Chinese ‘dragon’ on the hunt in Uganda



Kampala.

In ancient Chinese folklore the mythical creature, a dragon is believed to have the powers to bring rainfall, hurricanes and even floods. However, it also symbolises good luck, strength, and power. Every year, during the celebration of the Chinese New Year, the dragon is also believed to cleanse the evil that would hurt people in the New Year. There are about nine dragons that are mentioned in Chinese folklore.

When the Chinese move overseas, they move with this culture together with another characteristic, the lamps. Global Paper, a Chinese company that manufactures toilet paper, has two sculptures of dragon heads at the entrance of its factory in Mbalala, Mukono District. At the entrance of several other Chinese companies such as restaurants, the occasional red lamps cannot be missed.

The sun is barely out and in a place called Mbalala, on the Kampala – Jinja highway and a few kilometres from Mukono town, hundreds of people are seen walking. Dominated by women, the people are walking in both directions. They all end up in one gate. It is the home of the Tian Tang group, a Chinese steel and mattress manufacturing company in Uganda. It is right next to Global Paper. The hive of activity in Mbalala is often visible early morning for the day shift and the evening for the night shift. The factory is operational 24 hours a day. At about 9pm, as cars are slowed by the traffic, one would not fail to catch a glimpse of several Chinese nationals buying roadside roasted maize from a vendor who has her charcoal stove near the factory entrance.

Company officials reveal that they employ about 1,000 people and it has become a symbol of Chinese investment in Uganda.
The area has also been named “the Chinese Industrial Park” because of the presence of Chinese companies.

Surge in investment
The rise in China investments in Uganda is an attribute of its growing interest on the African continent. According to the Uganda Investment Authority (UIA) investment abstract for 2014/15, China remains a top origin of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) to Uganda. In 2014/15, FDI from China alone accounted for 56 per cent of the total investment.
UIA estimates that at least $528m (Shs1.8 trillion) of the total $1.4b (Shs4.7 trillion) in 2014/15 came from Chinese registered companies. This is up from $403m (Shs1.35 trillion) of the total $2b (Shs6.7 trillion) invested in 2013/14. China is not the top source of investment, though.

The bulk of the investments come from the Cayman Islands. That is not the entire story, however. Even the investments from the Cayman Islands originate from China.

“It suffices to note that Cayman Islands’ investment was of Chinese origin,” the UIA report reads.

The trend is beyond industrial developments. In the last five years, three Chinese hotels have opened in Uganda to cater for the large Chinese presence in Uganda. Kololo Courts Hotel is located in the high-end residential area of Kololo. It is not the exact luxurious hotel but is known for its rather affordable rates on their hall for wedding ceremonies. From the elevator to room numbers, one cannot miss the occasional mandarin inscriptions for the Chinese community that doesn’t understand English.

Recently, the Nanjing Hotel opened on the Lugogo Bypass. The Chinese Business Hotel will be opening in Industrial Area, Namuwongo, a Kampala surburb.

The location is rather strange because it is located in an area with warehouses and the absence of residential properties.
Supermarkets, restaurants, and banking are also some of the areas they have made investments in.

According to Prof Philip Kasaija, an international relations lecturer at Makerere University, the presence of China in Uganda can be traced to the long-term ambitions of China on the African continent. “China’s presence in Africa has always been there, it has only just been scaled up,” he says. He said this at a recent dialogue hosted by ACODE.
In 1955 during the Afro-China summit, Prof Kasaija reveals China agreed to three terms.

“The terms were non-interference, respect for sovereignty and equality for mutual benefit,” he says. It is this outlook from China on the continent that makes it attractive for African governments to court China for financing.

“Chinese loans do not come with conditions attached. When we have aid that is condition free, we must take it,” he adds.
His concern, however, is Uganda’s relationship with China is not structured but ad-hoc.

This continues to be shown in the meager exports from Uganda to China at just $86m (Shs289b) whereas imports are estimated at $600m (Shs2 trillion).

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