Below are edited excerpts from a new report by the China-Africa Research Initiative-at Johns Hopkins in Washington DC (Brief #23, 2018). It provides a useful analysis that refutes the misinformation that China is “stealing” Africa’s resources.
“Silk Road to the Sahel: African ambitions in China’s Belt and Road Initiative”
Where Does Africa Fit?
THE BRI SIGNIFIES A SHIFT IN CHINA’S economic engagement with Africa, away from the resource trade characterized by the boom of the 2000s, towards a greater emphasis on infrastructure, industrial cooperation, and connectivity. From single bilateral infrastructure projects, there has been a new term ‘corridorization’ of infrastructure: creating economic corridors and networks at a regional scale to promote cross-border trade and integration.
East and North Africa have been the focus of the BRI in Africa, though countries in West and Southern Africa have also signed cooperation agreements under the framework of the BRI. As part of the ‘maritime silk road’, Chinese actors have been linked to several major port and transport projects. Chinese firms have invested heavily in Egypt’s Suez Canal corridor, with plans to expand to a second canal as well as new terminals at the port of Alexandria.
In Sub-Saharan Africa, Djibouti has emerged as a BRI hub. As well as being the location for its first overseas naval facility, China has financed multiple economic infrastructure projects totalling US$1.8 billion in the small African state, including a new multipurpose port at Doraleh (with specialized terminals for livestock and LNG), as well as a new free trade zone complex adjacent to the port, commissioned in July 2018 . In Kenya, Chinese firms have also won construction contracts for three berths for the new deep-water port in Lamu.
Politically, the BRI’s presence in Africa has been expanding. The most recent Johannesburg Forum of China Africa Cooperation-(FOCAC) declared as one of its goals: “[to] actively explore the linkages between China’s initiatives of building the Silk Road Economic Belt and 21st Century Maritime Silk Road and Africa’s economic integration and sustainable development agenda”. Countries linked to the BRI; Morocco, Egypt, and Ethiopia, have also been singled out in FOCAC among ‘industrial cooperation demonstration and pioneering countries’ and ‘priority partners for production capacity cooperation countries’; these countries have seen a rapid expansion of Chinese-built industrial zones, presaging not only greater trade but also industrial investment from China. However, it may also suggest further stratification in China’s political engagement with Africa as a region, increasing the geopolitical importance of select countries.