Tuesday, September 27, 2011

No Strings Attached: Chinese/Malian Bridge of Friendship


Creepy or not we had to snap a photo!  With Massa and Cassie on the bridge

Don't you want a photo on the bridge of friendship with Abdoulaye, too??
Bamako's third bridge, the result of a collaboration with China, was inaugurated last Thursday, September 22nd as one of many commemorations of Mali's 51st independence day.  Ironic?  Perhaps.  Events like this bridge opening encourage me to reflect on the merits (and demerits?) of foreign investment and development in Mali.  What are foreign investors/development projects doing in Mali?  What, in particular, does China get when they build this bridge?
Image found here
Malians share similar stereotypes of Chinese manufacturing as Americans.  Cheap, low-quality products priced to sell that won't last long.  A Malian friend, when discussing all the moto accidents in Bamako, made the observation that "the Chinese are just sending us these crappy Jakarta motorcycles to kill us!"  Hm....can't say that I agree with that intention, I think Mali just needs some rules of the road (and enforcement of those rules!) but the motorcycles are inexpensive!  However, while I often hear Malians complain about low-quality Chinese manufacturing, I haven't heard many folks worried about the quality of their construction - the bridge does appear to be solid, though! 

Foreign investment in Mali is low and limited to handfuls of Lebanese owned night clubs and grocery stores, South African and Canadian owned mines and a very large administrative complex built by Muammar el-Qaddafi.  The US Embassy in Bamako states there are many sectors the Malian government is seeking to expand through the help of foreign investment.  But why, I wonder, does everyone want a piece of Mali?

The Bridge of Friendship in Bamako marks China's largest gift to West Africa and many are already waiting for bridge #4 and #5 to alleviate the capital city's awful traffic.  I hear Malians talk about how there are no strings attached to this bridge and that China is just doing a good thing for a poor country like Mali.  I have a hard time buying that but then how different is the US from China or Libya?  We might not be quite so overt about taking advantage of the country but we do benefit from our relations. 

Living here is kind of like being the friend of someone in a bizarre, gossip-y relationship.  One day I hear the accolades of USAID, Qaddafi and China - the next day I hear USAID is self-serving (possible), Qaddafi is crazy (yes) and China sends prisoners to work in Mali (also quite likely).  Sometimes the best friends are the ones who just listen so I will work on continuing to smile and nod.   

But maybe I am looking too much into this bridge.  Maybe China's gift of the Bridge of Friendship to Mali really does have no strings attached.  Maybe not.  While it is possible that China really is just looking for new friends - I think they are looking for a certain kind, as are all foreign investors - friends with benefits.

 
I haven't seen the movie but I'm sure we all have a few things to learn from Natalie and Ashton

2 comments:

Cassady Walters said...

Isn't the whole point of the film that there are always strings attached??!!

Jennifer said...

quite possibly...i need to see the film. that's my point, too though..there are always strings! and we always want benefits!

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