This document is a copy of the original which has been published by the Spanish Institute for Strategic Studies in the following link .
In the last decade, China has become sub-Saharan Africa's most important economic partner. In the areas of trade, investment, infrastructure financing and development aid, no other country has such a wide-ranging commitment to the region. But Sub-Saharan Africa is not a homogenous reality; it is a region made up of some fifty states, each with its own unique idiosyncrasies, different forms of political and economic organisation, particular geographic and demographic circumstances, varying types of natural resources and unequal levels of development. In which sub-Saharan African countries is China's presence most evident? Which states are attracting the most investment and interest from the Asian giant? And what is the Asian giant actually doing in these countries?
China and sub-Saharan Africa are a satisfying match, a marriage of convenience between a powerful heir to the global throne and a noble maiden that comes with a generous dowry; a planned relationship but one where this has not been an obstacle to love. And like any marriage that works, it has its sweet moments and its moments of friction and discord.
China considers itself the world's largest developing country and sub-Saharan Africa is the region with the largest number of developing countries. Shared interests and in some cases similar goals have brought China and sub-Saharan Africa closer together over the past twenty years. Chinese diplomacy tends to classify the world into two groups: the "Western countries" and the rest. The former are perceived as critical of China and are therefore not Beijing's natural partners. The rest are mainly developing and emerging countries and are considered as the network of friends.1 In the last decade, China has become the region's most important economic partner. In the areas of trade, investment, infrastructure financing and development aid, no other country has such an extensive commitment to Africa.
Denis Sassou Nguesso, President of the Republic of the Congo, was speaking at the 2018 Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) in Beijing when he said, "We believe we are on the right track; not only the Congo but the whole of Africa. Throughout history, the Chinese and African peoples have experienced very similar situations and today they have chosen to walk together for development and economic and social well-being"2.
The main mechanism for cooperation between the two territories is the Forum on China- Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), founded in 2000. It is a structure for dialogue and cooperation at various levels, including ministerial conferences, meetings of senior officials and business conferences. FOCAC currently has 55 members: China, the 53 African countries that maintain diplomatic relations with China - all but Swatini - and the African Union (AU) Commission.
The importance of Africa for the current Chinese executive was evident when in March 2013 Xi Jinping chose Africa for his first official visit abroad after taking office as head of state. It was the first time a Chinese president had chosen China as the destination for his first official visit.
However, the rivalry between the major powers to project their influence in Africa, which has become an important variable in the continent's political and economic dynamics, has intensified over the past two decades as a result of increased Chinese trade and investment. There is growing interest in investing in Africa from other global players such as Japan and India, which are interested in the continent's untapped natural resources, and Gulf countries such as the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, which have stepped up their investments, especially in the area of new port construction.3
In 1950, the volume of bilateral trade between China and Africa was just $12 million. This figure rose to $100 million in 1960 and exceeded $1 billion in 1980. Since reaching $10 billion in 2000, it has maintained this momentum of rapid growth. In 2008, it exceeded $100 billion, of which $50.8 billion was accounted for by China's exports to Africa and $56 billion by imports from Africa. Despite the volume of trade between China and Africa falling to $91.07 billion in 2009 due to the international financial crisis, that year, for the first time, the Asian giant became Africa's largest trading partner4. Although the European Union (EU) as a whole is Africa's largest trading partner in terms of exports, if we break it down by country the leading export destination is China.5
The share of Africa's trade with China in the continent's total foreign trade has risen steadily and by 2020 the figure exceeded 21%.6 The Chinese government estimates that trade will reach $300 billion by 2035.7
Despite Chinese discourse in favour of a structural transformation of the pattern of China- Africa trade, the pattern is still essentially one where raw materials are exported from Africa to China, and processed goods such as electronics and transport equipment are imported from China.8
The Zambia-China Economic and Trade Cooperation Zone was the first established by China outside its borders. There are currently a total of 25 Chinese economic and trade cooperation zones established in 16 African countries.9 Meanwhile, the free trade agreement between China and Mauritius, which entered into force on 1 January 2021, was the first - and so far the only one - between China and an African country.
