By Alan Collins Mpewo
In the wake of fast racing multilateral relations, the world countries have kept mowing their paths of prosperity and in scaling their economic stability, they’ve molded sustainable modules to attain that worthwhile goal. The industrial module keeps raising through the ranks and many countries that have globally harnessed it, are gradually appreciating its economic impact. Uganda is equally taking on the challenge in a flagship project the country’s government termed as “Vision 2040.” Among other schemes, are the Chinese built Industrial Parks that will harbor these gigantic projects. However, in the same journey to attain the vision, criticism and talk about the ever-growing China-Uganda economic relations keep streaming. The Chinese modern colonialism of the Global South is verbally being attached to the People’s Republic of China. But is the talk warranted?
Many don’t get to look at it or even think about it this way, but realising the historical background and understanding of the term “Colonialism,” many wouldn’t apply it lightly. That understanding of the generic meaning of the term would just be an honest step to realisation that its application as regards most of its economic policies towards Africa, is utterly a smearing spree to water down those good relations. It’s fair to state that what the China government is doing or establishing in the African continent, and whether that befits the term “colonisation,” should be a reserve for Africa’s inhabitants to determine and propagate a deserving response. Usually, when several foreigners talk about the African continent as a whole, that sheds a light on the fact that they know not or perhaps know minimal about the continent. The African continent harbours 54 countries, each with national sovereignty, autonomy in its domestic affairs, policies and impressions about the People’s Republic of China. Interestingly, unlike many western countries, China which some critics claim is harbouring colonialism or neocolonial interest has never colonised any country. It instead suffered the same. Therefore, one claiming that China’s support to African countries is due to the countries hidden interests is nothing but propaganda and a clear smear campaign meant to taint Sino-Africa relations.
A sneak peek at what the actual colonialists did would point to indigenous settlers of Africa having forced to labour with figuratively no payment. Selling them as slaves, among other regrettable undertakings. That there, is a slight showcase of what colonialism is. The People’s Republic of China is supportive to African countries in as far as investing greatly in modern infrastructure to mention of, such as roads, airports, and buildings. Actually, while western colonialists were being forced to grant African countries independence and others still under colonial bondage, many African countries received support from China thereby contributing to their struggles to snap the shackles of colonial minority humiliation. In 1960s for example, while China’s per capita GDP was less than that of Sub-Saharan Africa, China supported and southern African countries’ infrastructure development with $400 million which helped in construction of the famous Tanzania-Zambia Railway (TAZARA). This is enough to conclude that for long, China’s interest has been not to develop alone but rather building a large successful community with a shared successful future. With such record, one is right to conclude that China’s continued development assistance to African countries comes at a time when much of the African continent continues suffering from decades of entrenched neocolonialism, stinking poverty, sociopolitical instability and deplorable corruption, which in many ways all have connections to colonialism African countries suffered.
China looks at the world composed of numerous nations, all having own customs, socioeconomic systems, distinct in many forms, and are not inquisitive to alter. Its conception can fairly be seen as interested in finding a place in the middle kingdom. Being able to reach out so as offers can trade by them, perhaps as a World Trade Organ originating from the ancient silk route to the modern belt and road, or else they are in the middle of nowhere. African nations need direct foreign investment, compared to various other places. So, China has massively impacted building infrastructure. Importantly to note, is that these projects by China in the African countries in which it has some presence, are endorsed as coming without political adversities. That stands out especially as regards the respect granted for national sovereignty of partner states.
In a report recently by the notable AidData research lab, College of William and Mary, Virginia, the Chinese Belt and Road projects are fundamental in reduction of income imbalances and inequality among regions in the nations in which they are set-up. China has seen the implementation of various infrastructure projects like the construction of energy dams, roads, and the expansion of the country’s National Airport – Entebbe International Airport, plus the development of industrial parks. Regarding the Industrial parks, these are gradually taking shape with new ones cropping up. Soon or later, the Standard Gauge Railway construction, a focus project for East African Countries, will finally get its long-awaited completion. The construction of several of the above projects is Chinese financed.
In energy sector, the 183MW Isimba Hydro Power Plant is complete, and this has been done by China’s Exim Bank that has funded about 85 percent of two major Ugandan energy projects — Isimba and Karuma dams. Meanwhile, construction works of the 600MW Karuma Hydro Power Plant is still ongoing. It furthermore financed and foresaw the building of Kampala’s $476 million Entebbe Express Highway that leads to the National Airport – Entebbe International Airport, which has greatly minimised driving time to more than half the time before its construction.
These Chinese funded projects’ impact cannot be taken lightly, because enhancement of transportation routes is an inevitable stepping stone to trade. However, the Uganda government has much more to offer and directly delve in, especially with the energy support systems that have since been launched. The Isimba and Karuma Dams escorted by the gradual construction of Industrial parks in different parts of the country calls for the need to expeditious ignition of an industrial module of achieving economic prosperity. Uganda’s exports to China are majorly agricultural, yet it imports much more finished goods from the People’s Republic of China. According to UN COMTRADE database on international trade, the Republic of Uganda exports to China were $39.61 Million in 2020. Much of it was in Oil seed, fruits, grain, and seed, to a tune of $18.01 Million. This creates a great void of trade imbalance, something that is constantly affecting Uganda’s economy. Such incredible relations between the two countries – Uganda and China, should be a stepping stone for Uganda.
The advantages of an industrial module, especially in a developing country with promising growth of major transport systems can not be overemphasised. The job pool to the various Ugandans with distinct skills and expertise, the retention of much money that goes to waste on imports, among others. Such an industrial model would also give justification for the loans acquired, whose outcomes would setoff a significant portion of the debt burden. In addition to Industrial support systems are peripheral projects by The People’s Republic of China like its financing of an oil pipeline project valued to over $4 billion, presently undergoing construction. The project will connect the western region of Uganda to the port at Tanga in the Republic of Tanzania. This will give Uganda – a landlocked country, access to the Indian Ocean. That access to the wide East of the globe will possibly streamline the chain of export from the full functional industries to world markets. The returns would accomplish enormous development for the Republic of Uganda.
Alan Collins Mpewo is a Senior Research Fellow, Development Watch Center.
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