NIGERIA — Chinese investment in Africa includes a recent investment of $45 million in various development projects in Niger, including a new hospital and a bridge over the Niger River. While this new round of investment brings a considerable amount of money, the move is far from unexpected. China has a storied history of investing in African nations and Niger is the new, recent beneficiary.
Total Chinese investment in Africa from corporations was $7 billion in 2008, certainly a considerable sum, but that number skyrocketed to $26 billion in 2013, showing China’s growing interest in African countries. The Chinese government pledged that in 2016, China would invest an enormous $60 billion in Africa.
Many western leaders are skeptical of China’s plans for Africa, with some even dubbing it “new colonialism.” Detractors of the Chinese investors claim that China is only in Africa for the natural resources, exploiting the low prices of land and government instability to claim large swaths of resource-rich earth. However, beyond political stability, there is not a clear pattern to which countries Chinese firms favor most, as powerhouse oil economies like Nigeria and commodity-poor nations like Uganda have both seen major Chinese investment.
The recent investment in Niger is par for the course in terms of types of investments Chinese firms and the Chinese government are willing to make. Often the money will end up going to a Chinese construction firm that completes the public works project. This part of the relationship has caused concern for some due to the fact that the employment and pay ultimately return to the Chinese. However, in some cases, the Chinese firms hire local African workers, for example, the case of the Ethiopian light rail, which provides employment and stimulates the local economies.
While billion dollar Chinese-Nigerian oil deals make the most headlines in Western media, one analysis shows that smaller investments, like the recent one in Niger, are far more common, and are typically not concerned with land or oil. Rather, the relatively small investments are concentrated in the service and manufacturing industries. Nonetheless, many western governments see the relationships as exploitative rather than mutually beneficial.
Regardless of the economics and politics of these transactions, the results are certainly helpful for African citizens. The infrastructure improvements in Niger and other African countries help revitalize areas otherwise unable to fund the hospitals, schools and roads made possible by Chinese investment in Africa.
– John English