By Ssemanda Abdurahim
“So, when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honoured by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.” Matthew 6:2-4. There is a great analogy between this Gospel of Apostle Mathew and China’s economic contributions to Uganda and Africa at large. Unfolding the gospel truth in this analogy, I take you through my journey to a 600-megawatt Karuma Dam construction project in Karuma Town Council in Kiryandongo District, which costed Uganda $2.2billion approximately, with the costs jointly met by Uganda and Chinese government.
Approaching Karuma Sub-County in Kiryandongo District, where Karuma Dam construction project is located, one is welcomed by the untempered fascinating super green plant cover and the cold fresh soothing air which penetrates the car, arising from Karuma Wildlife Reserve covering approximately 6705 square kilometers. The vegetation cover which comprises of many and unimaginable species of trees also harbors various species of wild animals ranging from Vervet monkeys and Olive Baboons among others that welcome you, all seen beside the road which enhances the belief that nature has been protected to some extent so dearly even when some developments are happening in that region. While in Karuma, the suspension of disbelief that the Karuma Dam construction project has sparked off development is boosted and backed up by the tall and peeping maroon rooftops seating on the newly constructed permanent buildings which are outnumbering the old temporary and traditional round grass-thatched houses.
My three nights in Karuma were spent at Level 9 Hotel, adjacent to another magnificent one. In Karuma Town Council, one is able to see beautiful restaurants every after a few steps with customers frequenting them. Along the streets, unimaginable number of businesswomen and men readying various types of foods ranging from roasted chicken, cassava, plantain among others run to the cars, busses and heavy lorries stopping over to sell off their goods. The town is busy and different businesses ranging from boutiques, bars and among others are running. One can also notice huge lorries parking by the roadside, some carrying produce especially maize from the local farmers. There is also a lot of kipooli or odi (grand nuts paste) and honey sold on the streets all which indicate a boom in business.
Washington Ochaya, the district Councilor Karuma Town Council tells me that before Karuma Hydropower project started, the area was a town board. It was elevated to a town council shortly after the project started. He says in all ways the project contributed to this stressing that the project resulted into influx of people into area, new businesses and several multiplier effects of a mega project.
A few steps from the central part of the town, there stands a permanent magnificent standard huge structure named Karuma-Sino Market. This public market was donated to the society by SinoHydro Cooperation, a Chinese firm constructed to construct the dam. The market is visibly busy and different businesses are being operated in by the local natives of the town. The market was handed over to the local government in 2017. A stone-throw distance from the market is Karuma Primary school, where permanent and new offices as well as classroom structures are set up in compensation for a formerly affected portion of the school that was under the project affected areas. Hon. Ochaya tells us that SinoHydro Cooperation renovated the school and constructed a water tap for the school and community under the company’s cooperate social responsibility (CSR). A few meters from Karuma primary school, you see Karuma Church of Uganda and Karuma Mosque all constructed by SinoHydro Cooperation to community.
Driving to Mutunda Sub-County in Kiryandongo District, which is about 20 kilometers from Karuma Town Council, I approached Mutunda Senior Secondary School which had received a donation of one hundred desks from SinoHydro Cooperation. Mr. Odora James, a resident of Alila village-Mutunda sub-county, attested that SinoHydro Cooperation had also donated the construction of Amaji primary school along the Nile and it had been completed. The school was given a good quality solar system, provided with computers and desks. Away from this, the Chinese medical team although not quite often, it announces free medical services to the community as the Chinese and local Doctors move around the community especially in Karuma treating people and giving them free medical attention.
The construction management was able to recruit local people who were both skilled and e semiskilled and employed them. These locals, some of the have been equipped with skills about hydro. The lack of skilled labour forced the Chinese engineering team of trainers to train these locals and they have skills that can sustain their living even when their contract come to an end at the construction project.
These and so much more developments have been registered in Kiryandongo District in the eve of constructing Karuma Dam and this has had a huge positive impact on People’s income as far as development is concerned. However, the biggest population in the country and that of the world of critics of China’s relationship with Africa only knows that the Chinese are funding the construction of the dam. Other developments that this cause has triggered are not known simply because, China is behaves like a State of Saints – operating on Matthew’s gospel. They give with the right hand without alerting the left.
China gives because it finds out that there is a necessity to give other than giving because it should be known. My interest in making the readers travel with me to Karuma by deeply and vividly trying to describe the nature of Karuma at the current time vis-à-vis the past, is all intended to show you that there are more developments ranging from social to economic fields that China’s development cooperation has sparked off in in Uganda and other African countries but it has not said anything about them. Critics have thus explored these chances to come up with unpleasant baptisms upon China-African relations with negative narratives. It is not until China comes up with a strategy of blowing trumpets for itself because of their developmental assistances in Africa just like her critics, that it will reduce on the strength of its critics.
However, China’s silence as far as her good partnership with Africa is concerned, greatly tells principles of “sincerity, real results, amity, win-win cooperation and good faith” as guiding principles for China to develop its relations with Africa which president Xi Jinping announced about 10 years ago. If critically analyzed, China gives with a sense of humanity other than humiliations of using the media for public announcements. One would thus say that the father who sees China’s works in silence is blessing her because African states are continuously embracing her amidst the unpleasant biased criticisms. Because of China’s good intentions characterized by principles of sincerity, real results, amity, win-win cooperation and good faith while working with us, as Africans, lets embrace and jealously defend the cooperation between our countries with China as the two sides continue building a community of shared future for mankind in a new era of China-Africa cooperation.
Ssemanda Abdurahim is a research fellow with Sino-Uganda Research Centre.