These past couple of weeks a story of a collapsed bridge in Kenya has popped up on my social media feeds quite a lot. The bridge in question, which was also used as a campaigning point for next month’s elections by the incumbent Uhuru Kenyatta, was being constructed by a Chinese Company called the Chinese Overseas Construction and Engineering Company, itself a subsidiary of China railways.
The collapse was touted by friends as evidence of poor Chinese workmanship a view held by many people across the continent.
Most people think Chinese goods and products don’t last as long as they should, and that Chinese workmanship is poor. It is a view so entrenched that we called counterfeits and fakes “zhing zhongs” which is a phrase that arose from trying to sound Chinese.
Chinese reputation is not very good in Africa and there are several cases of Chinese projects going awry, for example in Zambia where a Chinese built road was washed away by a rainstorm.
Yet the notion that the Chinese cannot produce goods of high quality or build durable infrastructure is wrong. After all China itself is pretty advanced and I personally have no complaints about my Chinese Xiaomi mobile phone.
Of course the Chinese know how to build bridges, perhaps better than anyone else. If in doubt watch this BBC video of a truly impressive piece of bridge engineering.
What I think the Chinese do is do shoddy jobs when there isn’t much money on the table. That old adage is true, you get what you pay for.