By Lucy Njuguna
While some remain undecided on what to think of Chinese-African relations, it is apparent that China is taking a stronghold in the economies of certain African countries. Despite serious political turmoil in some of these states, China has aggressively established businesses, even in places where they seemed unlikely to thrive.
The Economist reports that China is currently Africa’s biggest trading partner, with $160 billion worth of goods exchanged annually. This aggressive economic tactic has proven a threat to Western nations that previously cornered trade with Africa. Yet, the more pressing question is whether Africa’s new trade partnership is beneficial to the continent.
Looking at the perspective of African countries, many states have been very welcoming towards Chinese investors. The trade trends have changed so dramatically in recent years that research and interest groups are shocked by the sudden shift of trading partners from the West to the East.
Al Jazeera reports that the West’s mission shifted from trade to counterterrorism, following the bombing of U.S embassies in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania in 1998. Meanwhile, China’s policy of non-interference in the domestic affairs of other states is an appealing prospect, and has also been another boost to the economic growth in Africa, where the West has been accused of too much interference.
However, there is reason for skepticism toward Chinese-African economic relations. In East Africa, for instance, China seeks to build roads and railways connecting countries in the region. This construction appears to provide the obvious advantage of easier trade and movement for East African countries, but some critics do not agree with this notion.
Peter Eigen, a special editor for CNN, reports that Chinese economic strategy is self-motivated. The Chinese are investing heavily in the transportation industry, motivated by better accessibility to mineral resources. African history is not unfamiliar with the exploitation of resources.
Improved transportation often becomes less beneficial to foreigners than to locals, who use them more regularly. But when infrastructure and superstructure are improving at a faster rate than human capital, is the progress as useful to locals?
Ory Okolloh, a well-known Kenyan tech investor and lawyer, provides a local perspective. In an interview with Quartz, she discusses how economic growth in Africa is taking the wrong dimension. She argues that it is difficult for people facing bad policies, poor governance, and poverty to establish “entrepreneurship.”
Citing Greece as an example, she explains that as the country was going through its bailout, no one was telling Greek citizens to be entrepreneurs. It seems that there is a fetishism for entrepreneurship in Africa that overlooks fundamental problems. In this case, Chinese investors are the ones acting as entrepreneurs. Africans are not progressing, but rather opening more opportunities to Chinese investors who reap the benefits and overlook major societal issues.
Eventually, will China be replaced as Africa’s leading trade partner? Or can Africa become more self-reliant? To ensure self-reliance, Africa cannot rely on booming Chinese investments and trade indefinitely. Africa needs to organize its domestic and financial economies, in order to maintain a competitive market with China that will lead to a mutually beneficial trading relationship.