In terms of investment and financing, China began investing in Africa in the 1980s, starting out on a small scale. In the 1990s it increased investment, broadening fields and diversifying approaches. Since 2000, investment has grown rapidly and by 2010 it had reached $9.93 billion.10
China supports companies that choose to invest in Africa by providing financing support. Investment covers a wide range of fields, including mining, mineral processing and smelting, equipment manufacturing, agriculture, household appliance production, aviation services, medicine and the digital economy. In 2014, the People's Bank of China and the African Development Bank established a $2 billion co-financing fund known as the Africa Aggregate Growth Trust Fund (AGTF). By the end of October 2021, the AGTF had committed $1.14 billion to 36 projects in 19 countries. Furthermore, at the 2015 Johannesburg FOCAC Summit, President Xi announced that China would inject additional capital into the China-Africa Development Fund (CADFund) that had been established in 2006, increasing its value to up to $10 billion. By 2021, the CADFund had invested more than $5.5 billion in 37 countries and had promoted $26 billion of investment and financing of Chinese companies in Africa. China has established more than 3,500 companies on the continent, making these private companies a major investment force. According to the Chinese government, more than 80% of the employees of these companies are local, and they have created millions of jobs.11
In terms of infrastructure, China's foray into Africa began in the 1970s with the construction of the Tanzania-Zambia railway. The project became a symbol of the Asian giant's contribution to African economic development. By 2010, forty years later, China had provided assistance for the construction of more than 500 infrastructure projects in Africa.12
In 2020, the contract value of China's new infrastructure construction projects on the continent amounted to $67.9 billion, up 21.4% on the previous year, according to the China-Africa Economic and Trade Relations Annual Report 2021.13 Projects implemented by Chinese companies accounted for 31.4% of all projects on the African continent in 2020. Although in 2021 this percentage dropped to 27.1%, the Asian giant continues to lead in infrastructure construction.14
Chinese financing for infrastructure projects has mainly been through two banks: the China Ex Im Bank and the China Development Bank. The former provided 67% and the latter 13% of Chinese loans to African countries between 2000 and 2015.15
Over the past two decades, Chinese companies have used various funds to build and upgrade more than 10,000 km of railways, almost 100,000 km of roads, almost 1,000 bridges and 100 ports, and 66,000 km of power transmission and distribution.16 In recent years, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has led to an increase in the number of projects to improve and increase connectivity between China and Africa.
BRI's projects are mainly related to infrastructure development in the sectors of transport, energy, mining, information and communications technology, but also include industrial parks, special economic zones, tourism and urban development. Many of the projects under the BRI brand were already underway before 2013 but gained new momentum with
However, some African countries are suspending or reviewing contracts with Chinese companies. To this effect, in July 2020 the High Court of Kenya ordered the annulment of a $3.2 billion contract between Kenya and China for the construction of the Standard Gauge Railway, stating that the project was illegal because it did not comply with the country's procurement laws. For its part, Ghana scrapped a $236 million contract with Beijing Everyway Traffic and Lighting Tech in 2020 to develop a smart traffic management system. The Ghanaian Executive considered the work of Everyway Traffic and Lightening Tech to be unsatisfactory and cancelled the project outright.18
The president of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Felix Tshisekedi, has called for a review of mining contracts signed with China in 2008. Tshisekedi said that he wants fairer deals and that those with whom his country had signed contracts "are getting richer while the people of the DRC remain poor". In Sierra Leone, the $400 million Chinese-funded airport on the outskirts of the capital, Freetown, would have been completed by 2022 had the government not scrapped the project. The mega-project was commissioned by Sierra Leone's former president, Ernest BaiKoroma, but the country's current president, Julius Maada Bio, deemed the project unfeasible. Instead, he proposed the renovation of the existing international airport. 19
