Construction criticism casts the spotlight on intra-African trade | world | Hindustan Times
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Construction criticism casts the spotlight on intra-African trade

world Updated: Jan 28, 2012 01:32 IST

Sleek and glinting in the sun, combining a traditional office tower with a more unusual spherical conference centre, shaped like a flying saucer, the new African Union (AU) headquarters in Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital, is an impressive symbol of modernity.

Some, however, harbour mixed feelings towards the complex, which is scheduled to be opened by President Hu Jintao on Saturday, the eve of the AU summit. Why was it, they ask, that the 20-storey main office building and conference centre, which can seat more than 2,500 people, was built by a Chinese company with Chinese labour, rather than by Africans?

The new AU building, the physical embodiment of China's complex links with the continent, is thus both a source of pride and reproach for Africans.

"It's a beautiful, beautiful building full of grandeur and it will save a lot of money because it will help in the co-ordination of the AU's business," said Michael Orwa, a project co-ordinator for State of the Union (Sotu), a group of NGOs that wants the AU to live up to its rhetoric of unity and progress. "It's a shame the AU was not able to build it itself."

China has made its presence felt throughout Africa, building a bridge in Niamey, Niger, constructing a "super-highway" in Nairobi, Kenya, digging for oil and minerals from South Sudan to Zambia, and flooding the continent with cheap goods. The last of these activities is a source of concern to officials at the African Development Bank.

"Cheap Chinese goods cause a lot of damage," said Gerald Ajumbo, principal trade officer at the AfDB. "They hurt consumers as they can be substandard - a battery with a very short battery life, for example. They hurt producers, who lose market share. And they have an impact on government revenues, as governments do not collect tax on these goods."

There is suspicion that China is dumping its goods in Africa, but so far no African governments have made any official complaint to the WTO.