After a series of bad investment experiences with Chinese firms Botswana’s president, Ian Khama, has stated that his country may no longer award government contracts to the fast-rising economic powerhouse. At the very least, Gaborone will be much more selective in granting infrastructure projects, especially those on which Chinese companies have placed bids.
Botswana’s harsh criticism of what it believes to be China’s sub-standard building practices is notable, given Chinese investor’s rapidly expanding presence in Africa. Additionally, this may also be viewed as an expression of growing dissatisfaction with China’s presence on the continent. Its investment activities were originally billed as a more equal partnership than what had historically been the case with the West. However, many in Africa, governments included, feel that China is more interested in access to raw materials at low prices than supporting genuine development in those countries where it maintains a presence.
Khama said that, were it not for delays and problems with Chinese-constructed power plants that we would “be totally self-sufficient if we hadn’t been let down by the Chinese.” The Chinese embassy in Gaborone did not respond to a request for a response to these recent allegations. It is important to note, though, that in 2009 when Khama became president relations with China were strong and it was involved in eighteen construction projects in the country. The future ability of Chinese investors to win contracts in Botswana will be played out in negotiations over which firms come out on top in the bidding negotiations for rights to build railways to transport Botswana’s untapped coal reserves to ports in Namibia and Mozambique.
It remains to be seen whether the criticisms Khama has voiced will become more common or whether Chinese growing economic clout will discourage other leaders from criticizing the fast-rising giant.