Is China’s Economic Policy in Africa Setting the Stage for Global Order?



China-Africa relationship continues to grow Surpassing the US and becoming the largest trading partner in Africa.

China’s Presence has been felt in Africa for decades and majorly becoming an economic partner of sub-Saharan African Countries with its economic activities resulting in an overall increase in trade, foreign direct investment, and aid in Africa. Its foreign direct investment peaked at an all time high from $490 million in 2003 to $43.4 billion in 2020 making China the Africa’s largest investor ahead of the United States. This makes economic analysts wonder if China is setting the pace for a new economic order.

Just like the West, China is strategic about its activities and policies for instance in rolling out aid, trade, investment stock, investment growth, and infrastructural financing in airports, dams, roads, etc., as these are the major economic connections between Africa and the world at large. Since the past decade, Chinese loans and contractors reshaped much of the continent’s infrastructure and this has been matched by investments in mines and manufacturing plants, shopping centers, and corner stores. Their activities in Africa made many believe that China is becoming Africa’s most economic partner for instance; According to Afrobarometer, a polling firm on “The pan African Research Network” as of 2017 discovers that 63% of people in 36 African countries consider China to be a positive influence and others fret that it is the “new colonial master.”

Its expansion contributed to a shift in public policy from a narrow focus on trade and investment relations to a broad range of development issues, pledging concessional loans to Africa to address a range of issues like climate change, food security, attain Millennium Development Goals, and overcome the epidemic diseases. Its impact is felt in resource-rich economies that benefit from China’s demand for raw materials.

“The Economist” special reports on China in Africa, China’s financial assistance shrunk in 2016 diverting focus to trade and investment. Furthermore, one of China’s key initiatives in Africa is The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), an infrastructure that intends to connect Asia, Europe, and Africa through a network of ports, trains, motorways, and other infrastructure. Many African countries have joined the initiative to benefit from these investments.

However, the European Union and the United States also play a role in African economies creating competition amongst these traditional African donors. The EU and the US economic relationship has been said to be unequal with Africa’s demand to be treated as partners. Their policies since time immemorial focused on trade and investments as well as aid. Not until recent times has the US been strategically pivoting into African in a bid to strengthen its ties given competitions in the continent.

In comparison to China, India and the US, Russia is considered a minor player on the continent. Russia supports minor states mostly states that have been internationally shunned like Angola and this, however, gives Russia a significant influence. Currently, Russia has been navigating towards increasing its influence in the continent following global isolation. Most of its investments in Africa focus on trade in resources and promoting nuclear power technology as Alrosa, Gazprom, Lukoil, Rostec and Rosatom which are large Russian companies are situated in African countries. Russia-Africa ties have faced a decline for decades until it gained its major entry and expansion for Russian business and economic strategy given the October 2019 Russia-Africa Summit. Russia’s role during the colonial period was an advantage over other actors in the “new scramble for Africa”. Unlike its counterparts that position themselves economically while indirectly coaxing Africans to live by Western standards of public administration in return for loans. Russia’s presence is felt given its military assistance to African governments to maintain stability and political stance for instance following the events in Libya, the Central African Republic and Mali. Recently, Russia exports about 30% of Russian agricultural exports to Africa and about $14 billion per Russian arms sales to Africa to counter growing instability in Africa.

It is imperative to say that China’s influence in Africa cannot be compared to its competitors. Its ties to Africa are drifting towards political, military, and security with the establishment of a military base in Djibouti and gradually spreading into other parts of Africa. One notable thing about China in Africa is the fact that transparency is not one of the characteristics of the Chinese system. It doesn’t produce reports on how its aid is distributed or the actual figures pumped into Africa as financial assistance. Unlike the EU, US, and Russia, China’s policies primarily focus on achieving growth and increasing its reach across the globe. It’s also driven by the state with government intervention in the economy. Nevertheless, its policies have faced criticism for lack of environmental and social standards leading to issues of exploitation and pollution for instance citizens in Ghana were of the opinion that China’s activities affects its environment.