A report by the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies argues that African countries are suspending many of the Chinese-led projects because they cannot repay their loans. According to the Singapore Post, there is a common denominator behind these suspensions: corruption. It is alleged that many of the contracts were signed by bribing local authorities. In addition, there was no objective evaluation of the projects prior to their implementation. Beijing would have been more interested in disbursing loans than in analysing the economic consequences and usefulness of the project for the recipient country.20 This has prompted analysts to warn of debt traps, and some even go as far as to describe what China is doing as a new form of colonialism.21 This analogy would consist of the Chinese authorities offering loans and infrastructure in exchange for oil, minerals and agricultural land to sustain the Asian giant's growth. As an extension of this approach, it is argued that China's financial injections into African countries respond to a logic of trapping them in a spiral of debt to end up dominating them
Research published in 2021 by Georgetown University professor Anna Gelpern analysed the structure of Chinese lending to African and other developing countries. According to the author, Beijing is a "skilful" moneylender. Chinese contracts contain more elaborate repayment guarantees than those of other players in the official credit market. In addition, they contain clauses guaranteeing Chinese lenders advantages over other potential creditors, for example it is agreed that the specific debt incurred cannot be subject to collective restructuring. Chinese contracts also contain confidentiality clauses that prevent borrowers from disclosing the conditions or even the existence of the debt itself. Or they contain clauses that potentially allow debtors' political decisions to be influenced or their income accounts to be controlled.23
Africa's top five creditors since 2015 are bondholders (accounting for 27% of the continent's external debt at the end of 2019), China (13%), the World Bank (12%), the African Development Bank (7%) and other multilateral lenders (7%). Africa's top five bilateral creditors are China (13 per cent), the United States (4 per cent), France (2.9 per cent), Saudi Arabia (2.5 per cent) and the United Kingdom (2.4 per cent). Other major creditors are Germany (2%), Japan (1.7%), Kuwait (1.6%), the United Arab Emirates (1.5%), India (0.7%) and Italy (0.6%).24
However, in 2020, Chinese lending to African governments fell 78% from the previous year to $1.9 billion, the lowest level since 2004, according to a report by Boston University's Center for Global Development Policy. The first explanation is that the impact of Covid-19 would have discouraged countries on the continent from borrowing. "The effects of Covid-19 on African economies and a global decline in China's lending capacity may explain such a drastic drop in Chinese lending to Africa in 2020," the analysts explain.25 With the outbreak of the pandemic, many of the lending programmes have had to be redefined and the Chinese authorities have had to devote resources to urgent debt renegotiation operations for African countries.
Another criticism of China's omnipresence on the continent is the suspicion that the Asian giant is using the infrastructure it is helping to build to carry out espionage. To this effect, in 2018, the AU accused China of infiltrating the computer network of its headquarters in Addis Ababa to steal confidential data. This action would have been possible because it was China itself that built the headquarters. According to Heritage Foundation research, in recent years China has built or renovated nearly 200 government buildings, given away batches of computers to African governments and built "secure" telecommunications networks that provide Beijing with the opportunity to exercise unprecedented surveillance on the continent. The report argues that China's construction projects are a Trojan horse for spying on African governments.26
However, there is evidence to suggest that Chinese investment in Africa is a more market- oriented phenomenon than is often interpreted. Thus, according to a report published by McKinsey, around 90% of Chinese companies operating on the mainland are privately owned, which could call into question the notion of a monolithic, state-coordinated investment drive. While state-owned companies tend to be larger, especially in sectors such as energy and infrastructure, there are a very large number of private Chinese companies that would work solely for their own profits without regard for the government's
Whatever the case may be, it is difficult to separate China's commercial intentions in Africa from its strategic ones because the two often overlap. The internationalisation of Chinese construction and IT companies, and the construction of infrastructure to better extract and export African resources, are key concerns for Beijing. Thus, while the infrastructure being built on the ground may not necessarily be orchestrated by the executive, it ultimately serves China's broader geo-economic interests. 28
