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Benefiting from Chinese influence in EAC

By Kavuma-Kaggwa

The government should negotiate a strong mutually beneficial trade policy with China

Chinese influence has increased tremendously in East Africa and the whole of Africa. Even globally, Chinese influence has taken root. That was one reason US President Barak Obama recently saw it fitting to convene an African Leaders Summit in Washington DC.

In Uganda for example, the Chinese have penetrated the development system much more than the Americans and the British, in spite of the fact that the British ruled Uganda for 70 years and the English language is not only the language of education but is also Uganda’s official (constitutional) language. But as I will show later, it has historical roots.

President Museveni is definitely happy with the Chinese; they are almost ‘untouchable.’ One very important reason is probably because the Chinese do not meddle in the politics of the countries where they are doing business. They just focus on in business, securing big government contracts to build high rise buildings, roads, bridges, factories, big industries, schools, hospitals, mining, oil exploration, railways and sports stadiums. They are also now in trade.

In Kenya, they first built the huge Kasarani National Sports Stadium at Ruaraka on Thika Road. In Uganda, they first built the huge (Mandela) National Sports Stadium at Namboole. In Tanzania they first built the railway line called Tazara (Tanzania, Zambia Railway) linking the Port of Dar es Salaam to Lusaka, the capital city of Zambia. How did this happen? Because of the land communication problems, which the newly independent Zambia faced because of being landlocked, President Nyerere decided to help out to solve the problem.

In 1967, Nyerere approached the US for a loan of $100 million payable back within a period of ten years, which the Americans turned down. He then approached the Canadian Government, which was a Commonwealth country; they too refused.

Nyerere turned to the Chinese.  At that time, the leaders of China were Chairman Mao Tse Tung (popularly known as Chairman Mao) and Prime Minister Chou en Lai. At that time, Nyerere had turned Tanzania into a socialist state with “the Arusha Declaration of Socialism and Ujama.” Instead of a loan, the Chinese gave Nyerere the $100 million as a grant. He built the Tazara railway.

Like India, which under the leadership of Prime Minister Pandit Jawahlal Nehru, offered scholarships to East Africans after realizing that in future they will have to deal and cooperate with independent Africa, the Chinese did the same.

Their influence in East Africa started way back in the 1950s when the African freedom fighters were fighting against European colonialism and imperialism to gain Independence for Africa.

China offered financial assistance (but not weapons) to the freedom movements in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. I remember Chuchi Fang who used to come to Kampala to meet I.K. Musaazi, Dr. B. N. Kununka and J.W. Kiwanuka who were the leaders of Uganda National Congress (UNC) then.

The late John Kale (father of Gen.l Kale Kayihura) who was the UNC Representative in Egypt at that time, and the late Abubakar Mayanja, who was the UNC representative in London and a student, negotiated for a  big financial assistance from China.

UNC received a large amount of money, which came through the Egyptian government at the time of President Gamal Abdel Nasser. UNC also received a modern printing press from Italy, which was installed at the Uganda Post and Uganda Express newspaper office at Kololo in the building which now accommodates the Hot Loaf Bakery. Both newspapers were the mouthpiece of Uganda National Congress.

The China of today is a product of what was built by Chairman Mao – the architect of the Chinese Revolution of 1949. He emerged with his communist forces from the south of China and staged the ‘Long Match’ to the capital and overthrew the Western-backed forces, the Kuo mitang of Chiang Kai Shek, who was leading China before 1949.  Chiang Kai Shek ran with his forces to Taiwan Islands in the South and set up his government. For so many years, the US did not recognize the People’s Republic of China. It only recognized the Taiwanese government and it had a seat at the UN in New York. However, what is interesting is that Britain, the US main ally, traded with the People’s Republic of China all the time.

After defeating Chiang Kai Shek, Chairman Mao set up his Communist Government in Peking and named the huge country The People’s Republic of China. I do not think that name will ever change.

