Namibia: No Free Lunch

The Export-Import Bank of China’s (EXIM) terms of credit were unfavorable, Calle Schlettwein, permanent secretary in Namibia’s Ministry of Finance said on July 20 [Update: link]. So was the China National Machinery & Equipment Import and Export Company’s quotation for the installation of a railway link to Oshikango, an Angolan border town, reports South Africa’s Mail & Guardian Online. The $ 100 million credit line which was suspended by the Ministry of Finance late last year had been offered by China’s state chairman Hu Jintao during his visit to Namibia early last year, reports the South African paper. The three suspects held in connection with the alleged Nuctech bribes were to appear in Windhoek Magistrate’s Court to apply for bail has been postponed to Tuesday by their lawyer, Sisa Namandje. Namibian prosecutor-general Martha Imalwa was in China some time ago to discuss the Nuctech case and another, so far unknown case with Beijing officials.

Critics of African-Chinese relations sometimes accuse China to happily support repressive African regimes. But when it comes to graft probes, there are apparently governments in Africa who are willing to carry out genuine probes.

China hosted a Sino-African summit attended by 50 African leaders in November 2006. But one of them, then South African president Thabo Mbeki, warned that Africa could get into a colonial relationship with China. “If Africa continues to just export raw materials to China while importing Chinese manufactured goods, the African continent could be condemned to underdevelopment”, similar to its historical relationship with its former colonial powers, Mbeki told a student congress in Cape Town soon after the summit, according to The Namibian. The Namibian also quoted an EU diplomat stationed in Namibia who commented on China’s announcement that “no strings were attached” to Chinese development aid. “There is no free lunch”, the unnamed diplomat told the paper.

There may be a mix of motivations for the current investigations. Mere power struggles within Namibia, or a mere desire for good governance. That plus an evolving new development strategy – an unfriendlier label might be protectionism (no trade block or big economic power, may it be America, the EU, or China, has proven itself immune against it after the beginning of the global financial crisis). Maybe Thabo Mbeki’s warnings, with some delay, arereaching a more receptive audience these days. China gives African countries a great opportunity to play a Chinese card in negotiations with the fully industrialized nations. If the African people benefit from that altogether, African relations with China may turn out to be very useful.

That of course is no small “if”.


Related: China in Africa, Hearts and Minds, Febr 13

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: