When Malawi’s state television shuts down for the night, it does not switch to CNN or, as might once have been expected in the former British protectorate, the BBC. Instead insomniacs are treated to the minutiae of Chinese domestic affairs courtesy of that country’s CCTV News.
President Bingu wa Mutharika sensed what direction the wind was blowing when, five years ago, he dumped Malawi’s longtime partner Taiwan and adopted a “one China” policy, establishing diplomatic relations with Beijing.
The rewards are writ large on the skyline of the capital, Lilongwe. A new parliament building went up in 10 months and the national conference centre in 12. Both came from Chinese contractors, although they are said to have created jobs for 500 and 900 Malawian workers respectively.
China has also delivered the five-star Golden Peacock hotel (permanent jobs for 100 locals), presidential villas, school and university buildings, a 60-mile road and 600 boreholes for water. A national stadium and agricultural technology centre are among projects still to come.
China also claims to have assisted farmers, dispatched 16 doctors with drugs and medical equipment and created training opportunities. A hundred Malawians have taken up scholarships to study in China.