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China’s Interest in Africa

Sayidcali Ahmed | Chinese Politics, and Influence

Africa being a massive continent with a heavy richness of natural resources such as gold, diamond, great fertilized land, water, oil, natural gases, minerals,  forests, wildlife animals, and many other untouched or discovered yet renewable and non-renewable resources have had been what attracted many Western and Non-western countries which made them colonize many countries in Africa or later on to build foreign and diplomatic relations oriented the need and desperation of the western countries’ raw materials like rubber, timber, diamonds, and gold. China by sharing a similar history to many other developing countries, especially in Africa such as its history of being a European such as Britain, Germany, and Japanese colony, China has started to regard, and count itself as a member of the developing nations, and member of the ‘Third World’ countries. On that note, this step of China associating itself with the developing countries has allowed it to build net-tie and close cooperation relations with Africa including but not limited to economic, technological, and political relations. On the other hand, China has limited its interactions with the developed countries military and economically as well such as the United States, and many other economically strong countries in Europe and Asia. Since its formation of diplomatic and economic relations with Africa, China has promoted massive infrastructure plans such as the ‘Belt and Road Initiative’ in which the Chinese government in Beijing has claimed that these projects are meant to help the development of Africa despite how other world leaders view these projects.

According to Robyn Dixon from the Los Angeles Times, “China has pumped more than $124 billion into Africa since 2000… and offered another $60 billion while canceling the debts of some poor African nations. It has spent $500 million on Belt and Road Initiative Projects in dozens of countries globally mainly [in Africa]” (Dixon, 1, 2018). And these projects from the Chinese government such as the ‘Belt and Road Initiative projects are implemented in different forms. For example, some of the projects that were taking place in Africa like building roads, railways, airports, stadiums, and electrical systems were built by Chinese state-owned companies or sometimes by private firms that are affiliated with either the Chinese government or its partner country who is hosting these projects.

Some of these projects like the ‘Belt and Road Initiative projects’ come at a time back in 2015-18 “while there [was] a doctor shortage, rampant pollution and people [Chinese] were struggling to buy medicines or get a decent education at home” (Dixon, 1, 2018). On the other hand, many Western countries’ accusations of these projects were that the Chinese government would “snare nations [developing] into unsustainable debt… And that China will give out “loans without questioning governments about human rights, [which is] a policy that makes China an attractive partner to African leaders” (Dixon, 2-3, 2018). In these past years, the presence of China in Africa caught the eyes of many international media and economic, and geopolitical analysts. Even though China has become a great international market among many countries in the developing world due to its capability of giving funding and the implementation of infrastructure projects.

According to the Brookings Institution, China has four main interests in Africa and it has been doing everything it can to satisfy these national interests despite how easy or hard the challenges are within its relations in the region [Africa]. The first and most important reason why China has been paying much attention and support to the African countries by drawing any parallel lines with the African nations was the to build a ‘political allies’ who can stand behind China’s policy of “One China” which will prevent any Chinese considered territories such as ‘Taiwan’ to build any diplomatic relations with these African nations who receive Chines loans and funds. Politically as well, building a strong and unbreakable diplomatic and economic interdependence with these African developing nations will allow the Beijing government to receive massive support when it comes to the multi-governmental organizations such as the United Nations (Sun,1,2014). The second national interest in China’s relationship with Africa is an economic aspect, since “Africa is seen primarily as a source of natural resources and market opportunities to fuel China’s domestic growth” (Sun,1,2014). The third national interest that influenced and lead the path to China’s relations with the Africans was from a “security standpoint” since due to the expansion of globalization has increased the dangers of transnational threats from organized crimes to weapons, infectious diseases, and other diseases caused by environmental related issues. Due to China’s “rising presence of Chinese commercial interests in Africa has led [also] its growing security challenges for the Chinese investments and personnel” faced threats fueled by some of the political instability in the region. The four reason why China was interested to establish these diplomatic relations between the Chinese government and the developing countries in Africa was due to “China’s underlying ideological interests in Africa, as the success of the “China’s model” in non-democratic African countries” will go against the political ideology in which America and many other Western countries have been claiming and supporting which is the idea that “democracy and the human-rights” are universal (Sun,1,2014).

