Thanks to billions of dollars from China, new roads, bridges, stadiums and other projects are being built all over Africa. Even the building of the $200 million headquarters of the African Union was funded entirely by the Chinese. China is also making industrial investments all over the continent, running mining and oil firms. As a result, China has now become Africa’s most important trading partner, passing the United States.
There are certainly benefits to Chinese investment in Africa, such as improvements in infrastructure and economic development. As economies grow, poverty decreases and populations become better educated and more politically involved, leading to better governance. However, there are also some questions about the negative impact that China’s involvement on the continent could be having.
For example, the Chinese have been less discerning in terms of the countries they invest in, entering countries that are tend to be less developed and often less democratic than would be acceptable for the US or other Western countries. Whereas Western countries may pressure the countries they invest in to become more democratic or have a stronger respect for human rights, Chinese investors have not shown any interest in doing this.
Instead, Chinese investment in Africa seems to be motivated solely by the prospects of Chinese economic gains. They are looking for the opportunity to extract raw materials and sell manufactured products to the African market, a scenario that somewhat resembles Africa’s colonial past. In addition, many Chinese investments also involve the use of extensive Chinese labor, which creates problems for local unemployment.
Whether Chinese investment in Africa will have predominantly negative or positive consequences in the future remains to be seen. However, it is important to note that Chinese investment in Africa will certainly increase its clout there, allowing China to have a stronger influence than the US. What this will mean in practice is unclear, although if Chinese support helps prop up authoritarian regimes, the geopolitical consequences for the US could be serious. It would be wise for the US and other Western nations to take this into account as they consider both their development and aid projects as well as their level of investment in the region.
– Caroline Poterio Martinez