“Nowadays, the Chinese communities are in every African country: The plan is to take some of its population and put them in Africa, while Africans just look on and African leaders hold fruitless meetings” [Former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi]
January 2012 marked the opening of the African Union (AU) Headquarters in Addis Abeba, a 20-storey tower dominating the capital city of Ethiopia. The imposing tower cost $200 million and the project was funded by China as a gift to the AU -“China’s gift to Africa”. The new African Union headquarters are thus one of the landmarks of the long-term partnership between China and Africa.
China Investment: Mining and Raw material
During the past decade, there has been an impressive increase in Chinese investment in the African region and it is now clear that the Chinese are more than ever determined in their mission to expand their trade across the whole continent. Apart from the mining sector, there has been massive investment in public infrastructure projects carried out by Chinese companies.
China has made huge investment in different sectors in Africa and according to the Chinese Ministry of Commerce; some 1,600 Chinese companies are presently operating in Africa. China’s ever growing economy has necessitated securing raw materials from Africa and in 2011 some $93 billion worth of minerals were shipped to China from the African continent. With an average annual economic growth of 10% China desperately needs a stable supply of raw materials to get its factories running and flourishing. The five biggest African exporters to China are South Africa, Angola, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Congo-Brazzaville which total about 80% of China’s mineral imports. China is presently buying more than one-third of its oil demand from African countries (mainly from Angola) and also importing raw materials such as copper, iron ore, coal and timber from the African continent.
China Export to Africa
To counterbalance the import of raw materials from Africa, China has constantly increased its export of cheap Chinese consumer goods to the African continent. China’s main exports to Africa consist of textiles products, foodstuff, electronic and chemical products. Such products have enjoyed a good popularity among Africans mainly due to their competitive prices and Chinese goods are to be found in all the markets and streets of Africa. China has thus become Africa’s biggest trading partner.
China’s Assistance to develop Africa’s infrastructure
It is an undeniable fact that the Chinese boom has brought lots of benefits to Africa. Beijing has shown its willingness to fund massive infrastructural projects without any attached conditions relating to Africa’s internal governance system unlike the « strings » which the West normally attaches to their aid programme. The Chinese strategic partnership is based on a mutual trust and political equality which brings economic win-win collaboration. China has thus made a good reputation for not getting involved in the internal African politics and assisting countries without any attached conditions.
Africa has always been known for its inadequate public infrastructure that has hindered its economic development and a lack of financial resources and technical expertise has prevented them to improve its existing infrastructure. The cooperation of China-Africa in infrastructural development has thus grown rapidly as China is providing the necessary assistance to Africa government to address its infrastructure challenges. There are more than 250 Chinese companies which operate on the African continent in the construction and public infrastructure sector. China’s assistance covers nearly all the 53 countries and in areas such as public utilities, transportation, housing, public health and energy sector.
China also gives grants and interest-free loans to African countries. These forms of assistance are provided primarily for the realization of large and medium-sized infrastructure projects, which focus on Africa’s development and improvement of people’s livelihood. These cover building of roads, airports, schools, hospitals, power station and water reservoir.
Criticism of the China-Africa trading relationship
There has been lots of criticism from both Africa itself and from the Western countries about the aggressive Chinese business expansion strategy in the African region. The Western nations have always been unhappy with China’s poor human rights situation and now with the extension of Chinese companies operating in the region, they find their share of the African market drastically reduced.
Some Africans are not comfortable about their country’s economic relation with China as they think that China is extracting and taking large quantities of the continent’s natural mineral resources. Chinese investors have often been accused of making secret deals with the governments especially those relating to acquiring mining licenses. These deals are known for their lack of transparency and accountability. Such a situation reminds them of the colonial periods and there is a threat of a growing Chinese imperialist presence in Africa where China is seen to take control of the exploitation of most of the African natural resources.
In many of the countries where there has been huge Chinese investment, there is still persistent unemployment and poverty which make Africans wonder what   benefits of such investment deals with the Chinese are. There have been many cases of reported illegal Chinese immigrant labour in the African countries especially in the construction sector. Even where they employ local workers there have often been instances of labour abuse, lack of safety & health measures and inappropriate working conditions.
The dumping of low quality and sub-standard products by China has also created a bad image of the country. The counterfeit products have become a key concern to Africans as there has been reported cases of counterfeit medicines, such as anti-malaria drugs will have cost lives on the continent.
Recently there have been some cases of poaching by Chinese companies which involved killing of protected elephants for ivory. Such illegal ivory trade has drastically reduced the elephant population in the central Africa region. There has also been an increase in illegal rhino poaching across Africa by Chinese companies.
Despite the criticism about the Chinese investment, all indicators show that the trade and investment will continue to increase. In addition, China is now planning to set up even more manufacturing units on the continent so as to be nearer to their products market. There is also a tendency of using Chinese currency to clear import/export transaction and in this regard a country like Kenya is intending to host a clearinghouse for the Chinese currency. No doubt, with such a trend in the China-Africa relationship, many Africans are now opting to learn Chinese language as their second language.