Nevertheless, China’s interest and expansion in Africa started way before the Chinese government introduced the project the ‘Belt and Road Initiative’ which was formerly known as the “One Belt One Road” or ‘’OBOR’. Back in 2013, official members of the Export-Import Bank of China had “estimated that by 2025, China will provide Africa with financing- including direct investment, soft loans, and commercial loans- totaling $1 trillion U.S” (Dixon, 2, 2018). Despite how promising this deal was between the Chinese government and the developing nations in Africa, it’s also on the other hand more likely that many African countries to get trapped into a debt crisis much worse than the debts they faced from the Western and multilateral lenders in the past. The shocking fact about the China-Africa investment projects and money lending is the requirement of both parties to keep details about these loans and investments secret since some of the deals involve the current dictator and leaders whose whole mindset is measured by money used the minerals and the oil resources of their nation as collateral. This act can destroy and rip apart the China-Africa relations since this deal is putting a threat and danger situation many African countries’ sovereignty (Dixon, 2, 2018).

Sino-Ugandan Relations

About Uganda

Uganda is an Eastern African country that shares borders with Kenya, South Sudan, Rwanda, Tanzania, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. From 1984 to 1962, Uganda was a British Protectorate like many other countries in Africa. Uganda has dozens of diverse ethnic groups who share different religions, cultures, and many different ethnolinguistic languages. Despite their different religious affiliations and languages, the English language which is a colonial ‘legacy’, and Christianity both play an important to close the gap in order to introduce a sense of homogeneity in the country. Even though there are much other Ugandan ethnolinguistics such as Ganda, Nkole, and Lango; the English language and Swahili are the two official languages. English is mainly referred to as the language of the ‘education and government’ related jobs, while the Swahili language helps the Ugandans to integrate and interact with other neighborhood countries that share this language such as Rwanda and Kenya (The Library of Congress, XII,1992).

The economy of Uganda is heavily dependent on agriculture which contributes an estimated 4/5 of the nation’s working population. Tasks toward economic development and modernization played an important role in the process of preventing political instability in the country. Uganda’s agricultural activities and productions count for a large share of the nation’s earnings and its gross domestic production (GDP). Within the agricultural sector, women play an important role since the majority of them own the land they work on. Fish and fish products from the lakes and the rivers play an important role as the main factor of local food since Uganda is a landlocked country that doesn’t have any seawater. Uganda’s reserve minerals are included but not limited to copper, tungsten, cobalt, gold, phosphate, iron ore, and limestone. Back in 2006, during the oil strike in many places around the world, the government of Uganda was able to discover a limited amount of petroleum. Uganda’s major important destinations are included but not limited to China, India, U.A.E, Kenya, and Japan. While on the other hand, Uganda’s major export destinations are included Kenya, the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, and Rwanda (Central Intelligence Agency,2022).

The political and government structure of Uganda is a presidential republic. The current President Yoweri K Museveni is the Chief of State and he come to power in 1986 till today since he won the last presidential election in 2021 with a vote of 58.3%. The Prime Minister is the Head of the Government. Uganda adopted its constitution in 1995 and made amendments in 2005 while the current president was also ruling the nation at that. During the amendment in 2005, Uganda removed its constitution the presidential term limits, while on the other hand, it legalized the multiparty political system. Similarly, the Executive Branch is elected by an absolute majority with a term limit of five years. The Legislative Branch is elected by a plurality vote with 238 total members out of 112 of these seats are filled by women and other legally-established interest groups and minorities (Central Intelligence Agency,2022).

