When President Xi Jinping unveiled ‘The Great Chinese Dream’ a couple of years ago, promising citizens that he would bring about a resurgence in Chinese global dominance, Africa was one of the main regions he wanted to bring under the country’s sphere of influence. And while the Chinese are looking toward Africa for powering their dreams, Africans themselves are hoping that they will benefit from Chinese interest.
The African dream
China has been heavily investing in Africa since the start of the 21st century. And in 2009, China had already surpassed the U.S. as the biggest trading partner of the African continent. Africa’s vast natural resources provided the fuel for an ever-growing China.
In recent years, Beijing’s focus has begun to shift from solely acquiring natural resources to converting Africa into a large market for Chinese products. As a consequence, it has started to invest heavily in infrastructure projects on the continent, betting that the growth in Africa will be able to compensate for the maturing domestic market.
Africa is also being promoted as the next big hope to Chinese businesses looking to expand their markets. And among young Chinese, the continent offers them an exploratory avenue where they can fulfill their dreams, unchecked by the rigid rule of the Communist Party.
An article by Foreign Policy describes how a young Chinese woman “who has learned to speak English with a thick Nigerian accent, spent last year geo-coding urbanization data gathered in African cities. These people did not come to Africa seeking natural resources. In fact, should a slowing Chinese economy limit the domestic aspirations of young people like them, they may venture out to Africa in even greater numbers.”
The importance with which the Chinese see Africa can be gauged by the fact that Beijing recently offered $60 billion in investment to the continent with “no political strings attached.” Reuters quotes Xi Jinping as saying: “China-Africa cooperation must give Chinese and African people tangible benefits and successes that can be seen, that can be felt.”
According to a report by McKinsey, Chinese firms could end up generating revenues in excess of US$440 billion from Africa by the year 2025. And while African countries welcome Chinese investment in hopes that it will help their own economies to grow and prosper, many are also worried about getting trapped in Chinese debt.
The danger of Chinese ‘help’
China is notorious for providing loans to poor countries, trapping them in debt, and finally manipulating them into accepting Beijing’s demands. More often than not, the Chinese end up getting their way since most of the African countries are so poor that they will often have an urgent need for financial assistance.
“It took years for China to consider providing more loans to Zimbabwe under President Robert Mugabe after the southern African country defaulted in the late 1990s. And when it did decide in favor, the restrictions were tough: Chinese companies wanted to be exempted from local labor laws and given the first rights to mineral exploration,” says an article in the Mail & Guardian.
And since taking loans from organizations like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) typically come with high-interest rates, most African nations end up resorting to China, which lures them with quick, low-interest loans. As of 2016, it is estimated that China has loaned close to US$124 billion to African nations since 2000.