China’s footprints are all over the African continent, signing deals with many countries. However, the finer details of China-Africa loans are often kept secret.
There are concerns that African countries are mortgaging their natural resources as collateral for the loans. The China-Africa deals ought to be transparent, and the public has the right to scrutinise the agreements.
The news of China taking over Sri Lanka’s port and 15000 hectares of land on a 99 year lease recently raised questions and debate on the African continent about the kind of agreements African presidents are signing with China. The deal which has raised eyebrows was signed between two state firms, Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) and China Merchants Port Holdings.
The South African parliament, led by the minority leader from the Democratic Alliance (DA) Mmusi Maimane, demanded to know from President Cyril Ramaphosa “the terms of Eskom’s $2,313,143,580 (R33 billion) loan with the Chinese Development Bank.” Maimane gave President Ramaphosa 14 days to table the terms in parliament “in the interest of openness and transparency.” Eskom is South Africa’s electricity public utility.
Many other African countries have made trade murky deals with China. Zambia’s President Edgar Lungu has signed off on at least $8 billion from the Chinese. According to Africa Confidential, talks are underway for a Chinese company to take over Zesco, a state owned power company in Zambia. Africa Confidential, in a report titled Bonds, bills and even bigger debts revealed that Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation (ZNBC) is already being run by the Chinese. There are concerns that the Kenneth Kaunda Airport is likely to end up in the hands of the Chinese if Zambia doesn’t pay its debts.
The trade deals signed by African leaders have not been revealed to the public. The 2018 edition of the Forum for China- Africa Cooperation summit held in Beijing, China. At the summit China pledged US$60 billion of financing to Africa.
The question many have asked is: what is Africa offering China in return for the major loans? Trade and aid and loans come with clauses and conditions that are never revealed to the public. It is the citizens who end up paying for such trade deals. Grant Harris, a former Africa advisor to President Barack Obama said in a BBC interview that “China is a debt trap for Djibouti, Kenya and other African countries.”