Africa was colonised mainly if not solely by Europe, and to dispute this fact you have to invent a new history chapter to find any proof to the contrary. From North Africa to Southern Africa and all you hear are colonisers like Italy, Belgium, France, Germany, Britain to name but a few.
The colonisers siphoned African resources while developing their own countries, wrecked the economies of those countries they colonised before they left. In some sad cases however, they left the never-ending agreements meant to continue milking and plundering African resources in countries like Ivory Coast, Mali, Togo, Cameroon, Guinea Bissau, Benin, Burkina Faso and Gabon to mention just a few. Check these countries infrastructure and you will wonder how heartless colonising countries can be.
China on the other hand has never colonised Africa. Contrary to some conspiracy theories that China wants to colonise Africa, China is investing and providing infrastructure loans to Africa that are unbeatable by their western counterparts. Global Markets are open to all who want and are willing to participate. It is a case of demand and supply unlike the colonial system which was and still is based purely on exploitation.
China participates in global markets and is able to conclude vast deals that are suitable to a number of emerging market participants in Africa. In trading, any trader will trade with those whose terms are more beneficial. Any business person who has started a business small or big knows very well the hustle of getting financial loans. A business man will not agree to get loans that impose conditions that are not suitable to him/her. African countries are no exception. They will not accept loans anymore that are riddled with stringent conditions that are not favourable to the African country. African countries have since independence been exploited and in some case being forced into taking loans from their former colonisers with conditions only beneficial to the coloniser.
Africa and China relations have created a mutual understanding where loans are offered and conditions acceptable to both the African country and to China as well. In any case this is business with a win-win environment.
When it comes to infrastructure development in Africa, this has for a long time been a “cash cow” for European companies which have been charging exorbitant prices for the small infrastructure developments that has happened on the continent since their departure. China has for the past decade or so indicated that it is capable of offering better competitive prices for the same infrastructure jobs that were originally monopolised by Europe and US. No wonder Chinas influence in Africa has attracted vast amount of negative propaganda meant to sway Africa from Chinese investment.
Africa is slowly but surely shading off the idea of running to European countries with a begging bowl in hand for aid to finding trading partners willing to offer affordable financial loans with no strings attached but purely on commercial terms. China has so far proved to be this partner because Chinese investments do not carry the strings attached connotation that was the order of the day with European aid. Africa had been subjected to conditions like improving human rights records or reducing the size of public service personnel to reducing bureaucracies before aid was given. This is tantamount to being told to dance and sing for the person offering you the next meal. What a degrading system?
Africa is in high need for funds to develop its infrastructure which the colonisers so neglected and China is ready to offer this finance with no strings attached. Chinese state-owned enterprises are also willing to offer their expertise to develop African infrastructure at prices that African colonisers cannot beat. This has created allot of rivalry between these European countries and China for African projects.
In its annual report tiled China- Africa relations 2015 produced by Centre for Chinese studies by the University of Stellenbosch in South Africa, it was indicated that “the Forum on China Africa Co-operation (FOCAC) – a summit held in Johannesburg in December of that year and attended by most African heads of state, as well as Chinese president, Xi Jinping — resulted in China offering US$ 60 billion in development finance to Africa”. At the same meeting, China has extended US$ 6.5 billion to South Africa (covering sectors such as rail, transport, electricity and renewable energy). This was unprecedented? Which other country was willing to offer Africa such an enormous amount of money? Not even the former colonisers.
At the 2018 China-Africa Forum for Cooperation (FOCAC) summit held in Beijing, China announced a new US$60 billion meant for Africa development. The fund, was meant for various projects aligned to the Chinese government’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and the funds would cover telecommunications, construction of roads, bridges and sea ports, energy, and human capacity development.
China has played a significant role in Africa infrastructure development as indicated by the following large infrastructure developments that China has been involved in:
The famous African Union headquarters located in Addis Ababa Ethiopia which was officially opened in 2012 at a cost of US$200 million was fully funded by China as a gift to the African Union. Construction of the building began in January 2009 and involved both Chinese and Ethiopian workers. Ethiopia therefore did not only get an elevation to its infrastructure but its people gained employment as well.
China has shown tremendous participation in Africa by providing both the funds and expertise for railway infrastructure development. This is evidenced by for example:
The Mombasa- Nairobi Standard Gauge Railway which was funded by China at a cost of US$3.81 billion. This was one of the largest infrastructure projects Kenya has had in decades. Other countries that have had their railway projects funded by China include Djibouti, Ethiopia and Nigeria.
The Lobito-Luau Railway in Angola which is a 1344km linking the Atlantic port of Lobito on the west to the eastern border town of Luau, as well as to rail networks in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and expected to be linked to other inter Africa railway networks.
The Abuja-Kaduna Railway in Nigeria which covers a distance of 186.5 km and links the capital city Abuja and the north-western state of Kaduna.
Addis Ababa Rail Transit which covers a total of 34km with two lines expected to carry about 60,000 passengers per day.
Ethiopia- Djibouti Railway which is a 4 billion U.S. dollars project and covers 752.7 km expected to give Ethiopia access to the sea through Djibouti.
The above examples which cover just a few of the infrastructure projects are just an example of how China has assisted Africa development. I again challenge African former colonisers to show what their contribution was other than resource exploitation.
In my next article, I will indicate many more other projects other than railway building that China is involved with in Africa plus loans and investments and even humanitarian assistance.
George Nsamba is an independent risk management practitioner based in Johannesburg South Africa.