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A response to Chika Ezeanya

Which other friend of Africa would be willing to fund, design, build and maintain a new $200 million AU headquarters in the middle of a global financial crisis? her article published in Pambazuka News on 26 January 2012 and titled ‘Tragedy of the new AU headquarters’, Chika Ezeanya (an African I presume) reckons that it is an insult to the African Union and to every African that in 2012 a building as symbolic as the AU headquarters is designed, built and maintained by a foreign country – it does not matter which.
My initial reaction as a journalist was to get the information right. First of all, the new AU headquarters was inaugurated on 28 January 2012 by Jia Qinglin, chairman of China’s political advisory body, the People’s Political Consultative Conference, not by President Hu Jintao. Second, the project cost $200 million in total, not $124 million as Chika Ezeanya reports. Third, although the construction of the building which started in 2009 was fully funded by the Chinese government at a cost of $200 million, a team of up to 1,200 Chinese and Ethiopian workers laboured around the clock in two or three shifts to finish it on schedule. [1]

Is this not analogous to the gift of the Statue of Liberty from France to the United States on the occasion of the latter’s independence which was a joint effort, whereby over 120,000 Americans led by Joseph Pulitzer contributed funds for the construction of the pedestal in 1885? Fantalun Michael, the project coordinator is an African himself. So, Fantalun and his team should have an idea of how the building was wired, unless Chika Ezeanya does not trust them too and thinks they are just manipulated Ethiopians. Can the Ethiopians take such an insult?

Perhaps Chika should also tell us what guarantee the Nigerian and Ivorian governments, for instance, have that most of their big national edifices which were designed and built by Western companies are not compromised. The master plan for Nigeria’s Abuja and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) was developed by International Planning Associates (IPA), a consortium of three American firms: Planning Research Corporation; Wallace, McHarg, Roberts and Todd; and Archisystems, a division of the Hughes Organization, none of which is Nigerian. More detailed design of the central areas of the capital, particularly its monumental core, was accomplished by Kenzo Tange, a renowned Japanese architect, with his team of city planners at Kenzo Tange and Urtec company. They just handed the symbolic keys to the Nigerian government. [2]

Apart from the fact that a tunnel links the French embassy and the presidential palace in Abidjan, the Basilica of Our Lady of Peace of Yamoussoukro, in Ivory Coast, was built by Dumez, a French construction company. All the marble was imported from Italy and the 7,000 square metres (75,000 sq ft) of contemporary stained glass from France. The structure, which cost $300 million, was also criticized due to the comparison between the lavish building and the impoverished surroundings. [3]

If the new AU headquarters project was coordinated by an African, it becomes factually untrue to say that the building was fully designed, built and will be maintained by the Chinese without African input. The only issue that can be raised here is that, except for Ethiopians, no other African experts were involved in the implementation of this project of continental impact.

Chika quotes Fantahun Hailemikael reporting that among the several luxuries of the building is a ‘helicopter landing pad so visiting dignitaries will be flown from the airport’ (let us also mention that there are three conference centres and office space for 700 people). Chika draws the conclusion according to which ‘the dignitaries, of course, will be spared the sight of the slum that much of Addis Ababa is’. Well, since helicopters will not be flown in very high altitude above the city of Addis, the dignitaries will have a much better opportunity to see the slums of Addis from the air. Moreover, what else is there to see in Addis but slums as Chika Ezeanya puts it? It is time we started to campaign for an Africa without slums which all the major African cities boast. I therefore seize this opportunity to pay tribute to Muammar Gaddafi who transformed Libya into the ‘Switzerland of Africa’. Tripoli before the US/NATO invasion was about the only city in Africa that had no shanty towns.

The analogy of the ‘Trojan Horse’ used by Chika Ezeanya is out of place because unlike the Greeks who killed the Trojans, the Chinese are not about to kill Africans while they are partying at the new AU headquarters and set fire to Addis. This is an insult if you consider the fact that it is the US and NATO allies who, under the pretext of ‘restoring democracy’ or ‘humanitarian intervention’, are killing Africans for oil, cocoa and minerals in Libya, Ivory Coast, Eastern Congo…. Let the ancient and modern history of donation of buildings and structures from one nation to another be filled with intrigues and subterfuges, conquests, diplomatic scheming, espionage and counter-espionage, economic manipulations, political statements and dominations. But to suggest that the Chinese, like the crafty Odysseus, have devised a plan through the new AU headquarters that ultimately will doom Africans is venal thinking; the likes of Hilary Clinton who warned Africans recently against China’s neocolonialism. The very people who themselves colonised Africa, stole its land, sucked it dry of whatever resources it could lay its hands on, ran the genocidal Trans-Atlantic slave trade and carved up its territories like slices of wedding cake at the Berlin Conference at the close of the nineteenth century are telling us that China is the new coloniser of Africa. [4]