The beginning of China-Uganda Diplomatic Relations

China and Uganda established their first diplomatic relations on October 8, 1962, which was the occasion of Uganda’s independence. At this time, leader Idi Amin was in power in which Milton Obote was in charge when China and Uganda signed their diplomatic relations. Right after when Uganda received its independence from the British colonial, China was among the first few countries that recognized Uganda as an independent nation. Since then both countries, despite their internal and external changes, they maintained strong ties. This diplomatic relations between China and Uganda “during the period of 1962-85, [it] witnessed a steady development in the spite of regime changes in Uganda” (James Foundation,1,2013). In 1971, when the United Nations, “decides to restore all its rights to the People’s Republic of China and to recognize the representatives of its government as the only legitimate representatives of China to the United Nations”, Uganda was among the 76 nations who provided a strong with other African countries to support China’s legitimate seat at the United Nations in 1971 (ug.china-embassy.org, 2004). Since the regime of this current President’s National Resistance Movement government come to power in 1986, the bilateral relations between China and Uganda have grown and China has supported Uganda in many ways contributing to the areas of the economy, social, and political growth (Conrad, 2021,1).

In 1996 and 1997, Uganda supported and backed China’s stance on the United Nations Human Rights Commission. And in 2000, Uganda also supported “the bill put forward by China on the maintaining and observing of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in the U.N” (James Foundation, 1,2013). Both countries exchanged visits at the highest level since 1962 including the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee, Standing Committee members, and as well as foreign diplomats (Conrad,1, 2021).

The Present Diplomatic Relations of China and Uganda

These two countries expanded their diplomatic relations, and, on many accusations, they signed agreements that supported their mutual benefit. When China and Uganda established diplomatic relations, they also established bilateral trade and economic cooperation which had both a positive and negative impact on Uganda. Through this bilateral trade and economic agreement, China imports from Uganda goods such as leather, coffee, fish, and food products. While on the other hand, Uganda imports from China goods like light industry products, farm tools, textiles, pharmaceutical products, garments, and ceramics (James Foundation, 2013, 1). On the other hand, some of the projects that helped Uganda’s economy funded by the Chinese government were included but were not limited to the “Kabimba and Doho Rice Schemes, the Kampala Ice Plant, methane-generating pits, the Foodstuff Porcelain Research Center, and the National Stadium” and on top of that the Chinese government has sent to doctors to work in the public hospitals in Uganda at the Chinese government’s own expense while it also donated anti-malaria drugs and built the Naguru Friendship Hospital (James Foundation, 1,2013).

In the education sector, Uganda has benefited from China’s diplomatic relations and is willing to support the education system in Uganda. Every year, the Chinese government gave over a hundred scholarships in the areas of medicine, engineering, science, computer, and education and these majors varied in both undergraduate and graduate programs (Conrad,1,2021). From the manufacturing sector, with the help and the cooperation of the Chinese firms, the government of Uganda was able to build a couple of public parks, including the “Africa Shandong industrial park, Sino-Uganda industrial park in Mbale, the China-Uganda Agricultural Cooperation industrial park, among others” (Conrad,1,2021). The implementation of these national parks allowed the government of Uganda to create job opportunities for many Ugandans.