China today has very strict laws whereby robbery and trading in prohibited commodities is punishable by death. Currently, there are Ugandans who are facing execution because of trafficking in prohibited drugs.

China today is an industrial power and economic power. Their Foreign Reserves are only second to USA and Germany. China is one of the five permanent Members of the United Nations Security Council. It has a ‘veto’ powers. That means that if China rejects a resolution it does not pass. The other permanent members of the UN Security Council are: USA, Britain, Germany and France.  Some years back when the Western World launched a campaign to end communism in the world, China was reported to have told the West that if they dare attack, then China with its 1.5 billion people, will send only 3 million soldiers to repel the attack.

The Wst then decided on two alternatives – open up trade and cooperation with China and educate the young Chinese nationals in Western Universities. The West expected that in future the Western-educated Chinese would gradually do away with the communist ideology. This decision by the West somehow helped China to open up to the whole world in many ways.

The West and China started to establish industries to manufacture different kinds of goods, which are now sold everywhere on the world market. China is now a big competitor with Japan in manufacturing motor vehicles and electronic goods of all kinds.

Even in Uganda, it is easier to find Chinese products than US or British products on the market. It is difficult to understand why the good quality British products are no longer sold in Uganda. Now, we only come to talk of Britain when it is time for the Commonwealth meetings. Yet, Chinese products are dominant everywhere and Uganda sells very little to China. Probably in the future when we shall be producing coffee on a very large scale, we shall force China to buy 70% of our coffee annually.

In Uganda today the Chinese are everywhere in trade, building roads, high-rise buildings, bridges and manufacturing. They built a huge factory at Mbalala on Jinja road in Kyaggwe, which manufactures steel iron bars and many other building materials for the Ugandan and regional markets.

Recently, China signed a big contract in Mombasa with the Presidents of Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda and South Sudan to build a trans-Africa railway line linking Mombasa to Kigali, through Uganda and to South Sudan.  Of course with our liberalized monetary system, all the profits that the Chinese make in Uganda are repatriated to China. Very little, if any, remains here.

The Chinese government formed trading, mining and construction corporations, which transact different kinds of businesses in foreign countries. These companies make money for the people of China. I think Uganda should do the same as have regional counterparts Kenya.

With their big foreign reserves, the Chinese get loans from their banks at home at an interest rate of 0.1% to transact business and trade all over the world.

How should the Ugandans benefit from the presence of the Chinese in Uganda?

President Museveni should now initiate a firm trading policy whereby China, with its 1.5 billion population, should buy 70% of Uganda coffee annually. This will be a very big market for Ugandan coffee. China does not grow coffee therefore it should buy a large amount of our coffee. This will make the people of Uganda grow more coffee and they will benefit a lot.

President Museveni should encourage China to build four technical colleges in Uganda; in central, eastern, in northern and Western regions – to train Ugandans in technology. Education in these colleges should be free or highly subsidized by China. China should also offer scholarships to Ugandans, without discrimination, to learn engineering (civil, electrical and mechanical) in China. In the end many of our young men and women will be able to start their own enterprises in their respective areas all over the country.

The time we are in now is for planning and economic development. The government should allow the cultural leaders and local governments to initiate negotiations with China for development loans to develop their areas.

In Buganda, I know there are good plans to develop the tourism industry by building hotels and lodges where tourists can stay when they come here. Buganda should build a hotel in Entebbe area or Munyonyo or Kaazi where tourists can stay upon arrival. A hotel should be built at the Source of the Nile and lodges in the national parks. A ten-year B.O.T plan is the answer in this matter. B.O.T means build, own and transfer to the local owner after ten years.

A financier builds hotels/lodges with his own money. He operates and manages them for a period of ten years. Within that period of ten years he takes out all the money he spent and at the same time he trains and prepares the local citizens who will run and manage these facilities when he pulls out after ten years.

The B.O.T plan worked successfully in Kenya in 1967 after Independence when Jomo Kenyatta applied it with the British. Something must be done now.


Kavuma-Kaggwa  Is an elder from Kyaggwe

Mukono District

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