“In the context of this fight, we are revisiting these contracts to correct them,” Gado said. “In the future, we will pay closer attention, to not make the same mistakes.”
The fight has carried Gado, a soft-spoken chemist, to Beijing several times to haggle with the Chinese.
“I wouldn’t say we are at daggers drawn,” he said carefully. “But we discuss, sometimes over long months. Every time we discover something, we make an adjustment.”
Already, the original loan for Niger’s portion of the refinery — 10 years, at commercial rates — has been knocked down to a more manageable 25 years at 1 percent and deferred for seven years.
For Niger, the constant struggle with the Chinese is to keep costs down so it can sell its oil cheaply in a region where Nigeria’s subsidized oil is king.
“We’ve got to recover what we’ve invested before the state can hope to gain something,” Gado said.
For a time, oil at the refinery was piling up because the high price kept buyers away. The Chinese wanted to charge for piping the crude from the oil fields to the refinery, but Niger is refusing. The Chinese wanted to charge export-level prices for the crude oil at the refinery, but again, Niger is balking. The Chinese maintain a substantial benefits-freighted payroll at the refinery — another cost Niger is expected to carry — but that is being rejected too.
“This is a lesson we are giving to the Chinese: We are keeping a close lookout on them,” Nigerien Ministry of Oil secretary-general Mahaman Gaya said.
Gado has not made his last trip to Beijing.
Niger’s lesson is being applied elsewhere as well: African governments, grateful as they are for Chinese-built roads and ministry buildings, are no longer passive partners.
“Are we going to continue to ignore what the Chinese companies are doing?” Doudjidingao said. “I think this is the beginning of a change between African states and the Chinese. It’s a consciousness raising, so they won’t be guilty in the face of history.”