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OMG: Chinese firm to hand over new US$140m parliament building as a gift to Zimbabwe

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China is preparing to hand over a new US$140 million parliament building as a gift to Zimbabwe – the latest in a series of grand projects across Africa designed to deepen its influence in the continent, where it is the largest trading partner and lender.

The site at Mount Hampden, about 18km (11 miles) northwest of the capital Harare, heralds the start of a new city.

The 650-seat building will replace the current 100-seat, colonial-era building which Zimbabwean officials consider too small for the country’s 350 legislators.

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Sitting on the top of a hill, the imposing circular complex, which has been built by China’s Shanghai Construction Group, is fully paid for by Beijing.

The contractors said the facility was now ready to be handed over, 3½ years after construction started on a project that employed more than 500 Chinese technicians and 1,200 local workers.

“There is no doubt that the new parliament will become a landmark building in Zimbabwe and even in the whole of Southern Africa,” Shanghai Construction Group manager Libo Cai said on Wednesday.

Work on the new parliament has been completed. Photo: Xinhua alt=Work on the new parliament has been completed. Photo: Xinhua>

“It will be yet another milestone for the China-Zimbabwe friendship which keeps getting stronger year after year.”

The building covers a total area of 33,000 square metres (355,200 sq ft) and has two main buildings – a six-storey office building and a four-storey parliament building.

Cai said the building was fully funded by the Chinese government.

To ease congestion in the crowded capital, Zimbabwe plans to relocate the judiciary and executive branches, and some of its administrative units, to the site. A statehouse and official residences for the House speaker and Senate president will also be built there.

The new city will eventually become home to the country’s reserve bank, upmarket suburbs, hotels and shopping malls.

The Chinese embassy in Zimbabwe said in a tweet that “thanks to the hardworking of the Chinese and Zimbabwean technicians, it [the parliament] is expected to trigger more mega projects in the Mount Hampden area and boost the development of a new satellite city”.

It is the latest in a series of similar Chinese-funded projects across the continent, where Beijing has also paid for the construction of palaces, sports stadiums and conference centres as part of a decades-old diplomatic strategy.

When Beijing first started establishing diplomatic relations with Africa between the 1950s and 1970s, it offered financial help and interest-free loans and sent over medical teams.

In return, those nations helped Beijing secure the Chinese seat on the United Nations Security Council in 1971, which had been occupied by the Republic of China government that fled to Taiwan in 1949.

Other recent projects include the Kenneth Kaunda International Conference Centre, which China Jiangsu International Economic and Technical Cooperation Group handed over to the Zambian authorities in late May.

The centre, named after the country’s first president, is expected to host the upcoming African Union midyear summit and was described by President Hakainde Hichilema as “a symbol of the unshakeable friendship between Zambia and the People’s Republic of China”.

China has also opened a new conference centre in Zambia. Photo: Xinhua alt=China has also opened a new conference centre in Zambia. Photo: Xinhua>

 

In Ethiopia, work on the US$80 million Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention headquarters is also nearing completion. The country also plays host to the ultra-modern US$200 million African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa, funded and built by China as a “gift to the African people”.

Research by Paul Nantulya, from the Africa Centre for Strategic Studies at Washington’s National Defence University, has calculated that China constructed or renovated 186 government buildings in at least 40 African countries between 2000 and 2018.

Nantulya has previously described China as playing the long game, saying in February: “Its presence is felt each time an African walks into any of those buildings. China is creating a portrait of itself as an enduring partner that remains present and stands in solidarity with African governments.”

David Shinn, a professor at George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs and a former US ambassador to Ethiopia, said building diplomacy had long been an important part of China’s foreign policy, but it had increased in significance in recent years.

He said most of the construction projects were funded by loans but others had been gifts. Aside from the new Zimbabwe parliament and the AU headquarters, the latter also includes Kenya’s foreign ministry and Burundi’s presidential palace.

“This allows China to have considerable influence with the officials who benefit from the facilities,” Shinn said.

But, he said: “Chinese companies usually install all of the communications equipment. This raises potential security issues for the African recipients.”

In one major controversy in 2018, Beijing was accused of bugging the AU headquarters.

The French newspaper Le Monde, citing anonymous AU sources, said that for five years, data had been transferred nightly from computers in the building to Chinese servers and hidden microphones had also been found.

Beijing rejected the accusations as “preposterous” and baseless.

Stephen Chan, professor of politics and international relations at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, said all the parliament buildings were of similar design and reflected the Chinese model of a circular central chamber.

The circular chamber in Zimbabwe’s new parliament is a design replicated across the continent without input from local architects. Photo: Xinhua alt=The circular chamber in Zimbabwe’s new parliament is a design replicated across the continent without input from local architects. Photo: Xinhua>

 

“In other words, the symbolism of government and opposition directly facing each other is sidestepped,” Chan said.

Likewise, he said airports were of the same design but those were tied to loans and were not gifts.

“So the two practices, of building diplomacy as gifts and the lending of money, have been in use side by side for some time and will continue to be separate practices,” he said.