The Future of Sino-Ugandan Relations

Besides the economic and diplomatic relations between China and Uganda, over the course of their diplomatic and bilateral agreements, China and Uganda were able to build a great military relationship in which Uganda become a huge market for China’s arms sales regardless of china’s dominance on arms sales for other African countries. According to the James Foundation, “Defense Minister General Liang Guanglie visited Kampala in November 2011 and pledged $2.3 million to support the Uganda People’s Defense Force (UPDF) in its war efforts against Somalia’s al-Shabaab militants” (James Foundation, 2013). On the other hand, there have been several representatives from Uganda’s military generals who paid a visit to the People’s Republic of China even though these countries don’t have that strong military ties and relations compared to the other 14 countries in which China has military bases such as Djibouti- which is one of it’s biggest military bases in overseas. Nevertheless, China has been giving Uganda’s military various training programs. On that note, “in 2010, a Ugandan Air Force pilot attended the PLA Air Force Command College’s foreign officers’ course. Each of the 21 foreign students, including 11 pilots, was paired with a PLAAF officer during the course”. (James Foundation, 2013). In the 1960s, after Uganda gained independence, it expanded its diplomatic ties as well into other countries besides Britain and China. Israel, Russia, and Ukraine become some of the biggest suppliers when it comes to arms sales in Uganda. In contrast to China’s relative and minor role in military and arms sales in Uganda, however other African countries like Sudan, South Sudan, and Zimbabwe become among some of the biggest markets that purchase China’s arms sales (James Foundation, 2013).

The aspect of China’s soft power such as education and cultural exchanges between Uganda and China has grown over the course of their diplomatic relations. According to China’s embassy in Uganda, China has started a series of programs known as “Focusing on Culture” which become a yearly event program that takes place in Uganda in which countries like Uganda and many other countries in Africa get the chance to learn about the Chinese culture, language, and traditional customs as well. In 1985, China and Uganda signed a cultural cooperation agreement to improve the cultural relations between the countries (Ug.china-embassy.org,2004). Since China has started its close diplomatic, economic, and cultural relations with Africa, it increases the number of Chinese tourists visiting Africa. On the other hand, many people from Africa started visiting China for trade, business, tourist, and education opportunities (Ug.china-embassy.org,2004).

In this modern world in which global politics become either being aside from the Western world or against the Western world, China seems that it has been too busy building other nations that share similar political ideologies such as being neo-fascism and anti-liberal democracy. China has invested both diplomatically and economically building a close tie with many developing and poor countries despite the fact that some people even consider and categorize China itself as a ‘developing country’ since China’s per capita GDP has been ranked around 79 in the world, while on the other hand some of China’s ordinary people are poor who are struggling with to meet their basic needs while China is handing out ‘no strings attached’ to many African dictator leaders (Dixon, 2, 2018). Even though it might seem that the current diplomatic Sino-Ugandan relations are going well, it might not be as promising as they now due to the fact many developing countries in Africa and Asia are currently battling with the quite high risk of the debt trap from China’s biggest investment project in Africa known as “The Belt and Road Initiative’ in which Uganda is part of among the countries who signed this deal. According to “a report in March by the Center for Global Development, a Washington-based think tank, warned that 23 of 68 countries were at “quite high” risk of debt distress due to Belt and Road projects”, in which some of these countries are but not limited to “Pakistan, Djibouti, the Maldives, Laos, Mongolia, Montenegro, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan” (Dixon, 2, 2018).

The failure of ‘The Belt and Road Initiative Projects’ which was meant to be a series of trade routes that connect China to the rest of the world with an ultimate goal of increasing China’s dominance in global trade and politics, might the be the be beginning of what could be ‘the end-era’ of the ‘Sino-Ugandan’ relations since as reported by local media that “Uganda risked losing its only international airport to China over a $200 million loan to expand the facility “since the Chinese government in Beijing decided to “rejected Uganda’s request to re-negotiate some clauses in the 2015 loan deal” (Athumani,2021). in the case of China taking over Uganda’s biggest international airport, has the potential of what could be the ground leading of Uganda’s political demurral of overthrowing it’s current ruling government and as well as being a change that will introduce new political reform in Uganda. Surprisingly, some of the civilian people in the People’s Republic of China started to view ‘The Belt and Road Initiative Projects’ as political weapons and tactics “used by party officials to curry favor with their superiors by making them look good” according to Matt Schrader of the Jamestown Foundation, Washington-based global affairs think tank (Dixon, 2, 2018).