Chika Ezeanya can be as much averse to the new AU headquarters edifice as she likes to be, but evoking the construction of American embassies all over the world as underlying America’s geo-strategic interests and attributing the same intentions to China is conspiracy theory in its worst. Unlike America, China has not invaded Iraq, Afghanistan and building its biggest embassies in the world there beside the abuses in Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, the booming opium trade in Afghanistan, the rape of Afghan kids by UK soldiers, the urinating on Taliban militants’ corpses by US Marines and other unacceptable abuses. Unlike America, China has not built one of the biggest embassies in Africa, specifically in Kigali, Rwanda, immediately after Kagame’s RPF took power.

So, how come an African like Chika Ezeanya sees the new AU headquarters only as an insult, a discredit or an act of descending to a new low by African leaders when Americans, Greeks, British, Spanish, Portuguese… in short our colonial masters who now borrow money from China and benefit from Chinese investments do not? For Chika Ezeanya’s information, in the US the new 2,050 ft-long bridge that will connect San Francisco to Oakland on the other side of the bay is being built in China. The four enormous steel skeletons, the last of the 12 segments of the bridge, will be shipped 6,500 miles from Shanghai to San Francisco before being assembled on site. [5] In fact, China’s economy is now nearly half as big as the US economy and may surpass US before 2020. [6] The world can no longer afford to ignore China.
During this global financial crisis, China is proving that it is Africa’s friend in need and therefore a true friend indeed. What have we Africans got to show for staying with the West for centuries? We should have ‘looked east’ long time ago. If Angola’s is Africa’s fastest growing economy in Africa now (Angola is now offering to bail out her former colonial master Portugal from her debt crisis), it is thanks to sino-Angolan cooperation. Chika Ezeanya is barking up the wrong tree.

The relationship between China and Africa has always been one of mutual support and Africa’s support to China has been invaluable. This is what young Chinese and young Africans must be taught and reminded. China has never come to Africa as a coloniser and has never enslaved African people. In fact, Chinese people were brought to Africa as slaves by British imperialism to work the gold mines of South Africa and to build King Leopold’s first railway in Congo at the turn of the twentieth century. Back in the fifteenth century, Zheng He, a famous Chinese Muslim Admiral, sailed with his fleet as far as East Africa. They traded their goods and went away. The modern relations between China and Africa begin and are defined by the liberation struggles of the two peoples against colonialism and imperialism. Most of the prominent leaders of the African liberation struggle have also been supporters of the Chinese revolution, a revolution they have also seen as having direct significance for their own struggle, especially against apartheid. The Black Panther Party were also staunch supporters of socialist China and of Mao’s teachings and did everything they could to popularise them in their communities. The Chinese insisted on hosting a delegation from the Panthers, led by Huey P Newton before Nixon’s visit. In the 1930s, Langston Hughes, the great poet of the Harlem Renaissance, wrote poetry lauding the heroic resistance of the Chinese people against invasion by Japan. A little later, Paul Robeson learned and sang in Chinese the words that were to become the national anthem after the People’s Republic was founded, to express his solidarity with the Chinese people in their revolutionary war. The great scholar Dr WEB Du Bois broke the US blockade to celebrate his 91st birthday in China.

During the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s, when many countries shunned China, President Julius Nyerere of Tanzania and President Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia were among the very few heads of state to visit. Chika Ezeanya’s empty rhetoric therefore reached its climax when she caricatured Mwalimu Julius Nyerere’s political philosophy, writing that indigenous Bantu culture abhors dependence on others for sustenance. A favorite Swahili proverb of Mwalimu Julius Nyerere’s was ‘Mgeni siku mbili; siku ya tatu mpe jembe’, which means: ‘treat your guest as a guest for two days; on the third day give him a hoe.’ Indigenous African tradition largely abhors dependency of any kind. It is exactly because, like Mao Zedong, Nyerere advocated self-reliance that he and Mao Zedong became great friends and Nyerere won the respect of the Chinese people. So how does Chika Ezeanya’s rhetoric apply to China-Africa relations? Why did we not give a hoe to the White man the moment he overstayed his welcome in Africa? Instead we let him subdue us for centuries, leaving us with the legacy of slave mentality and a dependency syndrome deeply ingrained in minds and so difficult to free ourselves from now despite the flag and anthems of independence we achieved.

