China Friend or Foe? Published in AU’s “Invest in Africa” magazine

Below is my article on China: Friend or Foe?-January 2019, that was published (abridged) in the African Union magazine: “Invest in Africa“-2019 vol 1. You can find it on page 65 (85 on the link to the magazine). There are many worth while articles to read in this volume of the AU magazine  

By Lawrence Freeman

January 1, 2019

          The short answer is a China is friend and contributor to Africa’s progress. Ignore all the propaganda, ignorance and outright lies claiming that China is the new colonizer of Africa. There is absolutely no truth in the contorted comparison between China’s involvement in Africa today, and 500 years of slavery and colonialism by Western nations.

          Following the successful September 3-4, Forum on China Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) summit in Beijing, we have witnessed an escalated disinformation campaign alleging that China is attempting to snare African nations in a new “debt-trap.” New vicious rumors have emerged that China is taking over ownership of key infrastructure projects in Africa. Every African Head of State who has spoken out, has refuted these allegations and praised their cooperative relationship with China.  

According to a report by the British based Jubilee Debt Campaign, “Africa’s growing debt crisis: Who is the debt owed to?” China is owed a minority of external debt. Their figures compiled from the World Bank and the China Africa Research Institute show that 20% of African government external debt is owed to China in contrast 32% to private lenders, and 35% to multilateral institutions such as the World Bank.

Of these 14 countries that have they examined: 11 owe less than 18% of their debt to China (Burundi, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, Gambia, Ghana, Mauritania, Mozambique, Sao Tome and Principe, South Sudan, Sudan and Zimbabwe); and three owe more than 24% -Djibouti (68%), Zambia (30%) and Cameroon (29%).

The proponents of the “debt-trap” accusation conspicuously, egregiously omit from their chronicle the history of the financial imprisonment of the then newly independent African nations by the IMF, World Bank, Paris Club, and their kith and kin in the City of London and Wall Street. Through manipulation of terms of trade, controlling prices, and forcing currency deviations, African nations found themselves shackled in several hundred billion dollars of new debt to the West shortly after African nations achieved liberation from imperialist colonial masters. Western debt replaced slavery and colonialism as the new method of looting Africa of its wealth, reinforced by the ill-fated Structural Adjustment Programs-SAPs, otherwise known as the “Washington Consensus.”

So, who is kidding whom about a “debt-trap?”

Debt for Infrastructure is Necessary

Railroads from the colonial period versus railroads of the future. The East-West and North-South railroads are long overdue

Credits issued for hard infrastructure; energy, railroads, ports, roads, bridges, and soft infrastructure in well equipped; schools, libraries, universities, and hospitals will always result in an increase in productivity i.e. the economic power of the society. By employing advanced technologies embedded in new capital equipment, including infrastructure, farmers and workers can produce more efficiently. Simply providing abundant energy, high-speed railroads, and water inputs to an African nation would lead to a jump in economic output.

All nations that have experienced real economic growth and raised the living standard of their citizens have created credit i.e. public-sector debt or borrowed debt at non-usurious interest rates for targeted physical economic growth.

China is the single largest nation contributing to financing and constructing of infrastructure projects in Africa according, to Deloitte’s 2017 edition of Africa Constructive Trends. The report examines 303 infrastructure projects begun in the first half of 2017 that costs over $50 million. Appropriately, energy& power, and transport comprise 167 of these projects-over 55% of the total. While African governments fund 27.1 % of the funding, China accounts for 15.5% of the funding and 28.1% of the construction for these projects. The US accounts for 3% and 3.3% respectively. Both Italy and France are larger than  the US percentage in building infrastructure in Africa. 

African Development Bank President, Akinwumi Adesina, speaking on November 28, 2016 accurately linked the deadly migrant crisis to deficiencies in Africa’s economic development and infrastructure.

“I believe that Africa development deserves significant support, even in the midst of these challenges. We must not forget that the reason several thousands of Africans have been (illegally) migrating to Europe, is because of the lack of jobs and shrinking economic opportunities at home. Our result must not be to reduce support, but to increase support to help build greater resilience, boost its economies, address its structural challenge, such as closing its huge infrastructure gap, strengthening intra-related trade, and creating jobs for its teeming youths.”

A study done by the AidData Research Lab at William and Mary College in Virginia that analyzed China’s investments in the developing sector between 2000 and 2014, concluded:

“We find that Chinese development projects in general, and Chinese transportation projects in particular, reduce economic inequality within and between sub-national localities,” and “produce positive economic spillover that leads to a more equal distribution of economic activity.”

China has come to know, what the US has forgotten, that infrastructure is the sine qua non to drive economic growth. 

Africa’s huge infrastructure deficit is the causal factor for widespread poverty, and insecurity across the continent, precisely that which China has begun to address over the last decade. The Western financial system that dominated Africa from 1960-2000 contributed almost nothing to help African nations industrialize and failed to help create vibrant agro-manufacturing sectors. China with its Belt and Road Initiative has presented the world with a new paradigm to guide political-economic relations among nations; Africa is the beneficiary.

Lawrence Freeman is a Political-Economic Analyst for Africa, and Vice Chairman of the International Scientific Advisory Committee to the Lake Chad Basin Commission

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