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April 25, 2015

China-Africa in the news: Stadium diplomacy, contract troubles in Rwanda and Uganda, and the Mandarin bug

Tamale Stadium in Tamale, Ghana. The stadium, commissioned in 2008, was financed by Chinese aid and also built by a Chinese company. Picture: Wikimedia Commons.

Tamale Stadium in Tamale, Ghana. The stadium, commissioned in 2008, was financed by Chinese aid and also built by a Chinese company. Picture: Wikimedia Commons.

By 2010, according to Elliot Ross' 'China's Stadium Diplomacy in Africa' (published by Roads and Kingdoms in 2014), there were 50 stadiums across Africa built with Chinese government support. "If you want to see the heart of China’s soft-power push into Africa," Ross writes, "you’ll find it in the continent’s new soccer stadia." China builds a stadium at a relatively low cost, local politicians present it as proof of their development efforts, and China (and Chinese businesses) is rewarded with access to political leaders.

This week China announced that it will finance the construction of a 60,000-seat stadium in Abidjan, Ivory Coast. A spokesperson with the Ivory Coast sports ministry told AFP the stadium is "a gift from China." Construction will start in 2016 and take two years. The 'gift' is timely for Ivory Coast, which hosts the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations but has only one international standard stadium.

Another stadium project funded by China, this time in Malawi, is "almost 80 percent" complete, reports Nyasa Times. Once complete (it is expected to be commissioned this November), Bingu National Stadium - named after Malawi's late president, who initiated the project - will become Malawi's only international standard stadium. It is being built with a $70 million soft loan from the Chinese government (the contractor is also a Chinese company) which is to be repaid in 20 years.

Asian-African Summit calls for new global order. African and Asian leaders met this week in Jakarta, Indonesia, to commemorate 60 years of the Bandung Conference from which the non-aligned movement was born. Indonesian President Joko Widodo called for change in the current global economic order - criticising the western-dominated IMF, World Bank, and Asian Development Bank - and said new emerging economic powers need to be play more prominent roles. Only 21 of the 109 invited leaders attended the conference, which was interpreted as showing the groups' little relevance.

The Mandarin bug. A Kenyan education official told Xinhua that the country plans to introduce Mandarin into its curriculum in 2017. And, in South Africa's Eastern Cape Province, police officers are to be taught Mandarin in "efforts to bridge the communication divide experienced when policing Chinese communities." The initiative has already been implemented in the Kwa-Zulu Natal and Western Cape provinces. South Africa will start teaching Mandarin in its schools next year after it was added to the school curriculum.

Ugandan workers 'mistreated' by Chinese bosses. Workers on a road project being implemented by the Chinese Bridge and Road Construction Ltd. accuse their supervisors of assault. “Any small mistake attracts a slap. They instruct you to dig but as you are digging one of them kicks you from behind like a ball," one worker told Uganda's Daily Monitor newspaper. The company declined to comment on the accusations, according to the newspaper.

Kigali kicks out Chinese contractor. Rwanda's government terminated the contract of a Chinese company constructing a convention centre in the Rwandan capital and hired a Turkish firm to complete the project. Beijing Construction Engineering Group (BCEG) was awarded the contract in 2009, but the deadline for the project passed four years ago. The Chinese embassy was keen to emphasise that the decision will not affect relations between the two countries, while Rwanda's foreign affairs and infrastructure ministers travel to Beijing next week.

Sinohydro wary of Ugandan insurers. Chinese civil contractor Sinohydro is declining to pay insurance premiums for the the Karuma power project to 23 East African insurers. Sinohydro was contracted by the Ugandan government to construct the 600MW hydro-power dam. Sinohydro is hesitant about using local insurance companies and has proposed turning to Chinese or global insurers, which would flout Ugandan policy. The Chinese company thinks local insurers might default in the event of a claim.

Chinese investors want East Africa to implement single taxation. The investors say paying the same taxes in the five East African states is a burden and has "hurt their expansion plans." The East African Community is considering a double taxation agreement, which will eliminate double taxation in the region. Only Kenya and Rwanda have signed the agreement so far.

South Africa sends 50 to China for nuclear training. South Africa plans to expand its nuclear power capacity, hence the decision. Mail & Guardian reports that "the training will take place at the Shanghai Jiao Tong and Tsinghua universities following a skills development co-operation agreement" between South Africa and China.

Direct flight between Kenya and China announced. China Southern Airlines announced it will start operating a flight between Nairobi and Guangzhou this August. There will be three flights per week, according to the airline.

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