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Despite Western criticism, Chinese influence adds value to Uganda

By Simon Mwebaze 

Editor’s note: The opinions expressed here are those of the authors. View more opinion on ScoonTV. 

Over the last few years, China has increased its activity on the African continent exponentially. This has led to it overtaking the West in trade, loans, and projects, especially infrastructure. This speedy move toward dominance in Africa has caused concern among many Western powers that formerly had influence in African affairs. They have gone as far as accusing China of “debt trap diplomacy.” 

One of the African countries that have tangled with China during its move to work with Africa is Uganda. Uganda has long had several issues with the West especially when it comes to their interference in socio-political issues. One of the most recent ones is the Anti-Homosexuality Act 2023 that the President of Uganda assented to on May 29th, 2023. This Bill has been debated for over a decade and has put Uganda in the spotlight in the West. The West has threatened taking away vital funding for the health sector and, in some cases, has also executed their threats. 

This has soured the relationship between the West and Uganda, leaving the gap for China to provide a sweeter deal for the East African nation. And at this point, it seems like they are fulfilling their promise. 

The China and Uganda collaboration is promising many projects that stand to benefit Uganda in several sectors that were once ignored by the West. More so, China is providing the funding and labor as well. So, what are these potential areas that could benefit from the partnership? 

Road infrastructure is a major area that has suffered in Uganda. The poor road network is characterized by potholes, narrow roads, poor road signage, and poor maintenance. The bad roads have led to lengthy traffic jams; car damage, accidents, and costly car maintenance.  

Uganda’s partnership with China has brought some good developments in the roads sector. One of the notable ones being the Kampala-Entebbe Expressway. The road network has made the commute from the capital city to the airport and back shorter and a more pleasant drive. It has almost cut the travel time in half from the previous route to the airport and back. Additionally, this reduces fuel and car maintenance costs as a result of better roads and shorter travel time. Another noticeable upgrade to Uganda’s road stems from the Musita-Lumino-Busia-Majanji road toward the Kenyan border.  

The oil and gas sector is another area where Chinese infrastructure projects are providing much-needed support. The much-anticipated oil extraction in Uganda is expected to start in 2025. In preparation, Uganda has partnered with China to construct oilfields and a pipeline that will transport the oil from Lake Albert to the port of Tanga in Tanzania. One of the oilfields, Kingfisher, is run through a collaboration between China National Offshore Oil Company (CNOOC), Uganda National Oil Company, and Total Energies who account for 28.33%, 15%, and 56.67%, respectively. China is actively engaged in both the oilfields and pipeline which are key to the country taking advantage of the 230,000 barrels of crude oil per day expected to start in 2025.  

A vivid result of many of these projects is creation of jobs. Jobs will come directly through the oilfields and pipeline and indirectly from businesses that will set up to support the industry. Support businesses include logistics, accommodation, construction, and more.  

Additionally, considering this is a new industry in the country, several companies are providing training and upskilling to transfer skills to the population. Companies such as Total Energies and Stanbic are actively providing training to equip Ugandans with the necessary skills to take advantage of the employment opportunities that will arise as the oil industry takes off.  

Finally, China is collaborating with Uganda in a project to expand the only international airport in Uganda. The expansion is also supported by a $200 million loan provided by Chinese bank, Exim Bank.  

These developments are adding value and others have the potential to add value to Uganda. However, this is all dependent on the execution of the projects. Unfortunately, that’s where the challenge resides as Uganda is known for excessive corruption which will impact both project completion and payment of the loans.  

There are also some rumors about China using these projects to take over Uganda’s resources. One such case has come up regarding the extension of the airport which has been claimed to have had unfavorable terms. This leaves the country in a position of suspicion about many other of the project terms since the Chinese were aware of Uganda’s poor debt servicing history.  

In an ideal Uganda without corruption, these are great projects. They are already adding value in infrastructure, encouraging new businesses, education, and employment despite their severe challenges. Without the influence of the Chinese, Uganda would not be enjoying some of these benefits. The only question posed is what happens in the long term given the terms of the loan contracts.  

Time will tell. So far, Uganda can bank on the fact that Chinese influence has been beneficial, however short it may turn out to be.

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Simon Mwebaze

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