China's presence in Africa has at times been viewed with concern by Western countries, which have had their hegemony on the continent displaced in favour of the Asian giant.29 The pre-eminent positions of Europe and the United States feel under threat in terms of defining the continent's public policies. Other positions are that growing Chinese presence is an opportunity to break the West's quasi-monopoly of ideas, strategies and investments on the continent. From this point of view, the Chinese development model is seen as an alternative to the dominance of the neoliberal strategies of the last three or four decades, which have contributed so little in terms of poverty reduction and structural transformation.30
The BRI project has pushed the US to implement its own strategy to strengthen the status of US companies in the region. To this effect, the United States has intensified its presence in Africa through the International Development Finance Corporation (IDFC) which, with an initial endowment of $60 billion, is financing infrastructure projects that favour the presence and investment of North American companies on the African continent.31
For its part, the EU is working on a $22.7 billion funding package to support African transport networks, as well as energy, digital, education and health projects to counter China's penetration of the continent.32
But Sub-Saharan Africa is not a homogenous reality; it is a region made up of some fifty states, each with its own unique idiosyncrasies, different forms of political and economic organisation, particular geographic and demographic circumstances, varying types of natural resources and unequal levels of development. In which sub-Saharan African countries is China's presence most evident? Which states are attracting the most investment and interest from the Asian giant? And what is China doing in these countries in particular? Using the cumulative investment received by China during the period for which data is available33, 2003 to 2020, as a criterion for selecting countries, the twenty Sub-Saharan African countries that have received the most investment from Beijing are:
Of the top ten positions, eight are occupied by the most populous sub-Saharan African countries. In order to avoid inferring that the only factor to be considered by China when it comes to investment is the gross demographic figure, "investment per capita" can be calculated as a complementary criterion. To this effect, we discover that for Chinese investment interests, Equatorial Guinea, Djibouti, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Seychelles and Mauritius are also relevant countries.
The ten countries that have received the most accumulated Chinese investment were selected, and are shown below, to examine what the Asian giant is doing in these countries.
South Africa has a special significance because it is regarded by the international community as the leading country of an entire continent. It is more politically and economically stable than many of its neighbours and to this effect can be perceived as an authority among them.
China is South Africa's main trading partner, and almost a third of China's trade with the continent originates in or is destined for South Africa.34 South Africa is also the African country that has received the most investment from the Asian giant. Chinese investment in South Africa grew exponentially during the first decade of the 21st century, from $50 million to $5 billion. However, these investments are not of the same nature as those made in other African countries, where China is developing mega-infrastructure projects. Here, investment is mainly concentrated in sectors such as renewable energy, finance, automotive production and mining.35
South Africa, along with the Democratic Republic of the Congo, is the main source of Beijing's mineral imports, as well as the location of the largest number of Chinese- invested mines. In 2018, 68.74% of South Africa's mineral resources went to China.36 China's main investment in mining came with the purchase of a 45% stake in the South African Wesizwe Group by the China Africa Jinchuan Investment Consortium. Subsequently, the China Development Bank made a $650 million loan for the development of the Wesizwe Platinum mine in Bakubung. In the financial sphere, projects like the $5.046 billion investment in the Standard Bank of South Africa by the Commercial and Industrial Bank of China in 2007 show the penetration of Chinese money into South African finance. Three years later, in 2010, the China Development Bank entered the telecommunications market with a $3 billion loan to Cell C, a mobile operator.37
The most striking area of Chinese investment in South Africa is renewable energy. South Africa was the first state on the African continent to initiate a renewable energy generation scheme and in 2012 it entered the top ten list of countries that had invested the most in renewable energy. Chinese companies have since been attracted to South Africa to cash in on the booming industry. In 2014, Jinko Solar, a Chinese company incorporated in the Cayman Islands and listed on the New York Stock Exchange, opened a $7.4 million PV factory in Cape Town. The factory is the most modern and largest of its kind in Africa with a production capacity of 1,300 solar panels per day.38 In the same field of renewables, the South African company Mulilo Renewable Energy has partnered with several Chinese companies to build wind farms throughout the country.39
