Wed, Jul 30, 2014 - Page 9 News List

Ugandans begin to question the price of growing China-Africa ties

The broadcast of a father’s last call to his family before his execution in China has sparked calls for Uganda to review relations with Beijing

By Patience Akumu  /  The Guardian, KAMPALA, Uganda

Illustration: Mountain People

The last words Ham Andrew Ngobi spoke to his wife, Mariam Nabanja, were intended to be reassuring.

“Be firm. I am OK,” he said, unaware that this was to be his last call to his family.

Ngobi was one of two Ugandans put to death in Guangdong Province, China, last month after they were found guilty of drug trafficking.

His last communication with home before he was executed was broadcast on Ugandan television, sparking outcry and demands that the country review its relationship with China.

In the recording, Ngobi reassures his wife that the appeal court will set him free and let him return home.

Then comes a chilling second clip, a call from Ugandan Deputy Ambassador to China Paul Makubuya informing Nabanja: “It is not good. They have taken him. He did not understand what was happening, but I eventually told him in Luganda [his local dialect] that he was going to be killed.”

Ngobi had provided a decent life for his family. His wife described him as a loving husband and a man “who had everything he needed.”

“He had built other houses in addition to the family house,” she said. “Why, then, would he go into drugs?”

His is part of the wider story of China in Africa, and specifically in Uganda. In 2009, China overtook the US and the UK to become Africa’s leading trading partner. It is involved in virtually every sector of Uganda’s economy.

Africa’s growing relationship with China and other non-traditional allies has led to predictions that its long-awaited rise out of extreme poverty, disease and destitution to become an economic giant is near. Unlike the relationship with western countries such as Britain, Africa’s relationship with China is untainted by colonialism.

Uganda’s relationship with China dates back to 1962, when Uganda won independence from the British. Like most new African states eager to fortify their independence, Uganda looked for alternative development partnerships. China was one of the first countries to recognize Uganda’s independence and the two countries built a relationship based on non-interference with each other’s internal affairs. The anti-gay law in Uganda this year and continued western criticism of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni’s 28-year-old regime only served to bind the two countries closer.

Ngobi, 39, sought to make the best of the opportunities that the China-Uganda relationship presented. His wife said he regularly traveled to China to buy clothes that he would sell in Uganda.

It is not only Ngobi who became caught up in the fallout from growing links between the two countries. Five more Ugandans in China are set to be executed amid warnings from the Ugandan foreign minister about the dangers of becoming involved in the drugs trade.

The Ugandan government has said there is nothing it can do to help those on China’s death row and that the executions will not affect China’s relationship with Kampala. Its inability to save its citizens’ lives, despite its close relationship with China, has angered Ugandans, with one journalist, Simon Musasizi, writing in the Ugandan newspaper the Observer that “illegal traders in ivory also deserve death” — a reference to China’s involvement in the illicit ivory trade in Africa.

In Uganda, one of the world’s poorest countries, three-quarters of the population are under the age of 30. Most are unemployed and unable to resist the lure of money from the illegal drug trade.

Comments will be moderated. Keep comments relevant to the article. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned. Final decision will be at the discretion of the Taipei Times.

TOP top