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OPINION

Africa In The Heart Of China

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Ehizuelen Michael Mitchell Omoruyi

The Executive Director of the Center for Nigerian Studies at the Institute of African Studies, Zhejiang Normal University, China

Ahead of 2018 BRICS Summit, Xi Jinping is to visit five nations in the Middle East and Africa, following the signing of documents related to China’s Belt and Road Initiative. This will mark the opening of another “new chapter of relations between China and Africa” and cement China’s role as one of the continent’s closest economic and diplomatic allies. Expect little in the way of concrete policy in this trip, with most tangible agreements coming at September’s China-Africa Cooperation Forum. The visit follows last week’s China-Arab Cooperation Forum, where Middle Eastern nations agreed to deepen their relationship. Now, China will turn to Africa in hopes of achieving much of similar thing. The visits will promote the further deepening of political mutual trust, mutual development assistance, mutual learning on each other’s concepts between China and Africa and the building of closer China-Africa community of common destiny. African side is highly consistent with China in the direction and philosophy of its foreign policy and stands ready to work together with China. China’s foreign policy in Africa is clear; its policy displays restraint, cooperation, and a common future of the destiny of mankind between both developing entities. As the African Union draws up an ambitious blueprint, Agenda 2063, for Africa’s next five decades of development. And China is working hard to realize the Chinese dream of the great renewal of the Chinese nations. With both sides facing the task of attaining modernization, China-Africa relations have entered a new period of development promise to blossom into even more splendor. 

Having said that, China’s fascination with Africa is not hard to see. Since the millennium, China-Africa trade has been soaring at about 20 percent per year. According to a recent McKinsey report, there are over 10, 000 Chinese-owned firms operating in Africa presently –four times the previous estimate –and about 90 percent of them are private firms, of all sizes and operating in diverse sectors. As such, foreign direct investment has grown even faster over the past decade, with a breakneck annual growth rate of 40 percent. According to Africannews report, China has invested in 293 FDI projects in Africa since 2005, totalling an investment outlay of $66.4 billion and creating 130, 750 jobs. Still, on the McKinsey report, Chinese firms could amass combined revenues of US$440 billion in 2025, about twice those of Apple in 2016 and more than double the US$180 billion they generated in 2015. China’s financial flows to Africa are 15 percent larger than official figures propose when nontraditional flows are included. Making China a large and fast-growing source of financial assistance and the largest sources of construction financing. Currently, Chinese money is funding a 1,400km railway in Nigeria, a highway in Algeria, and new cities in Egypt and South Africa. Already, Chinese-built infrastructure – telecommunication networks, power stations, railways, dams, harbors, and roads – is speedily transforming the physical appearance of Africa. Also, Chinese-financed educational program and media outlets have increased in size and it is increasing and redefining China’s influence over young Africans.

As such, neither Western partners like France, UK, US, nor major developing nations such as India and Brazil match China in the depth and breadth of involvement in Africa. With increased influence, the country has also found geopolitical victories. Burkina Faso established diplomatic relations with China in May 2018, leaving Swaziland which is now called eSwatini means “land of the Swazis” as Taiwan’s only supporter in Africa. Chinese leaders have always made a point of visiting African nations regularly and early during their time in power. When President Xi assumed the presidency in 2013, he also selected Africa as part of his maiden trip overseas and went on to visit Africa two or more times during his first term. This shows that Africa is in the heart of China. The West is increasingly losing its influence in Africa for the reason that it “took the continent for granted”. The West seems to look at Africa via this security and good governance lens…which is fully dissimilar from the China’s viewpoint. Chinese leaders look at Africa from an economic standpoint – the West is lagging big time.

Based on the 2015 John Hopkins University data, China’s top ten FDI destination in Africa includes Algeria $2.53 billion, Nigeria $2.38 billion, Ghana $1.27 billion, Sudan $1.81 billion, DRC $3.24 billion, Tanzania $1.14 billion, Angola $1.27 billion, Zambia $2.34 billion, Zimbabwe $1.80 billion, and South Africa $4.72 billion without Rwanda and Senegal. So, at first look, Rwanda and Senegal seem unusual choices given they do not receive a large amount of investment from China nor are they large nations in terms of population. But Rwanda has a key position in the Belt and Road plan, Xi’s ambitious worldwide trade and investment initiative which aim to boost economic connectivity between Asia, Europe and East Africa. Rwanda is hoping to integrate itself into the burgeoning railway network in East Africa, as part of the Belt and Road initiative. As such, Xi’s visit could assist secure funding for key roads, and expansion of the national carrier RwandAir. Kigali is moving towards diversifying its relationship away from the US and European Union, and China sees a good chance to develop ties.

For Senegal, there have been suggestions that the Chinese government might be interested in the possibility of building ports on the Atlantic Ocean. The selection of Senegal and Mauritius, respectively, is in line with China’s attempts to establish its presence on Africa’s Atlantic coast and to dominate the Indian Ocean. Chinese ever-closer bilateral ties with Africa is a natural result of Chinese leadership’s decades-long cultivation of cooperation with Africa, dating back to the early days of the Communist administration in the 1950s. So, Xi Jinping visit to these African nations which is in consistent with the natural tradition and result of Chinese leadership indicates how the Chinese leaders are “sharing their diplomatic love” across the continent, to show that the Chinese people will always honor their commitment and work together with Africa to upgrade China-Africa relations. This is massively appreciated in most African nations, especially by the political elites. The high degree of economic complementarity and frequent investment and commerce have connected the two side in an inseparable bond that leverages their respective strengths. The importance of Africa in China’s diplomacy has been consistent, the Belt and Road initiative has only accentuated the role of Africa even more.

China involvement in Africa is without problems and controversies which have emerged along with China’s expanding footprint in Africa, with critics labeling the country a “neo-colonialist” only interested in exploiting the continent’s rich resources and cheap labour. Activists have highlighted cases of human rights abuse that include ill-treatment and poor pay of local workers. These accusations reflect a mostly Western tendency to both target and often demonize China and to evaluate China’s activities in Africa as a reflection of the West’s own not-so-distant histories of colonialism in Africa. China has made great efforts to distinguish itself from the Western legacy of colonialism, exploitation and intervention politically and economically. China explicitly rejected the Afro-pessimism that had portrayed an increasingly ‘hopeless continent’ in need of paternalistic enlightenment. China “portrays Africa in a positive light” and emphasize similarities such as “common prosperity and shared ‘development nation’ status” rather than assume a paternalistic role and resort to term such as “development assistance” and “language of aid”..



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