The rush to Africa

Attia Essawi
Friday 14 Sep 2018

Global and regional powers are increasingly looking to Africa to source development and investment projects on which they hope to reap significant profits

Everyone is in the scramble for Africa’s abundant natural resources. In addition to copious amounts of oil, gold and precious metals, there is the vast consumer market of 1.2 billion people, which is expected to reach a quarter of the number of consumers in the world by 2050 while continental GDP is expected to double by 2030.

However, every country has its approach to Africa through their packages of aid and offers of support. China, this year, has retained the title, for the ninth year running, of Africa’s number one trading partner.

The large volume of China-Africa trade, which currently stands at $170 billion, is the fruit of China’s flexible trade policies, the affordability of its products in African markets, and its ability to win infrastructure development contracts that will reap some $440 billion for Chinese firms by 2025.

Such success has lured British Prime Minister Theresa May and German Chancellor Angela Merkel into undertaking African tours in the same week.

This came soon after similar trips by French President Emmanuel Macron, former US secretary of state Rex Tillerson and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

Before this, in March, Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman undertook a four-day tour. On his return, he said, “Africa has huge potential… If Israel doesn’t seize the opportunity to deepen cooperation, then others, in particular the Iranians, will do so in our place.”

In the last China-Africa summit, Beijing pledged $60 billion in aid and loans to African nations over the next three years. Of this, $15 billion will come in the form of non-repayable aid and no-interest loans.

China’s focus is on fundamental sectors such as industry, infrastructure development, trade facilitations and the development of environmentally friendly economies.

It has already given around $125 billion in facilitated loans to African nations between 2000 and 2016, and it used this to finance and carry out numerous infrastructural projects such as roads, bridges, ports, railroads and dams. Beijing has $40 billion in African investments.

These are expected to yield 30,000 kilometres of roadworks, port capacity of 85 million tons a year, 20,000 megawatts of electricity, nine million tons a day of clean water and 900,000 job openings in countries that are desperately short of the roads, ports and electricity needed for development and for the longed-for united African market.

This is a region, moreover, in which 75 per cent of the populace lives without electricity, more than 50 per cent lacks access to potable water, and the majority of the people — in some places as high as 90 per cent of the population — is unemployed.

The difference between China and Western countries is that the former’s assistance comes without attached strings calling for democratisation, respect for human rights, uprooting corruption and conflict resolutions.

In addition, Chinese experts and laypersons work on African development projects side-by-side with Africans. The American and Europeans, by contrast, issue orders from air-conditioned offices and take home huge salaries that are deducted from aid packages.

Theresa May, who visited South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya, pledged over $5 billion in aid to Africa on top of $54 billion worth of investments.

She also promised an essential shift in the focus of spending from short range poverty relief to long range security and economic challenges.

While in Nigeria, she signed a defence and security agreement with Abuja to fight Boko Haram and pledged $16 billion for the schooling of 100,000 students whose education had been interrupted by warfare.

She signed a similar agreement with Kenya to fight the Somali Shabaab Movement, as well as another agreement to help repatriate assets and moneys acquired and smuggled out of the country through corrupt deals and business practices.

Merkel called on Senegal, Ghana and Nigeria where she offered Berlin’s support for economic reforms and combatting illegal migration.

She simultaneously promised to increase the opportunities for legitimate immigration to Germany and to increase openings for Nigerian students in German schools and universities.

As for the US which, in 2016, had $57 billion in investments in Africa and a trade volume of only $53 billion, “Africa is the future,” to quote former secretary of state Rex Tillerson.

While in Africa, Tillerson said that his country’s strategy for Africa was based on fighting terrorism, achieving development and promoting sound governance. He pledged to support Nigeria, Ghana, Chad, Ethiopia and Kenya in the fight against extremists and terrorists.

Macron, for his part, pledged another $5 billion Euros a year to Africa in aid, bringing the total up to $49 million. Most of this is invested in France’s former colonies.

Japan is another competitor for the African pie. In 2016, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledged a $30 billion aid package to Africa over three years.

The Russian case is interesting in that it had to abandon its projects in Africa and suspend its aid programmes there in the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Today, it is staging a return to Africa, looking for new partners and trying to rebuild ties with old ones.

This summer, President Vladimir Putin visited Algeria, South Africa and Morocco while Vice President Medvedev called in on Angola, Namibia and Nigeria, offering trade cooperation projects.

Moscow also sent arms and trainers to the army of the Central African Republic and arms to Cameroon, and it signed military agreements with DR Congo, Burkina Faso, Uganda and Angola. It is working with Sudan in the field of nuclear energy and with Zimbabwe and Guinea in the mining industries.

However, the levels of Russian aid and assistance to Africa are still relatively low.

India, with a volume of bilateral trade with Africa of $72 billion, recently announced that it would open 18 new embassies in order to bolster its presence in the continent.

In addition, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi pledged to boost his country’s investments in Africa, which totalled $14 billion in 2016, and to keep Indian markets open to Africans.

Turkey has $6 billion invested in Africa, while the Turkish-African volume of trade stood at another $6 billion in 2016.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 13 September 2018 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: The rush to Africa 

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