It is quite alarming that a couple of Chinese businesses have already dipped their fingers into the controversial Gilgel Gibe III dam project. It is normally not good news when the Chinese get involved in anything in Africa. The reputation that precedes the Chinese in Africa is that they do not care much for the consequences of their projects - as long as they get what they came for. Their entry into the Gibe III fray should awaken all of us who care about Lake Turkana, its environment, and its people as well as the entire Lower Omo basin.
Terry Hathaway of International Rivers first broke the news of the Chinese companies involvement on September 17 saying:
NGOs are outraged after confirmation that the world’s largest bank will finance the destructive Gibe 3 hydropower dam. The Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) is underwriting a $500 million contract awarded May 13 to Dongfang Electric Corporation for the dam’s turbines and electro-mechanical works. Although ICBC has not publicly announced the loan, an official confirmed September 8 by email that the financial agreement between ICBC and the Ethiopian government was signed in July. The funding undermines ICBC’s efforts to build a global reputation as a socially and environmentally responsible lending institution.
Earlier on, Peter Bosshard, writing in Huffington Post had indicated, in August, that China's biggest bank was in discussion with other parties on whether to fund "Africa's most destructive project." Bosshard says:
In May, Ethiopia's government announced that the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) would fund a Chinese equipment contract for Gibe 3 with a loan of approximately $450 million. ICBC is China's and the world's biggest commercial bank. Kenya's Friends of Lake Turkana, BankTrack and International Rivers immediately called on ICBC to stay out of the project. "Funding the Gibe 3 Project would seriously damage ICBC's reputation as a diligent, environmentally responsible bank," the three organizations warned in a letter to the bank's CEO.
The Chinese Embassy in Kenya is aware of the opposition by groups led by FoLT. The Kenya foreign affairs ministry is also aware that the Chinese bank is intending to fund this catastrophe and FoLT has asked for intervention. FoLT has prepared a petition that they will deliver to the Chinese Ambassador in Kenya stating the dangers that this project poses for the people of Lake Turkana, the Lake's ecosystem and by extension the people of the Lower Omo basin in Ethiopia, and urging the Chinese government to advice against this funding.
How China as a nation and the Chinese government reacts to the concerns raised by a group that represents some of the most marginalised communities in the world is really a question of whether China cares for the environment and marginalised communities or cares more about economic gain - and world domination. Recalling China's entry into the African elephant ivory trade and the consequent rise in incidences of elephant poaching and illegal ivory seizures - with very little action from the Chinese Government - sends chills down my spine. With this bad reputation among elephant people, China has an opportunity to redeem its image a little by saying no to the Bank's and Dongfang's involvement in the killing of hundreds of thousands of livelihoods - and pilaging of a World Heritage Site.
Will China show more concern when not only the ecology, but also people (after all, it is the Peoples Republic of China) are involved? Personally I hope the Chinese government prevails over the two businesses to abandon the project, just like others have done before them. Come on China, show that you care.