The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has the world's largest cobalt reserves. The grey metal usually extracted from copper deposits has historically been of secondary interest to miners, but demand has soared worldwide because it is used in the manufacture of electric car batteries. DRC has more than two-thirds of the world's cobalt production and Beijing controls the largest cobalt deposits in the country. To this effect, Chinese companies own or have invested in local companies that own 12 of the mines with cobalt reserves. China's first major bid for cobalt in the country came in 2007, when a consortium of Chinese companies, led by the state-owned China Railway Group and financed by China Ex Im Bank, won the rights to operate the Sicomine copper and cobalt mine in Katanga.40 In 2020, China Molybdenum bought the Kisanfu copper mine from the US mining company Freeport. The Asian company is currently working to extract the millions of tonnes of cobalt that lie untapped underground.41
As mentioned previously, in September 2021, Felix Tshisekedi, president of the DRC, called for a review of the mining contracts signed with China in 2008 by his predecessor in the presidency, arguing that he wanted fairer deals. In 2008, former president Joseph Kabila, who was in power from 2001 to 2019, negotiated a controversial $9 billion minerals-for-infrastructure contract with China.42 This contract included Chinese investment in the construction of infrastructure, such as roads and railways, and the rehabilitation of the mining sector. In return, DRC would cede most of the copper and cobalt mining rights to a Sino-Congolese joint venture.43
In terms of infrastructure, the Busanga hydroelectric plant is the largest project under construction in DRC. The works began in 2017 with an investment of $656 million. It is a hydroelectric power plant jointly operated by China Railway and Power China. When the project becomes operational, it will greatly alleviate the current power shortage situation in DRC, especially in the province of Lualaba, one of the country's main mining areas. 44
As noted above, China's entry into the region was triggered by the construction of the Tanzania-Zambia railway in the 1970s. However, the bulk of Chinese investment came to Zambia in the 1990s, when the country's copper mines were privatised. Chinese companies were attracted by the low supply price, a consequence of the depressed value of copper, and pushed by Beijing's "going out" policy, which induced companies to seek profits abroad. Within this context, it is Zambia's copper reserves that have at least partly motivated Beijing's huge wave of investment and loans to the African country.45
In July 2009, Zambia signed an agreement with the Zhonghui Mining Group, which committed to investing $3.5 billion in mining projects across the country. The Luanshya copper mine was acquired in 2009 by China Nonferrous Metal Mining for $50 million. In the same year, another Chinese company acquired the Albidon nickel mine in Mazabuka from its Australian owners. Nonferrous Metal Mining and another smaller Chinese copper company have invested $220 million in the construction of a 150,000-tonne copper smelting plant. Another Chinese company, CBMI Construction, was contracted by France's Lafarge to build a $120 million expansion of its cement plant in Lusaka. The new plant produces 2,000 tonnes per day. In addition, China financed a $900 million Multi- Facility Economic Zone (MFEZ) in Chambishi, Copperbelt Province. The Chambishi copper smelter, commissioned in October 2009 at this MFEZ, has a capacity of 150,000 tonnes of concentrates per year.46
The Asian giant's investment drive in Zambia has been accompanied by a wave of Chinese immigration into the country. Chinese nationals seeking economic opportunities in a less competitive environment began to arrive in the early 1990s. At least 100,000 Chinese now live in Zambia, and they generally do very well in the Zambian economy, which is less saturated than in their home country.47
In August 2021, Zambia opened the second terminal at Kenneth Kaunda International Airport, doubling the number of passengers from two to four million a year. The project was financed by China Ex Im Bank and was designed and built by the China Jiangxi International Economic and Technical Cooperation.48
China's investment and cooperation with Nigeria started modestly with a number of projects in the telecommunications and energy sectors. To this effect, in 2002, the Asian and sub-Saharan giants reached an agreement on the first phase of the National Rural Telephony Project. Consequently, the two major Chinese telecommunications companies, ZTE and Huawei, began working on projects to supply equipment and deploy telephone networks throughout the country for fixed and wireless services.49
Subsequently, there was a substantial increase in investment, with the agreement between the Nigerian and Chinese governments to build major infrastructure, including the Mambilla hydroelectric power plant and two major projects to upgrade and modernise the country's railway system.
