. Africa is becoming a victim again and this time I think she will not survive. I hope I am wrong because I love my continent and fellow Africans.

      Fidel - 2012-02-10 16:25

      @Coetzee I am very well vested in the subject of "Development Aid" and unlike many idiots here am not parroting what I've heard Clinton or Cameron say. Do you just think the Chinese are terrible people and that it is inevitable that they will behave like that? I, for one, will start getting worried when the troops start disembarking.

  • Frank - 2012-02-10 10:48 Take a look at this Fidel. Mugabe is building a military academy at a cost of $98m funded and build by the Chinese. Is the most important thing that Zim needs at the moment a military academy? And the treatment of the African workers is indicative of what the Chinese bosses feel for them. You say that China doesn't try to tell different nations what is good for them and you are right. That is why China is the main trading partner of North Korea and they have close ties to other upstanding nations like Iran and Zimbabwe. China doesn't tell nations what to do because the Chinese don't care about dictatorships and human rights abuses, they are guilty of it themselves. What they do want is commodities which they will get in any way possible. Clearly their model for achieving that is working well enough that you would argue there are no backhanded deals going on and that what China is doing in Africa is acceptable. You also state that Africans prefer Chinese as their trading partners? Of course they do, the Ugandan president just got a $27m new house! You are bashing Western aid in Africa without any idea how much good is being done because of it. Millions of lives are being saved and hungry mouthes fed thanks to that aid. Granted, the model has its flaws and a lot gets wasted and stolen, but as with any model improvements need to be made to make it more effective.

      Fidel - 2012-02-10 16:21

      @Frank You say that America doesn't try to tell different nations what is good for them and you are right. That is why America is the main trading partner of Saudi Arabia and they have close ties to other upstanding nations like Bahrain and Qatar. America doesn't tell nations what to do because the America don't care about dictatorships and human rights abuses, they are guilty of it themselves. You are stupid and misinformed. I don't think, therefore, I will respond further.

  • Gail - 2012-02-10 12:12

    Chinese people have unemployment problem and land problem; how better to acquire it by providing modern infrastructure in countries where people do not see need to maintain and improve for growing populations than by doing it themselves. Reminds me of a poem about mushrooms and how isidiously and silently they make themselves visible almost invisibly until eventually they take over everything. The money that could have been made had the work been done by the locals all goes back to China anyway and improves their economy and quality of life. The locals are grateful to have First world health and roads but in 200 years time the Chinese will be seen as the imperialists of our time and they will also have a majority. If the locals die out then they shouldn't say nobody warned them. They won't tolerate crime nor will they pass laws. Like mushrooms they will just suffocate/kill the locals. The Chinese will inherit the Earth.

      Fidel - 2012-02-10 16:22

      Welcome to the lobotomizing school of Western phobias, promoted by the simple minded manipulations of western powers, ably backed up by their overseas News service, also providing a bogey man and comfort blanket to hang on to when it thunders.

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