China puts mark on East Africa

China_East_Africa

Chinese construction companies are transferring advanced skills to local staff in Malawi, contributing significantly to the nation’s future prosperity

Driving through Malawi’s capital, Lilongwe, it is difficult to miss the imposing building under construction in the city centre.

 

It’s the country’s first five-star hotel, $90mn worth of well-appointed rooms, a state-of-the-art conference centre and 14 opulent presidential suites.
The hotel is being built by the Shanghai Construction Company, a Chinese firm, and is one of numerous projects funded in line with a pledge of $260mn of concessionary loans, grant and aid from China to Malawi to support development, including infrastructure.


At a ceremony marking the completion of the main building and conference centre, China’s ambassador to Malawi, Pan Hejun, said he expects the whole project will be completed by the end of the year.


“This will attract more and more foreign tourists to Malawi and enable Malawi to host international conferences such as the AU Summit,” said Hejun.
Chinese construction companies have been busy in Malawi. Parliament now operates from a grand new building which was opened in June 2010.

That project cost around $41mn. And this month Ambassador Hejun announced China will assist the Malawi government to construct a university of science and technology in the southern district of Thyolo, which, he said, will be ready in just under two years.


“The university, which will accommodate more than 3,000 students with advanced facilities, will be one of the best universities in southeastern Africa, and will make great contributions to the national development of Malawi,” said Hejun.


Relations growing steadily

Chinese construction companies are also building a secondary school in Thyolo, and a 100-kilometre road between the northern districts of Karonga and Chitipa. The Asian nation has also promised to build a China-Africa Friendship School in Lilongwe, establish solar and biogas pilot projects and set up an agricultural technology demonstration centre.


China’s presence in Malawi has been growing steadily since the two countries established diplomatic ties in December 2007, Malawi abandoning its links to Taiwan after 41 years. A memorandum of understanding covering industry, trade and investment was signed between the two countries in May 2008,
committing China to help in increasing the productive capacity of Malawi in tobacco, cotton, mining, forestry, fertiliser production and in processing hides and skins.


A 2010 report from Malawi’s Ministry of Trade indicates that the value of trade between Malawi and China has doubled since 2007, reaching $100mn in 2010, rapid growth, though still dwarfed by trade with South Africa, which accounts for just over 40 per cent of Malawi’s total trade volume of $3.2bn.


Malawi’s president, Bingu wa Mutharika, has declared himself satisfied with his government’s relations with China. In an April speech at the laying of foundations for the planned university of science and technology, Mutharika said the Chinese projects come with “no strings attached”.


“The People’s Republic of China has demonstrated that they are good friends of Malawi,” said Mutharika. 

   Claire Ngozo, Inter Press Service (IPS) 2011

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