The Mambilla project consists in a hydroelectric facility being built on the Dongo River near Baruf in Taraba State. The project is currently being developed by the Nigerian government with the help of Chinese investment. Mambilla is expected to start operating in 2030, and will be the largest power plant in Nigeria, producing approximately 4.7 billion kWh of electricity per year.50
In addition to Mambilla, China has funded the construction of other smaller power plants such as Papalanto, Omotosho and Geregu in Ogun, Ondo and Kogi States respectively. The Chinese investment was backed by oil, so in return the state-owned China National Petroleum Corporation secured an agreement to buy 30,000 barrels of crude oil per day from the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation. In the area of transport infrastructure, China has implemented projects such as the rehabilitation of 1,315 kilometres of railway line between Lagos and Kano; the construction of the Abuja mass transit system for rail, which involves a high-speed rail link between Lagos and Abuja; and a light rail system connecting Murtala Mohammed International Airport and Nmandi Azikwe International Airport to the city centres of Lagos and Abuja.51
Chinese companies also have oil exploitation contracts in the Chad Basin and offshore in the Akpo oil field, and they have acquired a 51% stake in the Kaduna oil refinery.52
In January 2022, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta met with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Mombasa. Kenyatta said that cooperation between Kenya and China had led to the creation of a large number of jobs, improved the lives of the people and brought significant benefits to them. He added that Kenya's development achievements would not have been possible without China's support.53
The most iconic project of Chinese investment and cooperation in the African country is the standard gauge railway line linking the port city of Mombasa to the capital Nairobi. The construction of the Mombasa-Nairobi line, which replaces the broad-gauge railway built more than 100 years ago during British colonial rule, came about in the context of China's proposed Belt and Road Initiative.
The seaport of Lamu in Kenya, built by a Chinese company, facilitates the smooth flow of goods in the Horn of Africa region. This ultra-modern port is part of the transport corridor between the port of Lamu and South Sudan and Ethiopia, and is ready for major shipping operations.54
In 2008, Kenya awarded a contract to Sinohydro Corporation for the construction of the Sangoro hydropower plant in the western region.55 Furthermore, in 2019, a 50 MW solar power park located in Garissa, in the north-eastern region, was inaugurated. It is one of the largest photovoltaic power plants in Africa. The project was designed and built by China Jiangxi Corporation for International Economic and Technical Cooperation, together with the Rural Energy Authority of Kenya.56
The first Chinese investment deals in Ethiopia date back to 2002 with the $224 million Tekeze dam project in Tigray State. Subsequently, in 2003, this African country, with Chinese assistance, launched a series of projects focusing on the road sector, the most important of which was the rehabilitation of the Addis Ababa ring road. However, the main thrust of Chinese funding in Ethiopia has focused on the ICT sector, which has absorbed most of the investment. In 2006, funding was agreed for the $1.5 billion Ethiopia Millennium Project, led by Chinese telecommunications operator ZTE. The project consisted in the creation of a nationwide fibre optic transmission backbone network and the extension of the Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) network with some 8.5 million new connections.57 In the same field, in December 2019 China launched a remote sensing microsatellite for Ethiopia, the first satellite in the African country, to help the nation's climate change research.58
With financial cooperation from China, the Ethiopian government is promoting the construction of special economic zones where domestic and foreign companies can use local labour to manufacture and export products. This project includes the construction of industrial parks. The first of these was built by the China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation in the city of Adama, a key commercial hub in central Ethiopia. It cost $146 million and was inaugurated by Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in October 2018. The two countries are currently cooperating on the construction of a second industrial park also in Adama. The project is budgeted at $300 million. Eighty-five percent of the financing needed to build the industrial park will be covered by concessional loans from the Chinese government, while the remaining 15% will come from the Ethiopian government.59 Two other industrial parks are also under construction: one in Arerti, 140 km east of the Ethiopian capital, and the other in Mekelle, capital of Tigray regional state, 783 km north of Addis Ababa. 60 Ethiopia is thus the leading example of the development of the industrial park model in Africa. Ten of the 45 industrial parks promoted by Beijing on the mainland are in Beijing. Chinese companies locate themselves in these parks, attracted by the favourable policies and regulations they enjoy, as well as low labour and resource costs.61
