Africa’s history has been one of exploitation in almost every time period. In the past few decades, Africa has tried to assert herself in the global order as her nations have sought to throw of the shackles of military dictatorships and authoritarian regimes. This sparked optimism across the globe as countries saw the door opening for investment in Africa’s burgeoning financial, infrastructure, and energy sectors. Unfortunately, our leaders were unable to work for the common good and we have seen increasing levels of corruption, ethnic tension, and conflict, as well as the rise of kidnappings and political unrest.
The growing levels of insecurity and risk for investment into Africa have meant that Western capital flows have been far lower than they could have been – with many European and American companies choosing to avoid Africa. However, this created an investment vacuum – into which China was only too happy to take hold of. Chinese investment funds are able to ignore the potential risks in a way Western companies simply could not and have brought infrastructural development and other forms of investments that created jobs instantaneously.
In the past decade, the vastly increasing Chinese involvement and investment into Africa has caused significant concern across the Western world and unease amongst the analysts in Brussels, Washington, and London. This may trigger a more formalised pivot to Africa as they review their strategy on involvement in Africa. They are unlikely to be pleased with the idea of leaving China freely to influence the continent without any challenge to its geopolitical advantage.
China has played a clever game in its dealings with Africa. Between 2000 and 2015 China loaned a whopping $95.5 billion to the continent. A lot of this investment was spent addressing Africa’s infrastructure gap. Roughly 40 per cent of the loans paid for power projects, and another 30 per cent went on modernising transport infrastructure. The loans were at comparatively low interest rates and have long repayment periods.
Secondly, offering aid without preconditions, China presented itself an attractive alternative to conditional Western aid and gained valuable diplomatic support and influence amongst African governments. However, the asymmetrical relationship that China enforces evokes memories of colonial powers and their African puppet states. Moreover, China has no interest in the motives or nature of the governments that they support – including authoritarian regimes.
China overtook the US as Africa’s largest trading partner several years ago, but in recent times her strategy of investment seems to be backfiring significantly, with anti-China sentiments rising across the continent. This is because China is increasingly seen as propping up regimes with questionable, and worse, human rights records as well as its investments only over seeming to benefit entrenched elites. For example, China has focused a lot of attention on oil, which has been one of the most mismanaged and corrupt sectors in Africa for quite some time.
In a global perspective, Chinese strategy in Africa can be seen as part of its long-term ambition for world hegemony – both politically and economically – by using the continent as a platform to strengthen her hand. Western suspicion has seen them rationally lending support to pro-democracy or environmental movements that label Chinese ventures in Africa as plundering and exploiting resources in poorly governed and mismanaged local states.
Smart Asian economic powerhouses like Japan, India and South Korea, whose large populations require sources of agriculture, energy, and raw materials acted swiftly by following China and expanding their economic influence too in Africa, leaving Europe and America on the back foot.
Nevertheless, in the past three years the continent is quickly becoming the new frontier for a geo-political power tussle between the West and the Chinese and their allies. I believe that this conflict could lead to a new re-colonisation of Africa that will enhance authoritarianism among political elites since none of the aid or economic assistance usually offered by China and her allies (especially Russia) comes with pre-conditions that would push African states towards a better future.
Africa’s time is now. Post-Brexit Britain is eager to invest in its global future and more pragmatic and farsighted Americans wish to counter Chinese influence. But the question remains, how can the continent harness this opportunity without being recolonised or short-changed by the political elites who are currently selling their souls to China.
The greedy political elites in Nigeria, where those in power are mostly from the northern part of the country, have used the mineral resources from the south as collateral for long-term loans to develop the north – and their own pockets, while the south is left underdeveloped. Most tragically, the elites have made it more difficult for citizens to speak out, due to threats to the lives, properties, and businesses of those who disagree with the government line.
Therefore, it is necessary for all of those who want a better future for Africa to work together, joining forces with worldwide interest groups to create an impeccable policy structure that will drive Africa-orientated ideas – for the benefit of African citizens.