In Defence of the New A.U. Headquarters

The new A.U. headquarters was funded by China

It is interesting to see a new post-Cold War wrath against Africa accepting a gift of a building from a China that is on the rampage across Africa digging roads, laying railway lines, building bridges, hauling copper out of Zambia, hunting for oil in Sudan, Uganda, Angola and the Niger Delta and aluminium in Liberia etc.

I do not recall such wrath when China came to the rescue of Kenneth Kaunda’s economy by building a railway line from Dar es Salaam port in Tanzania to Lusaka in land-locked Zambia. The combined military assault by Ian Smith’s rebel army and that of John Vorster in apartheid South Africa had sought to break the roll southwards of the liberation wave from Cairo to the Cape of Good Hope. Mwalimu Julius Nyerere was very central to the realisation of that project.

The talk about Africa’s leaders grovelling to China for a gift that costs a mere $ 124 million is worth noting. One immediate question it raises is why all the Africans in the Diaspora could not have taken the initiative to raise such a paltry sum. In countries like Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya and Angola there are officials who have deposited in their personal bank accounts more funds they defrauded from government budgets. The African Diaspora has been rather silent about pushing for a new United Nations convention mandating that beneficiary countries transfer such funds to the construction of infrastructure projects and industrial take-off in Africa. The wrath being expended could be usefully redirected to this challenge.

Prime Minister (he is not president) Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia was pushed into turning to China by Muamar Gaddafi’s plan to build the AU headquarters in Sitre, his hometown. It is worth noting that the late President Omar Bongo and Angola’s oil-rich leaders failed to offer that small amount from their oil earnings in billions of dollars. The current anger by non-governmental organisations that are ‘running dogs’ of Euro-American-Japanese multinational corporations are angry that Angola is flirting too cosily with Chinese capital have quoted the huge figure of $32 billion in that country as lost to corruption. That is a sum that would have built AU headquarters in many African capitals, not to talk of trans-African railway lines. The curses being hurled at Zenawi should also be usefully directed at those 85 Euro-American multinational corporations which have looted vital minerals (including coltran, diamond and gold) from eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, and hindered that country’s ability to give the paltry $124 million to Zenawi for building the AU headquarters.

The anger against a possible existence of a helicopter-landing pad on top of the building should consider the opportunity it offers leaders to see Ethiopia’s effort in overcoming slums as a portion of her urban housing – at least in Addis Ababa. It is reasonable to assume that it will shield leaders from seeing the poverty of ordinary Ethiopians. It is not clear that official limousines with curtains and darkened glasses are less efficient in achieving the nefarious result of shielding eyes and minds of Africa’s visiting leaders from viewing Ethiopia’s ‘great unwashed’.

The focus on China is worth extending to new invasions by China’s shopkeepers and farmers across Africa. Zambia’s market women complaining against being displaced by Chinese traders who reach local markets a little after mid-night and undermine local craftsmen with cheap plastic imports, demands calls for officials who negotiate agreements, including WTO agreements, to pay attention to what they are signing away. Sovereignty has cost much blood. It is a shame that Haile Sellasie did not borrow from China’s liberation struggle and Cultural Revolution for the growth of Ethiopia. That failure has now allowed China’s imports to displace stagnant capital-denied locally made shoes out of local markets across Ethiopia.

A useful wrath should also be directed at demanding that Ethiopia build a model society that is a fitting host to Africa’s policy capital and a school for New Ideas for building the rennaisant Africa.