As Ugandans noted, China’s Cooperation with Africa is a Win-win Cooperation

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By Arnold Katende Ricky and Ssemanda Abdurahim

Dear Editor, on Thursday 27th July 2023 Sino-Uganda Research Centre, a Ugandan Think Tank dedicated to analysis of Uganda’s foreign policy and diplomacy in international milieux with focus on China-Uganda relations left me deeply thinking much about China-Uganda cooperation.  The symposium which ran under the theme “A New Era of China-Africa Relations: What is in it For Uganda?” saw different scholars and researchers discussing different topics among others China’s development path to modernisation and what lessons can Uganda and Africa in general draw from it, and role of women in development among others.

Partly organised to discuss likely implications of the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) in regard to China-Africa Cooperation as well as the outcomes of the China-Uganda cooperation, Sino-Uganda Research Centre released results for research entitled “perceptions about China-Uganda Relations: Public and Key Stakeholder’s Perspectives,” towards China-Uganda relations. The findings showed that majority of Ugandans are happy and support China-Uganda cooperation with 76% of Ugandans commending China’s role in supporting Uganda’s development plans especially through infrastructure funding support crediting the support for improving the countries road sector, creating employment opportunities to Ugandan and training as well as offering scholarship opportunities.

While according to Sino-Uganda Research Centre, only 22% of Ugandans believe China’s loaning terms to Uganda are fair, with the discussion of China’s development assistance, one can conclude that this area is always left out by Ugandans and Africans in general to be analysed and discussed by western media who arguably always want to criticise China’s engagement with the rest of the world. This is partly because; by playing a positive role in economic development of developing countries, China shrinks the so-called traditional development partners’ role who are largely western countries and secondly, because in most of Chinese funding are implemented by Chinese firms, a negative narrative is created since these Chinese firms take contracts which western countries firms normally want. Therefore, the negative feeling of Chinese loans to African countries should always be expected because of western media narratives and propaganda.

Indeed, Professor Timothy Kerswell of Chinese University of Hong Kong explained that most of negative views towards Chinese loans are as a result of what he described as “penetration of the so-called ‘Western Debt’ trap Narrative” which lacks facts.

While lauding Sino-Uganda Research Centre for investing time and resources in research that focuses on shaping Uganda’s interests, the First Deputy Prime Minister of Uganda and Minister for East African Affairs, Rebecca Kadaga, who represented the Vice President Jessica Alupo under scored importance of researchers and think tanks being independent while conducting their work. She stressed that; “aware that credible and independent research is very important in guiding policy formulation and implementation, I would like to encourage and urge you to make sure that your work is done in total observance of the principle of independence in research for the benefit of Uganda, China, and the world.”

Kadaga stressed that for the last 61 years, China and Uganda have enjoyed good relations which has seen China’s continued support to Uganda in areas such as infrastructure, agriculture, health, industry, and energy sectors emphasised Uganda government is commitment to strengthen ties between the two countries.

Speaking at the same occasion, Chinese ambassador to Uganda, Zhang Lizhong, explained that the Chinese Path to Modernisation is socialist modernisation under the leadership of the CPC, and emphasised that it is “based on China’s national reality, and draws on other countries’ experience.” Ambassador Lizhong argued that as part and parcel of humanity’s modernisation, Chinese modernisation path contains what he described as “elements that are common to other countries’ modernisation, such as industrialisation, urbanisation, greater democracy, and rule of law. Meanwhile, it also has unique Chinese features as it is rooted in the Chinese context.”

If we critically analyse ambassador Lizhong’s words in regard to China’s development path, it is not a surprise that when China announced that the country had eliminated extreme poverty, United Nations described the rate at which China achieved this as a record time. The point of emphasis here is that China took a path that that is/was compatible to the country because, their development path is/was “based on China’s national reality.”

Upon that background and recalling the failed structural adjustment programs (SAPs) which Bretton Woods Institutions particularly the International Monetary Fund (IMF) imposed on Africa, it looks clear that China’s path to development if considered may be the magic bullet for African countries to attain development and modernisation, more importantly, modernisation. Put differently, while African countries may learn from other countries’ development path, it is important that like China which decided to take a development path with Chinese characteristics or which is compatible with their national realities, African countries must also take a path that is compatible with our national realties but not simply following any program as it was in 1980s when IMF forced many of developing countries especially in Africa and Latin America to follow SAPs.

The other interesting revelation was arguments by Ambassador Lizhong that China’s modernisation path is premised on a view that modernisation should not be considered as a reserve of one country or individual stressing that Chinese modernisation is the modernisation of common prosperity for all, and will open up a broader path to common development of all countries. “Modernization should not make the rich richer and the poor poorer. Common prosperity for the whole world requires prosperity of all countries,” argued ambassador Lizhong.

In a nutshell, looking at China’s continuous engagement with African countries and Chinese leaders’ consistency in their communication, there is no reason to doubt or question China’s relations with Africa. As a Ugandan, I have no reason to conclude that as Africans let’s joint our hands together, to open up a new chapter of China-Ugandan friendship of solidarity, friendship and cooperation, and jointly build the China-Ugandan and China-Africa Community of Shared Future in the New Era!

Arnold Katende Ricky and Ssemanda Abdurahim are Research Fellows at The Development Watch Centre.


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