65 have gone so far, as China seeks to boost its influence
In what appears to be a sustained charm offensive into Uganda, China is sponsoring MPs to attend training sessions on its aid and governance model, The Observer has learnt.
One source said that an estimated 65 MPs had travelled to China since June to attend what one opposition MP described as brainwashing sessions.
But parliamentary officials could not confirm this figure by press time.
The training sessions, which last three-to-four weeks, take place at the Academy for International Business Officials (AIBO), a think tank affiliated to China’s ministry of Commerce.
The tailor-made programme is meant to sensitise and train policymakers and implementers from developing countries about Chinese aid and China’s relationship with the developing world.
It is understood that the trainings are attracting participants from many other developing countries, with Uganda among those sending substantial numbers of MPs. Some sources said almost all the 365 MPs may attend the sessions.
Each MP earns an allowance of at least Shs 5m from the Ugandan Parliament and not less than Shs 2.5m from the Chinese. The Chinese, however, meet the extras; travel expenses, accommodation, food, etc.
Sources familiar with the programme say at least five to 20 Ugandan MPs attend the monthly sessions since the programme kicked off in June.
“I have learnt that we are going to attend a capacity-building training in China and I have been informed that I will be travelling next month,” said a Ugandan lawmaker who declined to be named.
Parliament Public Relations Manager Helen Kawesa told The Observer that a team had already travelled to China.
“What I know is that there is a team that has travelled to China,” she said.
Buliisa MP Stephen Mukitale, the chairperson of the committee on the National Economy, is among those to travel to China soon.
“I have not yet been there but we are in the pipeline of those who will be travelling to China,” he said.
According to AIBO’s website, the academy, which has run the training programme since 2008, had organised 120 training sessions for officials from 134 countries and regions by the end of 2009. The programmes drew more than 3,000 trainees from Asia, Africa, Latin America, Europe and Oceania.
The Chinese programmes are also drawing Ugandan participants from other departments. For instance, early this year, Pario Lawrence, the manager in charge of Bridge and Structures Construction at the Uganda National Roads Authority attended a “Seminar on Road and Bridge Construction and Management for African English-Speaking Countries.”
The seminar, which took place last April, lasted 21 days and drew officials primarily responsible for road and bridge construction and management in their own countries.
According to Jin Xu, the president of AIBO, the programme is aimed at showing China’s profound love for the developing world.
“Since AI in Chinese means love and BO means profound, AIBO conveys the image of loving to the world, profound in knowledge,” reads a message on the website.
“Accordingly, the academy is featured with rich experience, large numbers of experts, updated research topics, complete supporting facilities, interactive training mode and advanced concept in teaching,” Jin says.
However, the guiding principle for the academy is to promote China’s commerce by cultivating a large number of excellent professionals, who are able to make a great contribution.
“We believe that under the leadership of the Communist Party organisation of [ministry of Commerce] MOFCOM, with support from relevant departments of MOFCOM, and through the concerted efforts of all staff, AIBO will surely make new contributions to the development of China’s commerce and develop into a well-known educational and training institution both at home and abroad,” reads the academy’s vision published on the website.
Kawempe North MP Latif Ssebaggala, who has attended a session at the academy, says its main mission is to indoctrinate leaders from the developing world with China’s philosophy of development.
“I went through the training and the only thing they were doing is praise China and criticise the World Bank and IMF policies in the developing world,” he said.
Ssebaggala, who attended a session on Economic Reforms for Developing Countries, says that at the seminar, which attracted 30 participants from Africa, Latin America and Asia, they were told of how the World Trade Organisation impeded development.
“They don’t want to be categorised as a developed country but be seen as a messiah of the developing world,” Ssebaggala said.
Dr Sabiti Makara, a lecturer of Public Administration and Political Science at Makerere University, concurs with Ssebaggala. He says China is trying to influence Africa’s perception about it.
“They are trying to reorient policymakers to think like them in regard to development. As an emerging superpower, it has to influence how the rest of the world perceives it and that is what they are doing,” he said.
According to the World Trade Report 2011, China’s world exports are reported to have increased from one per cent in 1980 to 11 per cent in 2011, making it the world’s largest exporter apart from the European Union.
However, the report, which also highlights that the US, Japan and the European Union as a whole, all recorded declining shares in world exports, shows that developing economies have raised their collective share in world trade. They have increasingly done so by trading with one another.
“As evidence of this, we note that the share of “South-South” trade in world trade rose from eight per cent in 1990 to 24 per cent in 2011,” the report reads.
According to the Investment Abstract for FY 2012/2013, from the Uganda Investment Authority, China made the biggest amount of Foreign Direct Investment, FDI to Uganda, worth $359 million (Shs 895.5bn).
China alone accounted for two fifths of the total planned FDI in 2012/2013. China made large investments in the mining and quarrying sector, plus in the manufacturing industry.
Total FDI to Uganda in 2012 was put at $1.72 billion. Currently, Uganda is targeting loans from China to fund its infrastructure projects which include Karuma Project and the Entebbe Express Highway.
Looking at China’s posturing in the developing world, Sabiti Makara says that whereas it is good for development, it has to be analysed in the larger context.
“China relations should be looked at with some scepticism. You see they don’t like to talk about transparency in the developing world yet they continue to trade with it. Is that in line with what they are saying that they wish us good?” Makara asks.
Makara adds: “Unlike China, the West has of recent tried to pressurise leaders from the developing world to fight corruption and Uganda has become a victim. But, because China doesn’t care, so long as its interests are served, it has continued to lend Uganda even after EU withdrew its cheque [over] corruption,” Makara says.
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