In the field of transport infrastructure, and likewise with Chinese collaboration, the Addis Ababa-Adamahighway was inaugurated in 2014, and Africa's first modern electrified railway, the Addis Ababa-Djibouti railway, came into operation in 2016. The total length of the railway is 752 kilometres, with a speed of 120 kilometres per hour. It was built by China Railway Group and China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation with a total investment of $4 billion. The aim of this project is not only to promote the mobility of people, but above all to facilitate the traffic of goods between the main economic centres of the country and the port of Djibouti, Ethiopia's natural outlet to the sea. The 220 km long Mekelle-Woldiya electrified railway line is also under construction.62
China's involvement in infrastructure financing in Angola began in 2002, after the end of the civil war, with a series of small projects including support for the rehabilitation of railway and power transmission infrastructure and the installation of a new fibre optic link.63 The commitment was substantially expanded in 2004, when a major credit line was agreed with the China Ex-Im Bank to enable the Angolan government to repair infrastructure and other sectors damaged during the 27 years of internal conflict. This $2 billion loan was backed by 10,000 barrels of oil exports per day. In fact, this type of natural resource-backed financing arrangement has come to be known as the "Angola model". In 2007, the China Ex-Im Bank issued another new $2 billion loan dedicated to the country's infrastructure needs.64
The main infrastructure financed by China has been the reconstruction of the Benguela railway, led by China Railway Bureau Group Corporation. The 1,344 kilometres of this road run from the coast to the interior of Angola, passing through the country's main cities. The works, which began in 2006, were completed in 2014.65
In oil, Angola is the second largest oil producer in sub-Saharan Africa after Nigeria. In 2003, Sinopec (China Petroleum) acquired the exploitation of significant Angolan oil reserves, and in 2006, in partnership with Sonangol (Sociedade Nacional de Combustíveis de Angola) started up a refinery in Lobito and began exploration of three offshore oil fields.66 Angola is China's second largest trading partner in Africa, after South Africa, thanks to oil exports. In addition, the African country has abundant natural gas resources and is the world's fifth largest diamond producer.67 For its part, China is Angola's largest trading partner, its largest oil export market and its main source of financing. 68
Zimbabwe has been suffering from a severe economic crisis since the early 2000s. The African country has few friends, but the Asian giant is one of the few. In 2020, Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa met with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi to mark the 40th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries. During the occasion, Mnangagqa noted that Zimbabwe and China enjoy a deep friendship and that his country considers China a sincere and reliable friend. He stressed that despite the interference of and sanctions by Western countries still in place, China has always been a strong supporter of Zimbabwe. He expressed his appreciation for China's assistance in the country's economic and social development, and expressed the hope that China would continue to help Zimbabwe accelerate its economic reforms.69 Since 2002 Zimbabwe has been under US and European sanctions imposed in connection with Mugabe's crackdown on opponents of the regime. Despite the change in the presidency, and despite his promises of openness, the country's current leader, Mnangagwa, is still accused, like his predecessor, of repressing dissent.
In 2013, work began on the renovation and expansion of Victoria Falls International Airport, built with Chinese support and opened in 2016. The project was implemented by China Jiangsu International and financed with $150 million by the China Ex Im Bank.70
In 2015, a Chinese state-owned company signed a $1.2 billion deal to expand the Hwange Thermal Power Station, the country's largest thermal power plant. It was the largest infrastructure project in Zimbabwe's recent history and was sealed by Chinese President Xi Jinping himself during his visit to the country's capital, Harare. In the same year, 2015, Zimbabwe also awarded three solar power contracts to Chinese companies.71
In June 2018, Zimbabwe and China signed a $1 billion agreement for the establishment of a steel plant to produce up to 2 million tonnes of steel per year. The agreement includes the creation of a 600-megawatt thermal power plant to supply energy to the steel plant, which is located in Midland Province.72
China has also worked with the Zimbabwean government to build a special economic zone and an industrial park. 73 In addition, Chinese companies operate major coal and chrome mines and deposits.
