Chinese aid to Africa: 'No threats, just business'

China's flag. Photo by: Gary Lerude / CC BY-ND

One can almost hear the Chinese singing to the tune of “My Way” when dealing with corruption in Africa.

Last month, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni and Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi saw their new office in Kampala — a $27 million nine-story twin tower of Chinese aid, The Associated Press reports. The building was magnificent, but it was China that generated praise — at least from aid watchdogs.

Why? Beijing dealt with rampant corruption in the country by bypassing local officials who would have otherwise pocketed the aid money. China, instead, paid Chinese companies to finish the tower.

It is no secret that the way China dispenses aid is very different from what traditional Western donors do. The country has always applied the “non-interference” approach when providing aid and does not employ the use of threats to try to curb corruption in a country. And while many criticize it for tying aid to political gains — a practice Western donors are also guilty of — some see the Chinese model as being “better.”

Sven Grimm, executive director of the Center for Chinese Studies at Stellenbosch University in South Africa, said the China aid model is less prone to corruption. This is backed by Cissy Kagaba, head of the Anti-Corruption Coalition of Uganda. Kagaba said Western donors often threaten to cut aid, but keep on giving aid, as in the case of Uganda.

“If I have abused your money and you give me more, it’s like you are applauding me,” she said.

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About the author

  • Jenny Lei Ravelo

    Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex Senior Reporter based in Manila. She covers global health, with a particular focus on the World Health Organization, and other development and humanitarian aid trends in Asia Pacific. Prior to Devex, she wrote for ABS-CBN, one of the largest broadcasting networks in the Philippines, and was a copy editor for various international scientific journals. She received her journalism degree from the University of Santo Tomas.