The Chinese and Namibian love story is one that has drawn huge interest. Although it has been kept under wraps for most of the time, everything is playing out in the open nowadays.
From reciprocal state-to-state visits and dishing out of donations, Namibians continue to wonder if the foundation of this State love affair is one that is built on a strong foundation.
In this context, foundation refers to a mutually beneficial relationship.
China has money and skills to vow Namibia in exchange for natural resources on offer. If this was a marriage in community of property, this would be a power couple.
But in all honesty, the signs are there that the relationship is skewed.
The plundering of Namibian resources, tax evasion, poaching and the importation of unskilled labourers from China are just some of the signals on display that this is a relationship on the rocks.
There are over 7000 Chinese businesses operating in Namibia in all sectors but the Namibian government continues to turn a blind eye.
Whether Namibia is scared to put its foot down or it is merely ignoring the obvious is a debate for another day.
But while government is looking to emulate China’s growth model, it is important to outline their shortcomings.
For instance, despite being the world’s second-largest economy, China’s per capita GDP in 2016 was only 80 percent of the world average, one-seventh of the United States (US) and was ranked the 68th globally.
Chinese per capita consumer spending was only $2,506 in 2016, less than half of the world average and only 7 percent of the US.
The Engel’s coefficient, which measures food expenditures as a proportion of total household spending, stood at 29.3 percent in China, much higher than developed economies.
“It means the Chinese people still have to spend big on basic needs, and their expenditure on culture, healthcare, entertainment and tourism are much less than people in developed countries,” said Wang Yuanhong, an economist at the State Information Centre.
In Namibia similar signs are there, basic needs are increasingly costly on a daily basis, healthcare, education, food, shelter and so on.
Wang also said the disparity of people’s incomes per capita between provinces can be as large as more than four times, and there is still a marked gap in infrastructure and public services between cities and villages.
President Trump recently called out China for claiming the special privileges of a poor country, tweeting that “China, which is a great economic power, is considered a Developing Nation within the World Trade Organization.
They therefore get tremendous perks and advantages, especially over the U.S. Does anybody think this is fair[?]”
China’s ability to practice economic diplomacy is impressive but remains scary at the same time.
It is one that mirrors a dark well from which you can draw water but you do not know the contents in the water.
Hence, China can pitch vast trade, assistance, and investment deals on frequent trips to resource-rich countries like Namibia, and retains an almost unparalleled ability to provide low-cost financing and cheap labour for infrastructure projects. The latter has Africa scrambling for more.
China has taken a multi-pronged approach in its economic relations with Namibia, which brings with it risks for African borrowers—but also opportunities if harnessed adequately.
As I conclude, I would like to draw your attention to last year’s international media reports that detailed how Sri Lanka had to formally handover control of its strategic Hambantota port after it struggled to pay its debt to Chinese firms.
It is my hope that the Namibian government remains true to the ideals of mutually-beneficial negotiations and that all agreements entered into between Namibia and China do not threaten the sovereign independence of Namibia.