The sight of large delegations from Africa in Beijing is becoming a common sight.
But for Botswana’s President Mokgweetsi Masisi, any Chinese and Botswana interactions should be mutually beneficial. That should be the case across the continent, he asserted.
He said this during a visit to Namibia weeks ago during a meet and greet engagement with his counterpart, President Hage Geingob.
Masisi said although Botswana engages with China, it does not have a special programme for the Asian superpower, adding that preferential treatment is also not accorded to Chinese firms.
The new Botswana President said he is cognisant of the fact that there are some superpowers who are not happy with China’s dominant role in Africa.
“We know it does not please everybody, other powers feel China is coming into their territory and their influence will thus be diminished. But for us, we are happy to have a friend who will help us grow our own economies and become developed countries,” he said.
There has been unconfirmed reports that the western world, which has over the years pumped billions into Africa through aid and loans, is growing discontented with African governments that have exchanged the west for the east.
African countries that form part of the Commonwealth are said to be caught in the middle of the battle for global supremacy between the east and the west.
But observers have argued that “China makes African leaders feel valued.
African leaders are invited to China on state visits and they hold engagements with the Chinese president as well as other senior Chinese government officials, unlike in the west where they are grouped together to meet the U.S. president or the British Queen. China knows how to make time for Africa, so it is no surprise Africa has shifted towards the east,” said an international relations expert who refused to be named.
From politics to minerals
Over the course of the commodities super-cycle, the boom market for natural resources such as oil, steel, gold, manganite and platinum, lasting roughly from the turn of the century to 2013, China and sub-Saharan Africa’s economies were effectively coupled: when graphed, they mirrored each other. China purchased raw materials to fuel development at home, while massive state-owned organisations entered the African market, alongside Chinese-made goods and half a million Chinese migrants.
Did this epochal encounter between 1.3 billion Chinese, and 1.1 billion Africans – nearly a third of the planet’s population – maintain any of the coherent strands of “win-win” friendship that ballasted the Tazara project? On 5th September 1967, an agreement for the construction of TAZARA (Tanzania-Zambia Railway Authority) was concluded in Beijing, China. The initial idea was for the railway line to start from Tanzania to Zambia.
Was the relationship still guided from above by bureaucrats in Beijing’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs who knew exactly what they wanted, and could easily benchmark the outcomes?
Not at all. Since Tazara, the Sino-African phenomenon has become much more sophisticated and highly fragmented and is no longer stage-managed by governments. Nowhere is this better shown than by a project announced in Johannesburg in 2013. That year, the South African press began reporting on a vast £4.8 billion real estate development in Modderfontein, north-east of the city, continually citing that fact that it would be financed and constructed by “the Chinese”.
In 2014 alone China invested £56bn in African infrastructure.
Since the turn of the century, Chinese firms have built stadiums, highways, airports, schools, hospitals and, in Angola, an entire city that still stands empty. China has pumped hundreds of billions of dollars into African governments and infrastructure. In return, it has reaped hundreds of billions in commodities.
In order to properly hit the diplomatic reset button, in October 2000 the Chinese hosted the first Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC). Four African heads of state made the trip to Beijing, at the invitation of the Chinese, who hoped to build an extensive and lasting multilateral partnership with the continent. By the time of the third FOCAC, six years later, 44 African leaders attended. Billions of dollars of development money was promised, and a new age had begun.
Namibia loves China
In Namibia, there are up to 7000 self-employed Chinese businessmen in Namibia and over 60 enterprises, according to statistics released by the Chinese Embassy in Namibia in November 2017.
Since the establishment of diplomatic ties 27 years ago, Namibia and China’s economic and trade cooperation has been expanding fast.
There are now 60 Chinese enterprises and nearly 7 000 self-employed businessmen in Namibia, covering a lot of fields. The Chinese shops are all over the country. They have made contributions to economic construction and improvement of ordinary people’s living standards.
The challenge however has been tax evasion.
The Namibian treasury has over the past years discovered that paying taxes has become a responsibility widely eluded and it is no surprise that several Chinese owned businesses often face accusations of extensively practicing tax avoidance and tax evasion in the country. In fact, Treasury is in possession of evidence that shows how some Chinese businesses operate on a cash basis with the deliberate aim not to pay tax.
Government has lost billions over the years through tax avoidance and transfer pricing practices by multinational companies who have find ways to evade the Namibian tax authorities.
Chinese businesses in Namibia are involved in agriculture and they also have a significant presence in services, trade, and construction and real estate.
*Additional reporting by The Guardian