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Africa Report


VOL.7 August 2015
Productive Footprint
Chinese cooperation helps Malawi develop infrastructure and human resources
By Sally Nyakanyanga

Growing up in Rumphi, a small district in the Northern Region of Malawi, Temwani Mgunda dreamed of visiting China and even studying there. But the chances of realizing his dream were negligible.

Then diplomatic ties between Malawi and China were established in 2007, opening up new avenues for Mgunda. Today, Mgunda is at home in the bustling city of Beijing, working on his Master's at Peking University. He calls it a golden opportunity not only to improve his education but also to attain skills and exposure, which he calls priceless.

A journalist by profession, Mgundu believes he will be a useful resource to his industry back home as he now has a broader understanding and appreciation of world issues, China in particular.

In 2013, China-Malawi trade was $250 million, according to the Chinese Embassy in Malawi. The Chinese Government has been providing Malawi grants and concessionary loans for various infrastructure projects.

Malawi's Minister of Information, Tourism and Culture, Kondwani Nankhumwa, has said, "China-Malawi trade agreements and business projects have put Malawi on the world map, especially through infrastructural development projects that [China is] spearheading in Malawi."

The projects financed by China are priority projects. "There is no doubting [their value] when it comes to economic and social benefits for the country," Nankhumwa said.  

These include the state-of-the-art parliamentary building in capital Lilongwe, constructed at a cost of $41 million. It was financed by a Chinese government grant.

According to Nankhumwa, other big projects include the construction of Malawi's first five-star hotel, the President's Hotel, the Bingu International Conference Center, and the presidential villas built in the capital to accommodate visiting heads of state and other VIPs. These were financed through a $95-million loan from the Export-Import Bank of China.

In the field of education, the Malawi University of Science and Technology was built with a $78-million loan from the same bank. The university admitted its first batch of students last year, a step toward developing Malawi's human resources.

Rafiq Hajat, Director of the Institute for Policy Interaction in Malawi, said the China-Malawi partnership has resulted in skills transfer through training and interactions.

Hajat said the infusion of extra cash in the system from the expenditures emanating from the mega projects has a trickle-down effect. "This has helped to capacitate Malawian firms who [do not have the] capacity or efficiency to deliver the required performance," he said.

Some of these trickle-down benefits include construction of a model primary school, scholarships, technical assistance and capacity-building programs for civil servants, as well as 300 mobile solar panels.

Hajat acknowledged infrastructural projects were a necessity in Malawi. The newly built ring road in Lilongwe, for example, has eased traffic congestion and opened up new areas for development.

Nankhumwa said poor infrastructure and lack of adequate facilities have been a major problem. "Investments in infrastructure are expensive," the minister said. "There are very few partners supporting this area, making China's role in this regard very crucial to Malawi's development."

Chinese Ambassador to Malawi Zhang Qingyang said the Chinese presence in Malawi contributes to the national development and improvement of Malawians' living standards through job creations.

Landlocked Malawi, which got its independence from British rule in 1964, has a population of about 15 million people. The southeastern African country is rich in natural resources, with an agro-based economy. Tobacco, tea and sugar are its major exports.

(Reporting from Malawi)





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