China’s ‘Scramble For Africa’

No one alive at the close of the 19th century could have missed the “scramble for Africa.” A motley collection of criminal networks and imperialist ideologues perfected the greatest art of ‘economic rape’ in the name of trade.

Europeans built infrastructure in Africa at the turn of the century, purportedly for local economic development, but in essence the projects were used for natural resource extraction. The foundation of exploitation they laid has remained in place after 100 years, despite the enormous effort over the decades to break this chain of despondency.

Kwame Nkrumah couldn’t have described it better when he stated, “Africa is a paradox which illustrates and highlights neo-colonialism. Her earth is rich, yet the products that come from above and below the soil continue to enrich, not Africans predominantly, but groups and individuals who operate to Africa’s impoverishment.”

Today, few appear to have noticed that a second “scramble for Africa” is under way. This time, only one giant country is involved, but its ambitions are every bit as self-serving as the then European powers.

Sino-African Trade

According to UN Trade data, in 1980, the total Sino-African trade volume was US$1 Billion. At the turn of the century, it rose to US$10 Billion.

By 2005, the total Sino-African trade had reached US$39.7 Billion before it jumped to US$55 Billion in 2006, making China the second largest trading partner of Africa after the United States, which had trade worth US$91 Billion with African nations.

The PRC also passed the traditional African economic partner and former colonial power France, which had trade worth US$47 Billion.

During the year 2011, trade between Africa and China increased a staggering 33% from the previous year to US $166 Billion. This included Chinese exports to Africa totaling $93 Billion, consisting largely of manufactured goods.

However, this trade is – and always has been – imbalanced.

China takes raw materials out of Africa, turns them into finished goods in China, and brings those finished goods back to Africa to sell to the masses. This is what they call trade.

This is the same recipe for disaster that Europeans used to enslave and under-develop Africa early on.

Aid and Debt-Trap

China has become not only the largest trading partner in Africa, but also one of the largest lenders.  Across the Continent, China is handing out loans for railroads, stadiums, and roads to countries ignored by the west.

Today, China’s President Xi Jinping has pledged of $60BN in new loans to Africa. While building infrastructure, the Chinese have also invested massively in local mines and processing facilities. Major infrastructure projects like Uganda’s Mandela National Stadium, a $1.7 Billion hydropower dam in Western Uganda, and the highway connecting Entebbe to Kampala have all been built by Chinese companies.

While African leaders praise China’s generosity, these loans are too good to be true.

The truth is that many of these loans are not expected to be profitable for China. When these projects fail to meet the terms of the loan, China will then be able to control and use those projects for their own interests outright.

This tactic, known as debt-trap diplomacy, has been used across the world. Take the well-known example of Sri Lanka:

Post-civil war Sri Lanka went on a borrowing binge to reconstruct dilapidated infrastructure. To successive Sri Lankan governments, China was a benevolent friend, offering cheap, easy and addictive money – an attractive alternative to the strict conditionality of Western financing arrangements. But the country soon ran into economic woes, and when the debt burden became untenable, the Sri Lankan government was forced to relinquish majority control over [Hambantota port] in 2017 in lieu of repayment.

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The port was handed over to Beijing on a 99-year lease, providing China with critical access to Indian Ocean sea lanes.

China is doing the same thing across the continent and it is important to point out that no nation in the world has successfully borrowed itself out of poverty. African countries will not be an exception.

By Gideon Sarpong | WakeUPAfrica360