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Opinions of Sunday, 29 January 2012

Columnist: The African

African Union: The Joy or Tragedy of A New Headquarters Building?

the 28th of January, 2012 African countries will collectively descend
to a new low on the global index of state sovereignty, territorial
integrity and actual independence of nations. On that day, Chinese
President Hu Jintao will be in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to commission the
new $124 Million African Union Headquarters built and donated to the
continent by China. Termed “China’s gift to Africa,” the edifice was
constructed by the China State Construction Engineering Corporation with
over 90% Chinese labor.

It is to the discredit of the African
Union and therefore, every individual and country within that regional
body that in 2012, a building as symbolic as the African Union
Headquarters is designed, built and maintained by a foreign country, it
does not matter which country.

The ancient and modern history of donation of
buildings and structures from one nation to another is filled with
intrigues and subterfuges, conquests, diplomatic schemings, espionage
and counter espionage, economic manipulations, political statements and
dominations. The construction of the Trojan horse by Odysseus and its
‘donation’ resulted in the Greek conquest of the ancient city of Troy
after 10 years of unending skirmish.

In building the Basilica in Rome – termed the
“greatest of all churches of Christendom,” contributions from faithfuls
were emphasized rather than donations from friendly nations. Even the
gift of the Liberty Statue from France to the United States on occasion
of the latter’s independence was a joint effort, whereby over 120,000
Americans led by Joseph Pulitzer contributed funds for the construction
of the pedestal in 1885.

In rare glimpse into the matter, the book Architecture of Diplomacy, Jane C.
Loeffler reveals the underlying diplomatic maneuverings and
political ramifications that defines the construction of American
embassies all over the world. The author states that building an embassy requires
“as much diplomacy as design.” Loeffler enumerates factors
seriously considered in the construction of an American embassy building and they
include “World politics, American agendas, Architectural
politics, cultural considerations, security” and several others.

Common sense dictates that in an era of increasing
exploitation of Africa’s natural resources by foreign powers including
China, that the African Union, rather than the apparent submission
signified by acceptance of the construction of its headquarters by
China, will be an organization advocating for fairness in the
relationship that exists between the continent and the global powers.

Should security considerations be included, then the
question arises as to how African heads of state and government could
hold confidential meetings in a building they have no idea how it was
wired. What guarantee do African governments have that every word
uttered in the new headquarters in Addis Ababa is not heard in Beijing?
What evidence negates the suspicion that all activities in the just
completed building are not replayed on a large screen in Beijing as
Chinese secret service agents watch?
Culturally, indigenous Bantu culture abhors
dependence on others for sustenance. A favorite Swahili proverb of
Mwalimu Julius Nyerere’s is “Mgeni siku mbili; siku ya tatu mpe jembe”
which means “treat your guest as a guest for two days; on the third day
give him a hoe.”

Indigenous African tradition largely abhors
dependency of any kind. It is frowned upon for a man not to thatch his
rooftops well before the rainy season, or to stay back while others are
going to the farm, except he is bedridden. Add this to the logic
espoused in Archtitecture of Diplomacy, and one reasonably
concludes that it is unacceptable for Africans to accept a building
from China that will house what should be the landmark of the
continent’s achievements and its aspirations for the future.

Clearly, much indiscretion was exercised by the
African Union officials in the acceptance of the offer of a new
headquarters from China. The African Union has since deviated from the
ideals of its founding fathers when in the 1960s Kwame Nkrumah and other great
African leaders sought to establish an organization that would
protect the geographical contiguity and territorial integrity of African nations.
Emperor Haile Selassie in his historic 1963 speech stated
clearly that the Organization was founded because “Africa has been
reborn as a free continent and Africans have been reborn as free men.
The blood that was shed and sufferings that were endured are today
Africa’s advocates for freedom and unity.”

Contrary to his predecessor’s commitment to the
continued freedom of the continent from imperial forces, Ethiopian
President Meles Zenawi - currently being accused of selling huge
swathes of Ethiopian land to foreign countries – on a tour of the
facility boasted of how he singlehandedly lobbied Chinese officials to
build the new headquarters and how he exempted taxes on all Chinese
imported construction materials.

Gleeful at the opportunity for African heads of state to indulge in their lifestyles
of conspicuous consumption during
meetings and summits, AU Projects Director Fantahun Hailemikael reports
that among the several luxuries of the building is a “helicopter landing pad, so
visiting dignitaries will be flown from the airport.” Of course the dignitaries will
be spared the sight of the slum that much of
Addis Ababa is. They will be flown from the airport to the AU building
and from there to Sheraton Addis, reportedly the best of its kind around the world.

While the African Union think it has gained from
China by moving into its new ultra-modern facility, the reality is that
the continent has lost tremendously in all matters worthy of reasonable
consideration. The move to reverse the derogatory perception of Africa
and Africans by all non-Africans has suffered another major setback.
The resultant effect will be the continued political and economic
manipulation and domination of the region by the West, and now China,
and soon the rest of the non-African world.

By Chika Ezeanya
A Ryoichi Sasakwa Young Leaders Fellow, Chika has
worked as a consultant on different aspects of Africa’s advancement in
Nigeria, Washington D.C. and in Rwanda. She blogs at