On the 28th of January, 2012 African countries will collectively descend to a new low on the global index of state sovereignty, territorial integrity and actual independence of nations. On that day, Chinese President Hu Jintao will be in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to commission the new $124 Million African Union Headquarters built and donated to the continent by China. Termed “China’s gift to Africa”, the edifice was constructed by the China State Construction Engineering Corporation with over 90% Chinese labor.
According to Zeng Huacheng, a special councilor to the AU headquarters project from China’s Ministry of Commerce, “The panoramic view of the conference center is like two hands holding each other, signifying the strenghtening friendship between China and Africa.”
It is to the discredit of the African Union and therefore, every individual and country within that regional body that in 2012, a building as symbolic as the African Union Headquarters is designed, built and maintained by a foreign country, it does not matter which country.
The ancient and modern history of donation of buildings and structures from one nation to another is filled with intrigues and subterfuges, conquests, diplomatic schemings, espionage and counter espionage, economic manipulations, political statements and dominations. The construction of the Trojan horse by Odysseus and its ‘donation’ resulted in the Greek conquest of the ancient city of Troy after 10 years of unending skirmish.
In building the Basilica in Rome – termed the “greatest of all churches of Christendom,” contributions from faithfuls were emphasized rather than donations from friendly nations. Even the gift of the Liberty Statue from France to the United States on occasion of the latter’s independence was a joint effort, whereby over 120,000 Americans led by Joseph Pulitzer contributed funds for the construction of the pedestal in 1885.
In a rare glimpse into the matter, in the book Architecture of Diplomacy, Jane C. Loeffler reveals the underlying diplomatic maneuverings and political ramifications that defines the construction of American embassies all over the world . The author states that building an embassy requires “as much diplomacy as design.” Loeffler enumerates factors seriously considered in the construction of an American embassy building and they include “World politics, American agendas, Architectural politics, cultural considerations, security” and several others.
Common sense dictates that in an era of increasing exploitation of Africa’s natural resources by foreign powers including China, that the African Union, rather than the apparent submission signified by acceptance of the construction of its headquarters by China, will be an organization advocating for fairness in the relationship that exists between the continent and the global powers.
Should security considerations be included, then the question arises as to how African heads of state and government could hold confidential meetings in a building they have no idea how it was wired. What guarantee do African governments have that every word uttered in the new headquarters in Addis Ababa is not heard in Beijing? What evidence negates the suspicion that all activities in the just completed building are not replayed on a large screen in Beijing as Chinese secret service agents watch?
Culturally, indigenous Bantu culture abhors dependence on others for sustenance. A favorite Swahili proverb of Mwalimu Julius Nyerere’s is “Mgeni siku mbili; siku ya tatu mpe jembe” which means “treat your guest as a guest for two days; on the third day give him a hoe.” Indigenous African tradition largely abhors dependency of any kind. It is frowned upon for a man not to thatch his rooftops well before the rainy season, or to stay back while others are going to the farm, except he is bedridden. Add this to the logic espoused in Archtitecture of Diplomacy, and one reasonably concludes that it is unacceptable for Africans to accept a building from China that will house what should be the landmark of the continent’s achievements and its aspirations for the future.
Clearly, much indiscretion was exercised by the African Union officials in the acceptance of the offer of a new headquarters from China. The African Union has since deviated from the ideals of its founding fathers when in the 1960s Kwame Nkrumah and other great African leaders sought to establish an organization that would protect the geographical contiguity and territorial integrity of African nations. Emperor Haile Selassie in his historic 1963 speech stated clearly that the Organization was founded because “Africa has been reborn as a free continent and Africans have been reborn as free men. The blood that was shed and sufferings that were endured are today Africa’s advocates for freedom and unity.”
Contrary to his predecessor’s commitment to the continued freedom of the continent from imperial forces, Ethiopian Prime minister Meles Zenawi – currently being accused of selling huge swathes of Ethiopian land to foreign countries – on a tour of the facility boasted of how he single handedly lobbied Chinese officials to build the new headquarters and how he exempted taxes on all Chinese imported construction materials.
Gleeful at the opportunity for African heads of state to indulge in their lifestyles of conspicuous consumption during meetings and summits, AU Projects Director Fantahun Hailemikael reports that among the several luxuries of the building is a “helicopter landing pad so visiting dignitaries will be flown from the airport.” Of course the dignitaries will be spared the not-so-impressive sight of parts of Addis Ababa. They will be flown from the airport to the AU building and from there to Sheraton Addis, reportedly the best of its kind around the world.
While the African Union might think it has gained from China by moving into its new ultra-modern facility, the reality is that the continent has lost tremendously in all matters worthy of reasonable consideration. The move to reverse the derogatory perception of Africa and Africans by all non-Africans has suffered another major setback. The resultant effect will be the continued political and economic manipulation and domination of the region by the West, and now China, and soon the rest of the non-African world.