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The relationship between China and Africa has always been complicated. From the 21st century, China had increasingly built strong economic ties with Africa and today China is Africa’s largest trading partner in the world. This is most likely to continue to increase as in 2017 trade between Africa-China accounted for $170 billion, it’s no wonder Chinese President Xi Jinping visited four Africa countries himself in 2018, these countries included Senegal, South Africa, Rwanda, and Mauritius. What does this all mean for Africa when the Chinese government has loaned African countries $86 billion for over 3,000 projects over a decade. Some of these investments include a highway construction link between the capital city of Senegal, Dakar to Touba, and Ethiopia’s light railway which cost $75 million of which 85% was funded by China.

China and Africa are benefiting financially in the short term, but in the long term, the Chinese may win Africa over, according to figures from China’s General Administration of Customs, trade between China and Africa fell by 14% to $41 billion in the first three months of 2020 compared to the same period in 2019. With factories closed and manufacturing output reduced significantly in February across China due to Covid-19, decreasing Africa-bound exports from China fell by 10.5% and China-bound exports from Africa also slowed down by 17.5%. Contrary to what the West believes, Africans do not see themselves as victims of Chinese economic exploitation. The projects in Africa funded by China makes far great headlines, so the short term agenda for China in Africa is frankly a public relations exercise. Smaller countries in East Africa are heavily being funded by China, promising to bring infrastructure and improve interconnectivity, but the devil is in the detail as these projects are not grants, they are all loans. In addition, these projects are not benefiting the local communities as much as you may assume, for some reasons part of the deals involve Chinese people being flown to building infrastructure for Africa, and I am yet to view a scenario where Africans are being trained by the Chinese to carry out these projects.

Does China really care about Africans? yes but not in the same way it cares about the Chinese. It was disheartening to realise the level of racism the Chinese have towards Black people living in China. I wonder if they are aware of how much they need us as Africans. Videos online emerged showing the recent mistreatment of Africans living in Guangzhou. African migrants were being evicted from their apartments in the middle of the night and forced into quarantine in Guangzhou, the third-largest city in China. To add, hotels, restaurants and even parks are not allowing Africans in, leaving many on the street.

Guangzhou providence is closely linked to Hong Kong and Macau, which has the largest African community in Asia, majority of whom are from West African countries such as Nigeria, Ghana, and Mali. Guangzhou is a hub for the export-driven manufacturing sector, an industry which has always been considered open, tolerant and progressive. However, due to the fear of imported coronavirus cases and a second wave of the pandemic in China, the local government implemented surveillance and mandatory testing and an additional 14-day quarantine for all African nationals in the city, regardless of whether they tested positive for COVID-19 or not.

Like I said China will always care about its people more than they will ever care about us, it’s natural. A recent report shows how Beijing is now using infrastructure to expand its surveillance network in Africa. Some of the findings of the report from the Heritage Foundation shows that over 186 government buildings were either renovated or constructed by Chinese companies, out of which over 40 African countries have had government buildings constructed by China. 35 African governments have been gifted batches of computers from China and 70% of 4G networks in Africa have been developed by Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei. This element of the Huawei’s presence in Africa is a counterintelligence problem for the U.S. in Africa.

It is also possible for China to hold surveillance on the buildings they developed in Africa, collecting damaging or embarrassing information about a country’s senior leadership. That material could be used as leverage to ensure African leaders are held hostage. African countries are yet to develop cutting-edge surveillance technologies, yet there is a dynamic emerging technology industry in Africa. If Africa produces useful technology, Chinese eavesdropping could gain valuable information on it or African governments’ negotiating strategies, competitors’ bids, and other relevant information. Chinese companies have already done this in West Africa, enabling them to dominate the region’s wax-print fabric industry and forcing out indigenous competitors and there have been more reports globally of Chinese hackers stealing information in other parts of the world.

The biggest economic risk for African governments is that they frequently negotiate with the Chinese government, its banks, and its companies making China by far the largest bilateral lender to the continent.

Nevertheless there are obvious reasons that make China a preferred partner for Africa. For Africans, China has four major attractions;

  1. Access to capital and unconditional soft loans
  2. Cheap goods and quick delivery of services
  3. Funding of peacekeeping;
  4. An alternative development mode

For these investments in Africa to succeed, our governments need to be accountable to its people and care about its people the way the Chinese do. Right now any big project in an African city that is higher than three floors or roads that are longer than three kilometres are most likely being engineered and built by the Chinese. So dear African leaders please negotiate the best deals for us so that one, we can actually pay back our loans and two, China doesn’t end up recolonising us.

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