At the start of the 1970s, the People’s Republic finally won the right to take its lawful seat in the United Nations and on the Security Council. It was the votes of the African countries that were crucial in securing that victory for China.

Whenever China has been under attack from hostile western forces, the overwhelming majority of African countries have always sided with China and shown their support for its vital interests. China was liberated in 1949, a time when the overwhelming majority of African countries were yet to win their political independence. At the time of liberation, China was a desperately poor country, needing to overcome more than a century of humiliation and decades of war, yet to recover all of its national territory, its industry and agriculture in ruins, and the majority of its people illiterate, hungry and disease-ridden. Moreover, just a year after its founding, the People’s Republic was forced into a vicious war in Korea against the might of the United States and 15 of its allied and satellite countries. Yet this mountain of problems did not stop China from expressing its support for the national liberation struggles in Africa.

In his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, Nelson Mandela recalls that in 1953 he sent Walter Sisulu to China to secure China’s support for the anti-apartheid struggle. In 1955, contacts were made between the Chinese leaders and many leaders of the African liberation struggle at the Afro-Asian Conference in Bandung, Indonesia. China recognised the provisional government of Algeria on the very day of its founding, the first country to do so, and long before the French were driven out. When Patrice Lumumba was murdered in Congo, Mao made a personal statement in solidarity with the Congolese people. Millions of people demonstrated in China and China supported the armed liberation struggle in the Congo led by figures such as Pierre Mulele and Laurent Kabila.

On 18 August 2011, celebrations were held to mark the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Friendship Treaty between China and Ghana, signed by Osagyefo Dr Kwame Nkrumah, independent Ghana’s first leader and founding father of the African Union and Chinese President Liu Shaoqi in front of tens of thousands of people in the Workers’ Stadium in Beijing. It is right that a bronze statue of pan-African leader Kwame Nkrumah has been unveiled in his honour at the site of the new AU headquarters.

Between 1970-75, when China was still a very poor country and going through difficult days, she built the Tan-Zam railway, which the West had refused to build. Zambia and Tanzania were being crippled economically by their support for the anti-apartheid, anti-imperialist struggle. Landlocked Zambia could only export its copper through what was then Rhodesia and South Africa. The Tan-Zam railway gave Zambia another outlet to the sea. The West said the railway was logistically impractical and too expensive to build. A still impoverished China proved them wrong.

The greatest contribution to the liberation of Mozambique and Zimbabwe by any non-African country came from China and fighters of nearly every African liberation movement were trained in China in the 1960s and 1970s. Some of them are today leaders of their countries, such as the current President of Eritrea. [7]

So instead of lambasting China, Africans should take their own responsibility. How come 60 years ago, Africans and Chinese had the same standard of living but China has become the world’s second biggest economy while Africa cannot even feed its people in the 21st century? Why is the African Union always cash-strapped making it a toothless organisation that takes decisions but has no means to implement them and therefore nobody can take it seriously? Here again Gaddafi’s total commitment to the establishment of an African Monetary Fund is to be commended (Gaddafi has been bankrolling the always cash-strapped African Union). Why are African governments not regularly paying their membership dues to the African Union as they do so promptly with the Commonwealth, Francophony or Lusophony, all these vestiges of colonisation in Africa? Africa has been hit by the global financial crisis it is not responsible for since it has been caused by the corruption of the Western financial system. Which other friend of Africa would be willing to fund, design, build and maintain a new $200 million AU headquarters in the middle of a global financial crisis of such magnitude besides bailing out individual African countries or investing there in the middle of the crisis?

It is indeed true that China needs many of the resources that Africa possesses in such abundance (although countries like Ethiopia are not so rich in natural resources, they have become China’s great partners). But China’s win-win, infrastructures for natural resources exchange has given a remarkable boost to Sino-African economic cooperation. While America is building military bases under the African Command scheme (Africom), China is championing a developmental approach in its relation with Africa. Bilateral trade between China and Africa reached over $150 billion in 2011, a jump from less than $20 billion a decade earlier. [8]