“What building diplomacy neglects, however, is the use of African architects and African architectural imagination. It cancels self-reliance not only in building for oneself but self-expression in the imagination of Africa’s best architects.”

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This article originally appeared in the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the most authoritative voice reporting on China and Asia for more than a century. For more SCMP stories, please explore the SCMP app or visit the SCMP’s Facebook and Twitter pages. Copyright © 2022 South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

Culled from the South China Morning Post  

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OMG: At 34, Burkina’s new junta chief is world’s youngest leader

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Just two weeks ago, 34-year-old Ibrahim Traore was an unknown, even in his native Burkina Faso.

But in the space of a weekend, he catapulted himself from army captain to the world’s youngest leader — an ascent that has stoked hopes but also fears for a poor and chronically troubled country.

Traore, at the head of a core of disgruntled junior officers, ousted Lieutenant-Colonel Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba, who had seized power just in January.

The motive for the latest coup — as in January — was anger at failures to stem a seven-year jihadist insurgency that has claimed thousands of lives and driven nearly two million people from their homes.

A few days after the September 30 coup, Traore was declared president and “guarantor of national independence, territorial integrity… and continuity of the State.”

At that lofty moment, Traore became the world’s youngest leader, wresting the title from Chilean President Gabriel Boric, a whole two years older.

Ibrahim Traore: Burkina Faso's new leader is Africa's youngest at 34 years

And on Friday, a national forum made up of about 300 delegates named Traore interim president until elections are held in July 2024, two members of the ruling junta told AFP.

Traore’s previously unknown face is now plastered on portraits around the capital Ouagadougou.

His photo is even on sale in the main market, alongside portraits of Burkina’s revered radical leader Thomas Sankara, assassinated in 1987, and of Jesus.

– Military career –

Traore was born in Bondokuy, in western Burkina Faso, and studied geology in Ouagadougou before joining the army in 2010.

He graduated as an officer from the Georges Namonao Military School — a second-tier institution compared to the prestigious Kadiogo Military Academy (PMK) of which Damiba and others in the elite are alumni.

Traore emerged second in his class, a contemporary told AFP, describing him as “disciplined and brave.”

After graduation, he gained years of experience in the fight against the jihadists.

He served in the badly-hit north and centre of the country before heading to a posting in neighbouring Mali in 2018 in the UN’s MINUSMA peacekeeping mission.

He was appointed captain in 2020.

A former superior officer, speaking on condition of anonymity, recounted an incident that occurred in 2020 when the town of Barsalogho in central Burkina was on the verge of falling to the jihadists.

The highway into Barsalogho was believed to have been mined, so Traore led his men on a “commando trek” across the countryside, arriving in time to free the town, he said.

When Damiba took power in January, ousting elected president Roch Marc Christian Kabore, Traore became a member of the Patriotic Movement for Preservation and Restoration (MPSR), as the junta chose to call itself.

– Discontent –

In March, Damiba promoted Traore to head of artillery in the Kaya regiment in the centre of the country.

But it was a move that ironically would sow the seeds of Damiba’s own downfall.

The regiment became a cradle of discontent, and Traore, tasked by his colleagues with channelling their frustrations, made several trips to Ouagadougou to plead their case with Damiba.

Disillusionment at the response turned into anger, which appears to have crystallised into resolve to seize power after an attack on a convoy in northern Burkina last month that left 27 soldiers and 10 civilians dead.

“Captain Traore symbolises the exasperation of junior officers and the rank and file,” said security consultant Mahamoudou Savadogo.

The new president faces a daunting task in regaining the upper hand over the jihadist groups, some affiliated with Al-Qaeda and others with the Islamic State group. They have steadily gained ground since they launched their attacks from Mali in 2015.

Yet Traore has promised to do “within three months” what “should have been done in the past eight months,” making a direct criticism of his predecessor.

Savadogo warned that one soldier overthrowing another illustrates “the deteriorating state of the army, which hardly exists any more and which has just torn itself apart with this umpteenth coup d’etat”.

Traore’s takeover comes during a struggle for influence between France and Russia in French-speaking Africa, where former French colonies are increasingly turning to Moscow.

Demonstrators who rallied for him in Ouagadougou during the standoff with Damiba waved Russian flags and chanted anti-France slogans.

Traore seems — for now — to bring hope to many in a country sinking steadily in the quagmire.

“He embodies renewal, a generational renewal, a break with old practices,” said Monique Yeli Kam, who came to the national forum representing her party, the Movement for Burkina’s Renaissance, in order to “support and defend the vision of national unity”.

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Ethiopian Airlines consortium wins bid for new Nigeria airline

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A consortium led by Ethiopian Airlines is the preferred bidder for shares in new Nigerian airline Nigeria Air, the country’s aviation minister said on Friday.

The airline was one of President Muhammadu Buhari’s 2015 election campaign promises.

Ethiopian Airlines will own a 49% stake in the new airline, while the Nigerian Sovereign Fund will take 46% and the Nigerian federal government the remaining 5%.

