By Innocent Anguyo
“Scores of rich countries especially those in the west are envious of China’s budding influence in Uganda and largely Africa wielded through soft power displayed by aid without strings attached and robust investments.”
These were the words of renowned Makerere University political science scholar Prof Sabiti Makara uttered on the sidelines of a discussion on China’s engagement in Africa held at Protea Hotel, Kampala on Thursday.
Soft power is a concept developed by Prof Joseph Nye of Harvard University to describe the ability to attract and co-opt rather than coerce, use force or give money as a means of persuasion. For Nye, power is the ability to influence the behavior of others to get the outcomes you want.
In his 2004 book, Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics, Soft power, Nye says is able to attract or repel other actors to "want what you want" when it is exercised through what he calls the “primary currencies” such as values, culture, policies and institutions.
Makara identified other manifestations of soft power used by China in Uganda as cultural ties, scholarships, donations, low-interest loans and grants, trade concessions, exchange visits, collaborative researches and respect of sovereignty.
“China’s relation with Uganda is based on mutual respect. This has made China a leading partner of Uganda. Optimists see strong business ties between the two countries boosted by President Yoweri Museveni’s close relations with Chinese political leadership. Other powers are envious of this,” said Makara.
Of course, China’s footprints are visible allover Uganda. In recent years, China has funded huge projects which include construction of: the Karuma, Isimba and Ayago dams; the Kampala-Entebbe Expressway; the Twin offices for the President and Prime Minister; China-Uganda Friendship hospital at Naguru among others.
The most notable test to Sino-Uganda relations was when a number of Western countries cut aid to Uganda over the corruption scandal in the Office of the Prime Minister.
One of the leading donors to Uganda, China was expected to equally freeze support to the country, but it never came to pass.
Prof. Makara said unlike hard power at times displayed through military might, historically preferred by some Western countries, China’s soft approach to ties with Uganda has won the hearts of Uganda’s leadership.
Makara was fast to note that the economic cooperation between Uganda and China has developed smoothly. He said, in 2014 alone, the amount of Chinese investments in Uganda is projected to reach$683million. At the beginning of 2013 it was $596 million.
Owing to the improved ties between the two countries, 95% of Uganda’s exports have been entering the Chinese market with no customs duty and other tariff.
The Chinese Ambassador to Uganda, Zhao Yali says, by September 2013, 360 Chinese companies had established bases in Uganda, investing about $1.02b; thereby creating 48,000 jobs for Ugandans.
Moreover, China’s influence in Uganda transcends the boundary of trade. Under the framework of South-South Cooperation Programme, last year, 22 agricultural experts from China came to Uganda and brought advanced technologies and skills to promote agricultural development in Uganda.
On top of high level exchange visits, travelling between the two counties has grown tremendously in the last few years.
According to a paper jointly produced by Prof Makara and Prof Goretti Linda Nassanga of the Makerere Journalism department, last year the Chinese Embassy issued 10,000 visas to Ugandans, while at the same time thousands of Chinese people came to Uganda.
It has further emerged that, in October 2012, the first group of 15 Chinese youth volunteers came to Uganda and carried out one-year mission focused on sports, Chinese language teaching and aquaculture.