Reflections

Made in China

By Mpuga Rukidi

The great Frenchman, sorry, the great Italian-turned Frenchman -Napoleon Bonaparte- was a war general. That is not news. What is news is that he could have, had he wished, earned a living as a Philosopher. He said, for instance, about two hundred years ago, that China was a sleeping giant who would shake the world when he finally awoke. I shall not join the annoyingly endless queue of people who at this point ask whether the rest is not history. What I shall say, though, is that the general's words have come to pass.

So strong and mighty has this giant become that his name is pronounced far and wide. Africa has been penetrated, if you could excuse the pun, by this giant in more ways than one. The giant's influence can be seen in many forms. Stretching from energy projects to stadia and roads, the giant is everywhere. It is indeed difficult to imagine a helmet in an African capital that does not sit on a head of a Lee, Ming or Chi. It would be equally foolhardy to think the might of this giant has just began. Rather, like the fabled phoenix, this is a sort of de javu; the giant is straight from the ashes. Surely the great general was not dreaming about lost battles when he said China would shake the world.

The tremors of the giant have not been restricted to the Dark Continent, as it were. In the land that is America, for instance, the giant holds the most number of government bonds. Imagine what would happen if one day, the guys in Beijing, straight from a Tai Chi practice session, decide to amuse themselves and pull out the investment in the American bonds. The result would dwarf the recession from which many countries have not recovered yet. And yet the giant's wings spread farther than America. Europe is no stranger to their influence. Every year, lots of students are sent there to acquire the European knowledge. At the moment, if China does not have the fastest tube in the world, it is in the process of constructing one, if it does not have the most number of scientists it will in the not so distant future. This giant has got more English speakers than the great America, and its internet users would fill many African countries. Many Western Conglomerates, in a bid to cut costs, set up outlets there, and chances are the iPod you listen to or the iphone you hold or indeed the ipad you possess was caressed by Chinese hands.  And the giant's wings have also gone to the skies: the giant is into space exploration as well.  And just before I forget, he has also made his influence felt in weapons that are nuclear. The wings of the giant can, in short, be sighted literally everywhere.

But there is a flip side. This flip side, it turns out, is really flippy. And am not talking about human rights here. The flip side is far from the glitter of the finest china, even that from China. You see, the giant makes lots of products; from apparels to household utensils and electronics. And boy, the giant does know the basics of business: sell more and earn more. So, while a trader from Africa finds it really hard to buy products from European capitals, he or she will, with a smile, be welcomed in China. And woe unto you if you thought the advantages stop at that!  In the land of the great giant, any amount of money gets dear trader something. But again your money will very much determine the quality of what you will get, and therein lies the trick.

Our good trader, though, being the business minded person they are, will want to get 'more value for money'. In the end, when you go to our dear trader's shop to buy apparels, chances are they would be so threadbare even before they cloth your body; your feet will be all smiles if they are in company of the shoes for more than a month, and the cell phone, famed for being unable to transmit sounds even in the first week, wont disappoint in that direction.

In Uganda a few years back, the government ordered for soldiers' apparels from Mao's land. On arrival, the soldiers were shocked: the uniforms were too tiny to fit. You should have seen the soldiers desperately trying them on! And that was not all. At a time when the AIDS scourge was ripping Ugandans apart with unprecedented aggression, it was good wisdom to get the men here some form of protection. Electronically tested gadgets were quickly ordered, again from our Eastern friends. The deliveries were this time more spectacular! The gadgets were so tiny the poor mortals, after failing to don two at a time to overcome the defect, had to give up on the damn rubbers altogether!  Such is the unflattering esteem in which the giant is at times held.

In some quarters, the word China has acquired so unflattering a second meaning you wouldn't be all smiles if it became your nickname. But trust the giant. He always finds ways of countering such hurdles.  Some of the products now bear P.R.C, –initials for the People's Republic of China. It seems the realization that some of the products can be less than satisfactory is not only known by Africans. Recently, in a public transport omnibus, I was seated next to a gentleman I thought was from Mao's land. After exchanging pleasantries, I asked my new acquaintance to tell me about the the engineering marvel that is the Three Gorges Dam. Little did I know my neighbor was actually Japanese. With shock on his face, and at the top of his voice, he exclaimed:

“Excuse me sir, I am not come from China!”

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