For many years, China has been both Uganda and Africa’s number one trade partner mainly in electronics, manufacturing and farming equipment, light industry products, pharmaceutical products, and textile. On the flip side, China mostly buys from Africa products such as leather, coffee, raw materials (hydrocarbons and other priceless minerals) (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace,1,2019). However, if, in the future, the West creates an alternative and better trade deals with Uganda and other developing countries in Africa, the Sino-African relations could be eliminated by superior western trade agreements. 

However, since it seems that there is a high level of companionship and trust between Russia and China, with Russian being the only country that could have challenged China’s presence in the region, America and it’s Western allies must come together and start a strong economic, trade and diplomatic relations between them and the developing nations in Africa. Such strong relations with African countries would keep the West’s dominance and prevent Africa from being a reflection of China’s political ideologies such as giving the least attention when it comes to human rights, check and balances within the government, or the freedom of speech and expression. 

Sources

“GDP per Capita.” Worldometer, 2022, https://www.worldometers.info/gdp/gdp-per-capita/.  

“Russia and China in Africa: Allies or Rivals?” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 25 Oct. 2019, https://carnegiemoscow.org/commentary/80181.  

“Uganda : A Country Study.” The Library of Congress, 1992, https://www.loc.gov/item/92000513/.  

“Uganda.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., https://www.britannica.com/place/Uganda.  

2017 Investment Climate Statements – United States Department of State. 2017, https://www.state.gov/reports/2017-investment-climate-statements/.  

Admin. “Uganda-China 59 Years of Diplomatic Relations.” Development Watch Centre, 21 Oct. 2021, https://www.dwcug.org/uganda-china-59-years-of-diplomatic-relations/.  

Athumani, Halima. “Officials in Uganda Dismiss Report Country Could ‘Lose’ Airport to China.” VOA, Officials in Uganda Dismiss Report Country Could ‘Lose’ Airport to China, 29 Nov. 2021, https://www.voanews.com/a/officials-in-uganda-dismiss-report-country-could-lose-airport-to-china/6331909.html.  

Bradford, Colin I. “Perspectives on the Future of the Global Order.” Brookings, Brookings, 4 May 2022, https://www.brookings.edu/blog/up-front/2022/05/04/perspectives-on-the-future-of-the-global-order/

Carter, James. “When the PRC Won the ‘China’ Seat at the UN.” SupChina, 28 Oct. 2020, https://supchina.com/2020/10/21/when-the-prc-won-the-china-seat-at-the-un/.  

Central Intelligence Agency, Central Intelligence Agency, 4 May 2022, https://www.cia.gov/the-world-factbook/countries/uganda/#:~:text=Uganda%20has%20one%20of%20the,to%205.5%20children%20per%20woman.  

Hanauer, Larry, and Lyle J. Morris. “China in Africa.” RAND Corporation, 12 Mar. 2014, https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_briefs/RB9760.html

Sino-Ugandan Relations, EMBASSY OF THE PEOPLE’S REPUBLIC OF CHINA IN THE REPUBLIC OF UGANDA, 28 Oct. 2004, https://www.mfa.gov.cn/ce/ceug/eng/zwgx/t168251.htm.  

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. “China-Uganda Relations: Closer Is Not Necessarily Better.” Refworld, James Foundation , 4 Jan. 2013, https://www.refworld.org/docid/50ee8d092.html

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sayidcali Ismail Ahmed is an alumnus of Abaarso School of Science and Technology (Somaliland) and Carroll High School (Indiana-USA). Sayidcali won a full scholarship sponsored by MasterCard Foundation Scholars (African Leadership Academy) to attend and do his undergraduate studies at Westminster College(Missouri- USA). He is double majoring in political science & Global and Transnational Studies and minoring in law. He is passionate about discussing, analyzing, and writing about geopolitics’ dynamics and the political changes in the world, especially in Africa.

Disclaimer: The viewpoints expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, viewpoints of Somaliland Chronicle, and its staff. 

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Notice: This is an article by Somaliland Chronicle and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. Under this license, all reprints and non-commercial distribution of this work is permitted.

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