I have followed with keen interest the recent developments in which the Chinese government has made donations and investments commitments to Malawi. Just a few days ago President Peter Mutharika attended a ground breaking ceremony for the Sogecoa Business Park site at Chichiri in Blantyre. What is of interest was a statement the president made describing Chinese foreign direct investments, as crucial to the country’s development.
The issue of Chinese Investments in Malawi and Africa as a whole has always divided opinions. The optimists believe Africa has found a new friend and The Continent will benefit a lot from the relationship. The Pessimists however, see this relationship as one sided- with China being the main beneficiary and really paving its way to exploit African resources. While both sides have arguments to back their claims – I will choose to take an optimistic view and see the new light shining on Malawi and Africa as a whole.
It has been proved that to an average Malawian, the first understanding of what development is, is the new infrastructures. We have grown up to see infrastructures as the first sign of development. It is based on this that the contribution that China has made so far in Malawi is already starting to stand out. The construction of Parliament Building, Bingu National Stadium and Malawi University of Science and Technology, are among some of the notable contributions so far. We can never forget the other projects that include building of secondary schools and the recently donated police cars.
China relationship with Malawi has been growing steadily since the two countries established diplomatic ties in December 2007, after Malawi abandoned its links to Taiwan. A memorandum of understanding covering industry, trade and investment was signed between the two countries in May 2008. Since then Chinese presence has been having a huge impact.Back in 2015, Chinese president Xi Jinping pledged $60bn for African Projects over three years
Questions are asked – do African governments love Chinese aid and investments because it’s not tied to conditions?Chinese Investments do not ask for many things in return. The West will always put conditions, ask for reforms and request for more accountability. This can be hard for most corrupt governments. Malawi being a country plunged with corruption allegations and struggling to attract investors from the West, China is indeed the perfect saviour for the Mutharika’s Government.
We can never be silly though – Africa for so long has been asleep, when it lets its resources be exploited. It is with this notion that some are sceptical of the Chinese sweet investments in Africa. Somesee this as a Neo-colonial land grab, in whichcompanies acting as proxies for the Chinese state extract minerals in return forinfrastructure andfinance that will saddle governments with large debts. It is the behaviour of some of these Chinese investors that falls short of the exemplary. We have heard of complaints about how most of these Chinese firms employs a few locals and prefers to bring human capital from China. There is also talk of mistreatment of workers and paying them less money.
While Malawi is enjoying these investments, we should also remind the government not to ignore thriving Malawian Businesses. There need to be control as to what sort of investments some of these investors can get involved in .Should the foreign investments really involve everything including opening of shoe shops? – The line is crossed when a country fails to protect its people or small businesses. While we welcome the Chinese,Government should also work hard to protect Malawian businesses otherwise the country will forever rely on foreigners bring aid or investments.
All in all, my optimistic view will lead me to believe this is Malawi’s opportunity. Not since the days of Kamuzu have we seen a lot of infrastructure development that people can point fingers at. China is not just all talk, they get things done. It has been argued that the scramble for Africa is back on and the West and China are fighting for power over Africa. Well, if Malawi plays its cards right that fight for power can work to our advantage. The west feels intimidated by China’s influence in Africa.It is no wonder I heard Kenyan Professor Patrick Lumumba describe the whole scenario as “China wants to control, China wants power”In a situation where Malawi doesn’t have a lot of choices. We will happily welcome the Chinese Investments
“I think the Chinese know what they want. It is the Africans who don’t know what they want “, ProfessorPatrick Lumumba
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