Aviation minister Hadi Sirika told reporters that Buhari’s cabinet was expected to sign off on the shareholding plan in the next few weeks. Nigeria Air would have an initial capital of $300 million and plans to have 30 aircraft within four years, he said.

Nigeria Air will launch with service between the capital Abuja and Lagos, the commercial capital, and add other routes later.

“We are going to initially bring in six Boeing 737 aircraft and between third and fourth year the airline will be able to acquire up to 30 aircraft,” Sirika said.

“Nigeria Air is a limited liability company that will have no government intervention,” he added.

Nigeria has been seeking to set up a national carrier and develop its aviation infrastructure – currently seen as a barrier to economic growth – to create a hub for West Africa.

Africa’s most populous country’s previous national carrier, Nigeria Airways, was founded in 1958 and wholly owned by the government. It ceased to operate in 2003

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US senator urges Kenyan president to aid peaceful transition

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NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — A visiting U.S. senator says he has encouraged Kenya’s outgoing president to participate in a “peaceful transition of power” amid the latest election crisis in East Africa’s most stable democracy.

“I’ll let the president speak for himself, but that was certainly a hope I expressed today,” Sen. Chris Coons told The Associated Press after his meeting with President Uhuru Kenyatta on Thursday. He said they discussed ways in which Kenyatta can play a “constructive peacemaking role” after leaving office.

Kenyatta has remained publicly silent since the Aug. 9 vote, adding to the anxiety as Kenya again faces post-election uncertainty and a likely court challenge by the losing candidate, Raila Odinga. Coons, leading a congressional delegation on a five-country Africa visit, was in Kenya in part to meet the key parties and urge that calm continue.

Sen. Chris Coons, second right, leading a U.S. congressional delegation, is accompanied by his wife Annie Coons, right, and Rep Dave Joyce, left, as he speaks to patient David Oduor, center, at his home, after visiting the Tabitha Medical Clinic run by CFK Africa in the Kibera neighborhood of Nairobi, Kenya Thursday, Aug. 18, 2022. The delegation also met with current President Uhuru Kenyatta, Kenya’s new president-elect William Ruto, and opposition figure Raila Odinga who has said he will challenge his recent election loss in court. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)

Kenyatta had backed longtime rival and opposition leader Odinga in the close race against his own deputy president, William Ruto, who fell out bitterly with Kenyatta years ago. Ruto on Monday was declared the winner, but not before Kenya’s most peaceful election ever slid into chaos in the final moments.

The electoral commission split in two, each side accusing the other of trying to tinker with the results. It came as a shock to many Kenyans after an election widely seen as the country’s most transparent ever, with results from the more than 46,000 polling stations posted online.

Now Odinga almost certainly will challenge the results in Supreme Court. His campaign has seven days from Monday’s declaration to do so, and the court will have 14 days to rule. Odinga has urged supporters to remain patient instead of taking to the streets in a country with a history of sometimes deadly post-election violence.

After meeting with Kenyatta, Odinga and Ruto, Coons told the AP “I was encouraged that in all three meetings we heard a commitment to a call for calm and tranquility, to respect the legal processes established in the 2010 constitution.” He said the conversations were about the rule of law, the importance of free and fair elections and peaceful transitions.

“Obviously, the United States has had a very difficult experience with these issues for the past few years,” Coons said, referring to the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol as former President Donald Trump tried to remain in power. “I said in all three meetings we have things to learn from Kenya.”

Kenyatta told Coons that Kenya would uphold “its position of a shining example of democracy in the continent by maintaining peace during this transition period,” according to a statement issued by the president’s office.

Coons said he did not come to Kenya seeking anything like the handshake that Kenyatta and Odinga, after prodding, famously shared to end months of crisis after the 2017 election, whose results were overturned by the Supreme Court over irregularities, a first in Africa. Odinga boycotted the fresh vote and declared himself the “people’s president,” bringing allegations of treason.

This time, with Kenyatta’s backing, the Odinga campaign felt he would win the presidency after a quarter-century of pursuing it.

Kenyatta is stepping down after two terms, itself a notable act in a region where longtime presidents like Yoweri Museveni of Uganda and Paul Kagame of Rwanda have been accused of clinging to power through changes in term limits, manipulation of elections and crackdowns on dissenting voices.

The U.S. delegation is also visiting Rwanda, where human rights and violent tensions with neighboring Congo are almost certainly on the agenda following Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s visit there last week. Coons said he looks forward to visiting again with Kagame.

Kenyatta has played a leading role in efforts to calm the Rwanda-Congo tensions and in trying to mediate in neighboring Ethiopia’s deadly Tigray conflict, with support from the U.S. Coons did not say what kind of peacemaking role he hoped to see Kenyatta play after stepping down.

Ruto’s public comments this week have been on domestic matters, not foreign, but Coons said the president-elect made an “expression of concern and intent in trying to help lead to positive resolutions” in such regional crises.

Coons also has played a role in trying to calm the Ethiopia conflict. But he told the AP the delegation was not having a meeting with Ethiopia’s government or the Tigray forces while in Kenya.

Coons, a member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, and his delegation have already visited Cape Verde and Mozambique and will visit Tunisia as well.

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