In Africa, China Is a Victim of Its Own Success

In Africa, China Is a Victim of Its Own Success
Senegalese President Macky Sall, left, and Chinese President Xi Jinping, inspect the honor guard during a state visit in Dakar, Senegal, July 21, 2018 (AP photo by Xaume Olleros).

A few days before last week’s Forum on China-Africa Cooperation in Dakar, Senegal, the Ugandan newspaper Daily Monitor published a story claiming that China was on the verge of taking over Uganda’s Entebbe Airport, the country’s main international airport, due to an inability to service a $200 million loan from China incurred in expanding the airport. Almost immediately, the story went viral on Twitter and other social media. On Facebook, several posts making the same claim as the original Daily Monitor story, including many with a digitally altered AFP photo giving the impression that the airport had already been seized by China, were also widely shared.

The story was particularly amplified by critics of China, who gleefully seized upon it as yet another example of Beijing’s “debt-trap diplomacy,” by which China purportedly ensnares low-income countries in Africa and elsewhere with unsustainable loans, gaining undue diplomatic influence in the process. 

The only problem with the story, in addition to the fact that it was poorly sourced and included few attributions, is that it was not in any way accurate, or at least the facts as presented were not as was claimed. The loan for the airport does include a default clause, but it has not been triggered, nor is it currently at risk of being triggered. Ugandan authorities came out to deny the rumors in a statement the next day, calling for the public to disregard the reports. Similarly, a spokesperson for the Chinese Embassy in Kampala, Uganda’s capital, refuted the allegations, calling them “malicious,” while saying that China has never repossessed of a single development project in Africa.

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