Last, the new Zimbabwean parliament building was built by the Chinese construction company Shanghai Construction. Construction of this institutional building began in November 2018 and is the largest Chinese-funded building in a southern African country. The works are scheduled for completion in 2022. The new parliament is part of a larger infrastructure project, which includes the construction of a new city on the outskirts of the capital.74
Ghana was one of the first countries in sub-Saharan Africa to achieve political independence, in 1957, and consequently also one of the first on the continent to establish diplomatic relations with China, more than 60 years ago. The main Ghanaian infrastructure financed by Chinese capital is the Bui dam in the Brong-Ahafo region. In 2008, the Chinese company Sinohydro signed an agreement with the Ghanaian government for the construction of the dam, worth around $600 million. Construction work began in 2009 and the first generator was commissioned in 2013.75
In addition to hydroelectric projects, Chinese companies are working on other energy infrastructures. Habour Engineering Company is currently leading the construction of Ghana's liquefied natural gas import terminal project, with the aim of significantly boosting the country's natural gas supply. According to statements by the Chinese company, the project will provide the country with an annual capacity of around two million metric tons of natural gas.76
In addition to infrastructure, China has funded the construction of two of Ghana's major architectural icons: the Accra National Theatre and the Cape Coast Stadium.
As noted above, China's entry into sub-Saharan Africa began in the 1970s with the construction of the Tanzania-Zambia railway. It is a bi-national rail network of 1,860 kilometres, 975 in Tanzania and 885 in Zambia. It is considered China's first large-scale project outside its borders and was financed with a Mao-era zero-interest loan of $570 million. This amount exceeded that of all other Chinese-sponsored overseas projects before 1975 combined.77
The Asian giant is Tanzania's largest trading partner and there are at least 350,000 Tanzanians engaged in Sino-Tanzanian trade-related activities. Some of the projects supported by the Chinese government in collaboration with the Tanzanian government are the National ICT Broadband Infrastructure Project, the Mtwara-Dar Gas Pipeline, the Zanzibar International Airport terminal, the port of Mpigaduri and the Kiwira coal mine. 78
One of the major projects, though currently stalled, is the construction of a $10 billion port at Bagamoyo, jointly financed by China Merchants Holdings International and the Oman Investment Fund. Construction stopped in June 2019. At the time, the late Tanzanian president, John Magufuli, expressed his disagreement with the funding conditions imposed by China and Oman.79
China and sub-Saharan Africa are two partly complementary partners: the former needs hydrocarbons and mineral raw materials to further develop its industrialisation and internal development, and has a surplus of capital ready to invest abroad; and the latter has a glaring scarcity of capital and infrastructure, though huge reserves of natural resources.80
Some analysts describe the Asian giant's moves in sub-Saharan Africa as neo-imperialist and see Chinese investments as part of the logic of trapping them in a spiral of debt, with
the aim of generating dependency relations. However, some states are suspending or reviewing contracts with Chinese companies and are becoming unwilling to sign anything that does not result in a 'win-win' situation, as we have seen exemplified in DRC, Kenya, Ghana and Sierra Leone.
In the case of the ten countries analysed, China's gradual control over the exploitation of natural resources has been evident: oil in Nigeria and Angola; natural gas in Ghana; cobalt in the DRC; chrome in Zimbabwe; and various mineral resources and renewable energies in South Africa and Zambia. The Asian giant is also leading the construction of infrastructures that favour and increase connectivity between the region and China, especially in Kenya, Tanzania and Ethiopia, on the eastern coast; and the financing of the construction of technology parks that allow it to manufacture products under favourable regulations and using cheap labour, as in the case of Ethiopia.
If China wants to consolidate itself as a global power, it needs strategic natural resources and control over the main routes through which trade flows move – let it be true that 'all roads lead to Beijing'-. But it also needs committed partners that endorse and recognise its leadership in the spheres and institutions where international governance is at stake, and it seems to be achieving the latter, in general terms, with its African partners. Today, if one looks at the deployment of the Asian giant's presence in the region, it seems logical to deduce that in the face of a possible future clash between the West and Beijing, those sub-Saharan African countries that decide not to shield themselves under the banner of neutrality will not join the Western bloc.
Óscar Garrido Guijarro
IEEE Analyst PhD in Peace and International Security
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