Foreign Policy Blogs

China in Uganda: A Building Fit for a President

The New Presidential Office Building in Kampala - Photo Credit; J. Ketterer

The New Presidential Office Building in Kampala – Photo Credit: J. Ketterer

This week I returned from a trip to Uganda.  While there I saw evidence of the favorite topic of many in the international development community – the role of Chinese foreign assistance in Africa.  Across the street from the parliament building is an enormous construction site with working ongoing 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  It is the new office building for the Ugandan president and the main costs have been donated by the Chinese government (an estimated $25 million, according to   Work began in 2009 and is set to be completed by spring of next year. The work is being carried out by a Chinese construction firm and it appears that the Chinese workers live across the street from the construction site.  It is the latest building donated and constructed by the Chinese in Uganda. Just down the street from the current construction in Kampala’s city center is the building that houses the Ugandan Ministry of Foreign Affairs and on the outskirts of the city is Mandela National Stadium, both funded and constructed by the Chinese.   These are large showpiece projects that make it clear that China is not only engaged in Africa but wants it engagement to be visible.

But China is not alone in that effort.  Uganda is filled with signs and decals on vehicles with the wide variety of bilateral donors and international organizations. USAID, the UN, WFP, DANITA, IRC, the Carter Center and the World Bank are just a small sample of the logos seen in Kampala – or in just about every African capital.  Yet people are accustomed to those organizations so little note is made of their continued and extensive presence.  The Chinese projects, however, are the subject of much conversation with the unspoken undertone assuming something more conspiratorial.  But perhaps China is doing what all states do: using foreign assistance as one tool to maximize their interests.  The only difference is that they are relatively new to the game – and that they have a great deal of money to spend.  As eye catching as the Chinese building donations are, the photo below shows that some public diplomacy happens on its own.

On the road from Bujagali Falls to Jinja - Photo Credit: J. Ketterer

On the road from Bujagali Falls to Jinja – Photo Credit: J. Ketterer



James Ketterer

James Ketterer is Dean of International Studies at Bard College and Director of the Bard Globalization and International Affairs program. He previously served as Egypt Country Director for AMIDEAST, based in Cairo and before that as Vice Chancellor for Policy & Planning and Deputy Provost at the State University of New York (SUNY). In 2007-2008 he served on the staff of the Governor’s Commission on Higher Education. He previously served as Director of the SUNY Center for International Development.

Ketterer has extensive experience in technical assistance for democratization projects, international education, legislative development, elections, and policy analysis – with a focus on Africa and the Middle East. He has won and overseen projects funded by USAID, the Department for International Development (UK), the World Bank and the US State Department. He served on the National Security Council staff at the White House, as a policy analyst at the New York State Senate, a project officer with the Center for Legislative Development at the University at Albany, and as an international election specialist for the United Nations, the African-American Institute, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. He is currently a Fellow at the Foreign Policy Association and has also held teaching positions in international politics at the New School for Social Research, Bard College, State University of New York at New Paltz, the University at Albany, Russell Sage College, and the College of Saint Rose.

Ketterer has lectured and written extensively on various issues for publications including the Washington Post, Middle East Report, the Washington Times, the Albany Times Union, and the Journal of Legislative Studies. He was a Boren National Security Educational Program Fellow at Johns Hopkins University and in Morocco, an International Graduate Rotary Scholar at the Bourguiba School of Languages in Tunisia, and studied Arabic at the King Fahd Advanced School of Translation in Morocco. He received his education at Johns Hopkins University, New York University and Fordham University.

Areas of focus: Public Diplomacy; Middle East; Africa; US Foreign Policy

Contributor to: Global Engagement