So far, China is the only partner that Africa has which exports its products to Africa but at the same time transfers technology to Africa, builds houses, roads, bridges, railways, airports, ports, telecommunications, power networks, water supply, sewage and drainage systems, low-cost housing and hospitals, specialised laboratories for biology, computer science, analytical chemistry, food preservation and processing, horticulture and civil engineering. This is concretely happening at a time when Obama is talking about ‘going around the world to create markets for American products’. [9]

It is only through its close relationship with China – the brother who has gone ahead and whose valuable experience, especially in the agricultural sector, is desperately needed – that Africa will be able to achieve its second independence; that is to say, its economic independence. Western economists are already unanimously concurring that China and Africa is going to be the centre of world trade. [10] The Chinese too are fully aware of the growing interdependence between their nation and Africa. Not only has China completed numerous vital infrastructure projects for African countries, it has also trained tens of thousands of skilled workers for them to sustain their comprehensive development (China awards 5,000 scholarships a year to African students). Moreover, Africa’s modernization and the future of the Chinese economy are inseparable as Africa’s modernization boosts China’s manufacturing and construction industry, while China’s engagement promotes Africa’s rapid modernization. [11]

Some Africans have now become the mouthpieces of Western powers and they endlessly repeat that China is coming to exploit Africa – they add ‘just like the West did’ only for convenience. It is true that not all Chinese who come privately to Africa ‘to get rich quickly’ are good. Some are involved in poaching and other illicit activities with the complicity of Africans themselves and it is up to African governments to report them to the Chinese government to rein in on them. But As a Congolese (DRC), I can only say that of all mining contracts our government has signed with external partners, the stakes of the Congolese state do not go beyond 17 percent in all mining contracts signed with Western companies. It is only in the contracts that Congo has signed with China that the stakes of the Congolese state reach at least 32 percent. President Mugabe has said that whether you are Asian or Westerner, if you want mining concessions in Zimbabwe, the stakes of the Zimbabwean state must reach at least 51 percent. And the Chinese say they are OK with that. What about the Westerners? You can judge for yourselves from the way Mugabe has been demonised in the West. And so, I have asked the Congolese government many times. ‘Why don’t you do like Mugabe then? In that way you will increase the revenues to rebuild the country’. I have not received any reply so far (…).

So, it is up to our governments! Targeting China, I believe, is a cover up for something else. People are paid by Western lobbies and secret services and by Taiwan just to do that (…). It has become a big business among Africans from all over the world. Many Africans made the issue of whether the South African government should or not grant a visa to the Dalai Lama their very own battle. We saw it.

Perhaps Chika Ezeanya has a problem with ‘China’s gift to Africa’ as the new AU headquarters is termed. He sees in the new AU headquarters only a ‘poisoned or poisonous gift’. However, in the Chinese culture, gift giving is a way to express your friendship, gratitude, loyalty or hospitality to one another. China has built ‘Friendship Hospitals’ and ‘Friendship Schools’ almost in every African country. Would Chika Ezeanya then suggest that we close them because they were designed, built and maintained by the Chinese?

A building as symbolic as the AU headquarters, as Chika Ezeanya puts it, has been designed and built mainly by the Chinese. But there is still room for improvement. I suggest that an AU City be built around the new AU headquarters for dignitaries to stay in during the summits and for other purposes such discussion meetings related to the issues African masses are facing; funded, designed, built and maintained by Africans themselves and hope that we will not wait until cows come home.

* Antoine Roger Lokongo is a journalist and PhD candidate at the School of International Studies, Centre for African Studies, Peking University, Beijing, China.
* Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.

[1] Vaughan, Jenny. 2012. New AU headquarters marks strong China-Africa ties.
[2] Abuja: From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
[3] Basilica of Our Lady of Peace of Yamoussoukro: From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
[4] Brar, Halpar . 2011. China in Africa: A building block of a new anti-imperialist world order. Lalkar Online.
[5] Moore, Malcolm. 2011. New San Francisco bridge built in China to be shipped to US. The Telegraph, June 28, Work News Section. UK Edition.
[6] Karlsson, Stefan. 2012. China’s economy may surpass US before 2020. The Christian Science Monitor.
[7] Brar, Halpar, Loc. Cit.,
[8] Vaughan, Jenny. Loc. Cit.,
[9] Doug, Palmer. 2012. Obama plans new team to get tough on China trade. Reuters.
[10] Fletcher and Ahmed. 2012. Davos 2012: China and Africa to be centre of world trade. The Telegraph, January 26, Finance Section, UK Edition.
[11] Lu Hui . 2012. Commentary: A top-level visit to enhance China-Africa friendship amid growing interdependence. Xinhua.