Chinese billionaires ‘doing good’ in Africa. What’s at stake?

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Chinese billionaires are head over heels with Africa and with donations that keep streaming in, it is just a tip of the iceberg in making China look good.

With the advent of the covid-19 coronavirus, the Chinese have been sending aid to the continent and also to countries like the US and some in Europe. Well, China has a global reputation and the pandemic has become its platform to show its kind side.

The donations started with Jack Ma, China’s richest who interestingly also opened his own Twitter account last month at the height of the covid-19 pandemic.

Ma is using his Twitter account to give prominence to his medical supplies campaign which is delivering much-needed equipment and testing kits to almost every country in the world.

Coronavirus: African leaders stuck with neglected, outdated healthcare systems

The billionaire is sending ventilators and face masks to many countries globally in the belief that it is “One world, one fight!” and “Together, we can do this!” as he posted on Twitter.

Another Chinese company TikTok has pledged US$10 million to Vaccine Alliance, Gavi, with the money going towards supporting efforts for both routine vaccinations against existing infectious diseases in Africa, as well as future deployment of covid-19 vaccines.

In a statement, the company said the contribution will be matched by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation through its support to the Gavi Matching Funda public-private funding mechanism designed to incentivise private sector investments in immunisation, bringing the total package of support to US$ 20 million.

The short-form video platform says it is committed to supporting communities “deeply impacted by the coronavirus crisis in ways that are positive and beneficial.”

TikTok says: “the donation will help build a sustainable immunisation programme by ensuring the continuity of existing vaccines even amidst disruption caused by the covid-19 pandemic, and ensuring equal access to the future covid-19 vaccines, contributing to strengthening Africa’s health systems in general and allowing TikTok to make a real impact in ensuring the health and safety of Africans in the long-term.”

The platform which has global offices including Los Angeles, New York, London, Paris, Berlin, Dubai, Mumbai, Singapore, Jakarta, Seoul, and Tokyo adds that in addition to supporting immunisation in Africa, it has also continued to support front line medical workers, educators, and local communities affected by covid-19, both on and off the platform through various financial and educational efforts.

Gavi is a public-private partnership vaccinate half the world’s children since its inception in 2000.

But the question that begs an answer is what all this philanthropy by the Chinese will get from Africa.

The reality of the matter is that the continent is resource-rich but it lacks the structures and adherence to laws to help the exploitation of these resources to benefit all Africans. As it is, Ma has one of the biggest logistics structures for China and African resources can help fuel China’s economic ambitions.

With the soft diplomacy approach in aid through Alibaba’s owner, China is creating a way for easy movement of these resources from Africa to China without much controls. With Africa having benefitted from the Ma support when it needed it most, the likelihood is that in future, any dealings will be lined returning the kindness.

For TikTok, the company says its mission is “to inspire creativity and bring joy”. However, Americans feel that it is doing more than just inspire or bring joy.

Florida Senator Marco Rubio has requested that the Treasury Department look into the national security implications of TikTok’s data storage practices. This is in relation to Chinese laws mandating ready access to all data stored within the nation’s servers.

Since Chinese law states that the government can access any information flowing through Chinese servers without giving notice to service providers, companies, or end-users, the Republican senator feels that “The threat posed through facial recognition, location data, and A.I. based image scanning techniques could allow the Chinese government to obtain sensitive information,” as quoted by Sandbox.

Rubio added that if the information mined through TikTok falls in the wrong hands, it could pose a risk not only to the individual involved but to American national security.

Coronavirus shakes economies, world forced to change perspective on Africa

With China’s global presence, fears of infiltration could not be misplaced or entirely untrue.

As it is, China’s presence in Africa continues unsettling the West which has been relegated to an almost observer state by the Asian giant. And the more the opposition, the more foothold it gains on the continent with megaprojects some of which have worked well for the people albeit having come expensive.

And as the latest scramble for the resource-rich continent gathers pace including tactical and military positioning, China has an edge over its competitors.

The Asian giant has been a welcome handyman in fixing problems created by African leaders for decades.

With the covid-19 coronavirus having put doing business on its head, only time will tell how the continent will repay all this kindness from China’s politburo.

Read: China’s internet, social censorship comes to Africa

I have 10 years of experience in multimedia journalism and I use the skills I have gained over this time to meet and ensure goal-surpassing editorial performance. Africa is my business and development on the continent is my heartbeat. Do you have a development story that has to be told? Reach me at njenga.h@theexchange.africa and we can showcase Africa together.

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