“China has done a lot for the past few years in my country.” 60 year old Taxi Driver told me with full of excitement. I have been working for Africa quite sometime, but it was my first time to see person who totally loves china’s aid. I asked him why and how Chinese assistance was good.
What has China done?
European countries and USA came to Africa 50 years ago, but have little done for our country, Ghana and people. China arrived only 5 years ago and have done a lot. Don’t say just ‘infrastructure’. Thanks to them, our children can go to school and health centre. They built not only roads and railways but also hospitals and education facilities.
How different is their assistance?
I would say, ‘Don’t just discuss development, which Western donors like. Build something visible as China did.’ Chinese people do not even speak English but do better. Some criticise China for bringing their engineers; instead train local engineers. But if we wait for engineers well trained, it takes another 20 years. We cannot simply wait. We need something now.
China is also present in the regions where other countries cannot assist. China would send hundreds of thousands of well trained medical staff to Ebola affected areas while other donors either hesitate to go or train staff outside. In order to invite foreign direct investment from the North, most donor countries invest in security and market stability, regulation etc. But Chinese is already there doing business. Why can China do and why cannot the others do? Investment in security is waste. Chines does business where the others hesitate to come and invest in security. Instead of security investment, China builds hospitals educates our people. That will stabilise our country in a long term.
Is ownership essential?
Most donors believe that it is good to ensure the country’s ownership in the process of development assistance. But our experience with the Western donors for the past half century tells us it does not work. Giving money to the government would feed politicians and a lot of middle men before reaching people.
A Chinese mobile company sell smartphones cheaply and build local kiosks for users to charge them at pennies per day in a remote village in Ghana. I can talk to my father any time I want now. We do not need a high-end product but just need an entry product. China gives us better things.
How should business be?
Business should be win-win. The West came to Africa and extracted oil and resources in the past. Look at Malaysia and Nigeria. Both became independent at almost the same time but today have a huge gap in development. Look at Chad. Thanks to China, they have oil now and are affordable to pay for human development using the revenue. The Western countries were there traditionally but never did it. China brought investors and engineers to construct a plant.
His opinion includes some critiques to the status quo in development studies. He believes that high quality and expensive products are not necessary for the poor. This is an interesting voice to defend Chinese assistance (known as low quality and cheap infrastructure) because some donors stress the importance of building high quality infrastructure, which would potentially reduce repairing consts in the future. Moreover, his argument on ownership is of interest. Ensuring ownership of recipient countries and people has been an important process of development assistance. He argue that middle men take benefits in the process; instead, Chinese private investment leave something visible and train people through business.