ON SATURDAY 28 JANUARY 2012, African countries collectively descended to a new low on the global index of state sovereignty, territorial integrity and actual independence of nations. On that day, Jin Qinglin, chair of the Chinese People's Consultative Conference, was in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to commission the new $124m African Union (AU) headquarters built and donated to the continent by China. Termed "Chinas gift to Africa", the edifice was constructed by the China State Construction Engineering Corporation with over 90% Chinese labour.
It is to the discredit of the AU - and therefore to every individual and country within that regional body - that in 2012 a building as symbolic as the AU headquarters is designed, built and maintained by a foreign country, it does not matter which.
The ancient and modern history of the donation of buildings and structures from one nation to mother is filled with intrigues and subterfuges, conquests, diplomatic scheming, 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 years of unending skirmishing. In building the Basilica in Rome - termed the "greatest of all churches of Christendom", contributions from the faithful were emphasised rather than donations from friendly nations.
Even the gift of the Statue or Liberty from France to the United States on the 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 a rare glimpse into the matter, Jane C. Loeffler reveals in her book Architecture of Diplomacy the underlying diplomatic manoeuvrings and political ramifications that define the construction of American embassies all over the world. The author says 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, the AU, rather than the apparent submissiveness signified by...