China’s influence on Africa is a force to be reckoned with. The country is among Africa’s largest investors, having poured $66.4 billion into 705 African projects in 2015 alone. But who are China’s operations benefiting more: Africa or China?
Loans from China don’t increase Africa’s indebtedness. This happens for two reasons. Firstly, unlike loans from elsewhere, many of China’s loans have either very low or zero interest rates and flexible terms for repayment. For example, $35 billion of the $60 billion loaned to Africa by China in 2015 had such terms.
On top of this, most Chinese loans focus on improving infrastructure and diversifying African economies rather than simply encouraging the production of primary resources like crops or precious metals. This means that rather than limiting long-term growth and development, Chinese investments tend to encourage African economies to be more stable and develop more sustainably.
Although Africa has the world’s youngest population and thus the workforce to accelerate economic growth, unemployment is high. With almost half of the continent’s graduates struggling to find work, many resort to criminal activities. Helping to resolve this issue, between 2015 and 2017 China created 130,750 jobs in 293 projects in Africa- more than any other country.
China has also benefited Africa health-wise. Between 2000 and 2013 for example, the country funded 531 health projects worth $5.67 billion on the continent. These projects included the treatment and prevention of endemic diseases like malaria, the provision of standard laboratories and the construction of hospitals like Gyneco-Obstetric and Pediatric Hospital Yaoundé Cameroon.
Analysts have criticised China’s political neutrality when dealing with Africa. They claim the country’s blind eye to malpractice encourages wars, corruption, human rights abuses and autocracy on the continent. For example, Jose Eduardo dos Santos, a dictator who ruled Angola from 1979 to 2017, managed to survive political storms, falling oil prices and a civil war. This was mostly thanks to exchanging oil for Chinese loans and credit lines worth $15 billion.
The Sino-African relationship has also left African economies somewhat dependent on China’s economy. The depreciation of South Africa’s rand by 26% following a drop in China’s yuan in 2015 for example shows that economic meltdown or recession in China may have a knock-on effect on Africa’s economy in the future.
Although jobs have been created and economies boosted, locals complain of exploitation by Chinese firms. For example, it’s believed that Chinese companies often export labour from China to Africa and hire locals only for low-paying jobs. Human rights is also an issue: in 2010 11 miners were shot in Zambia by two Chinese nationals for protesting for better working conditions.
Corporate and political espionage by China in Africa is another concern. An example is the supposed bugging and creation of backdoor channels into African Union headquarters and its computers. Fingers were pointed at China as it single-handedly financed, built and equipped these headquarters.
China also exhibits neocolonial tendencies, using economic and political pressure to influence African countries. In 2017 for example, they tried wooing Burkina Faso with $50 billion to abandon ties with Taiwan after successfully doing so with Sao Tome and Principe.
Looking at the good, bad and the ugly, a bird’s eye view shows that the Sino-African relationship is complicated. Although Chinese investments may be good for economic growth and healthcare, their effects on politics and human rights are questionable. This in mind, some may say that Africa should have a different modus operandi in mind. Rather than focusing on mutual benefits, perhaps self interest should come first.