By Mark Kapchanga
Allegations of spying and surveillance pop up every day on the global political stage. They are, however, not always true but driven by malice. A database compiled by the Union of Concerned Scientists shows that as of August 2015, there were 1,419 active satellites in orbit around the earth mainly used for the collection of intelligence.
From time immemorial, revelations of spying always provoke outrage. In his famous treatise The Art of War, Chinese general Sun Tzu says: “Enlightened rulers and good generals who can obtain intelligent agents as spies are sure to make great achievements.”
As recent as 2016, new documents made public by Wikileaks revealed that the US spied on German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s private conversations with world leaders. The secret files showed that the National Security Agency listened in as Merkel had private conversations with other European heads of government and with former UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon. But even before the dust settled on this accusation, in late 2017 Berlin claimed Beijing was using LinkedIn to infiltrate political and business circles in Germany. The assertion followed claims from a German intelligence service that 10,000 of its citizens were targeted by Chinese spies, an allegation that China refuted.
In most cases, allegations of spying and surveillance cause strains between countries, and at times, even sever diplomatic ties. Informed that such claims can create a rift between regions, a French paper Le Monde carried a story on allegations that China has been spying on African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa for six years. In what appears to have been a manufactured story, Le Monde spoke to a number of anonymous sources, who said the alleged transfer of data was taking place at night. The story went further to say the alleged data transfer had been taking place since 2012, when the building was opened.
Trade between China and Africa has been rising thanks to policy benefits from a cooperative plan laid down by Chinese and African leaders in South Africa in 2015. At the summit, President Xi Jinping announced plans to invest $60 billion into African development projects, saying it would boost agriculture, build roads, ports and railways and write off some debt.
As an example of strong relations between Africa and China, trade between them rose by 16.8 percent to $38.8 billion in the first quarter of 2017. On the other hand, China’s non-financial direct investment in Africa expanded by 64 percent in the first quarter of 2017 as countries such as Djibouti, Senegal and South Africa all saw a more than 100 percent rise in the quarter.
The negative reportage about Sino-African relations by Western media has also been fueled by envy due to strengthening ties. The ambitious global trading strategy, known as the Belt and Road initiative, which appeared to be gaining traction recently, particularly in parts of East Africa where major infrastructure and defense projects are being built, is also likely to buoy China’s growing investments in Africa. The spying allegations are not the first media story being published by Western media with the aim of creating a gulf between Africa and China.
While free media is desired in any economy, there needs to be a sense of responsibility and professionalism in the practice. China’s presence in Africa has had its challenges no doubt. But Western media cannot spend acres of editorial space criticizing China for “increased corruption in Africa, for exploiting Africa’s natural resources, for environmental degradation, poor wages for employees, among others.”
In particular, the media has become obsessed with the claim that Chinese firms are winning mega tenders in African countries by paying bribes. This is absolutely not true. Chinese firms have not only shown that they qualify to execute these major infrastructural projects but they have also shown their unrivaled muscles in completing them in record time at a relatively low cost.
Perhaps it is now time that the Western countries upped their games in investing and trading with Africa if they are to compete favorably with China in Africa. Claims that Chinese firms bribe locals to win tenders are utterly false. Crucially, media should engage in constructive reporting for posterity.
The author is a researcher and expert on China-Africa cooperation based in Nairobi, Kenya. Follow him on Twitter:@kapchanga. firstname.lastname@example.org