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Africa welcomes China the new colonial power?

Updated: Sep 6, 2020

The population in Africa is currently 1.2 billion people, most projections are concluding that the population will double by 2050. Urbanization, people moving to the city centers in search of economic opportunity, is outpacing most other developing nations. Governments across Sub-Saharan Africa are scrambling to find answers to these population trends, for better or worse, answers are coming from China and Chinese firms in the form of infrastructure projects funded by China and China’s billionaires.

These Chinese firms are becoming well know through-out Africa, They are bringing large scale infrastructure experience, highways and roads, skyscrapers overlooking city centers, railways that are crossing country boundaries, telecom and electrical grids to almost every African nation. China is now Africa’s largest trading partner when it comes to infrastructure and all other trade as well, with over $200 billion in trade per year. As the IMF and World Bank reduce development dollars, the Chinese have gladly stepped in to provide billions of dollars.

Nigeria, currently Africa’s most populated country is projected to have over 400 million people by 2050, yes you read that correctly, if Nigerian birth rates hold steady, in just the next 30 years Nigeria will add 200 million people to its population. Nearly every country in Sub-Saharan Africa will double its population, Ethiopia the next most populous state, is projected to have over 200 million people. With populations surging the economies of Sub-Saharan Africa will need to double in order to keep up with the population or else we will see poverty like we haven’t seen before. The good news is that the IMF is projecting that the economies of Africa will double in the next 30 years, Africa is expected to have a $5-trillion economy by 2050. As the projections are being made the leaders of Africa are signing infrastructures deals with China at a frenzied pace, with hopes that their economies will be able to pay off these debts in the future.

These leaders are caught in a catch-22, the governments of these nations can't afford to fund these projects, to usher in the industrial revolution they enter into debt agreements with the Chinese government or private Chinese firms willing to invest. They hope to have the economies of the future that will provide for their people so they have to build roads, railways, airports, ports, electrical grids, massive manufacturing plants and every other infrastructure needed. As with all infrastructure projects, projected cost is never the final cost. Railway projects funded by China or Chinese firms in Nigeria, Kenya, Ethiopia, and Djibouti have all exceeded cost with some loans needing to be renegotiated. Other projects in Zambia, Angola, Congo Republic and many other African nations have met the same fate.

Are these infrastructure projects a form of “debt trap” diplomacy? Is China the new colonial power of Africa? Chinese President Xi Jinping speaking at a China Africa Summit said, “Resources for our cooperation are not to be spent on vanity projects,” “Inadequate infrastructure is believed to be the biggest bottleneck to Africa’s development.” When the Chinese government is involved in infrastructure projects, there are other motives involved. Most countries that the Chinese government is investing in directly is radiating with some form of natural resource that China needs to continue building/manufacturing whatever product they are selling to the rest of the world. Whether that’s Sudanese or Nigerian Oil, cotton from many nations, manganese needed for steel, or the Democratic Republic of Congo’s cobalt. If there is a resource somewhere in Africa that China needs, development dollars will come there in hopes of securing those resources. The private Chinese firms that are dealing directly with African nations are purely in it for profits, chasing the dollars as China’s development is slowing down.

So, what is Africa to do? Neglect infrastructure and the Chinese dollars? Doing so would be catastrophic for the future generations to come, 1 billion new Africans yet to be born in the next 30 years. Infrastructure development is instrumental to an industrial revolution that is just showing glimmers of hope across Sub-Saharan Africa. Just 30 years ago China was in the same position that Africa is in today, the leaders of Africa are hoping they can duplicate what China was able to do.