Africa struggle for many decades to force European countries out of Africa in order to win political independence. However Africa has discovered that winning political independence without economic independence is window dressing. Africa is rich in resources and human capital but it still suffers more than any other region in the world. It has a high concentration of wars, famine, poverty and mismanagement. Most of Africa’s early problems were caused by proxy wars fought between the East and the West. Communism Vs. Capitalism. These ideological wars were well funded by European countries on either side. When the Berlin wall fell, Africa was left holding the bag with millions of dollars in support converted to loans that Africa will never be able to repay.
Greece has been in a similar situation that the debt burden is so large that it not only stifles growth but it makes the debt repayment impossible. Either Africa concentrates on paying these debts and is unable to provide for their citizenry leading to more chaos or some sort of debt management and forgiveness needs to be enacted. The debt load is also a carry over from colonialism where colonial governments fought their citizens, burdened the country with debt in those fights and the new governments where expected to service those debts that were incurred in the fight against the population. This is not only unfair for the continent but unmanageable as the debt burden that all African countries inherited had nothing to do with development for the population but suppression of voting rights.
Recently as the continent has sought better terms and new friends, none have answered the call as much a China. China has invested heavily in Africa. Both for economic reasons in the search of raw materials for their expanding economy but also in terms of political influence on the global stage to counter the dependence of African countries on their former colonial masters.
So how much have Chinese companies and individuals invested in Africa? I have concluded that no one, including no one in China, knows the answer to this question. For that matter, it is not even clear how China defines FDI. China’s Minister of Commerce, Chen Deming, stated in mid-2012 that as of the end of 2011 China’s cumulative FDI in Africa “exceeded $14.7 billion, up 60 percent from 2009.” Also in mid-2012, China’s ambassador to South Africa, Tian Xuejun, in a wide ranging speech on China-Africa relations, said: “China’s investment in Africa of various kinds exceeds $40 billion, among which $14.7 billion is direct investment.” He did not explain the difference between investment of “various kinds” and “direct investment.”
Not all the aid has been bad. With China’s help many African governments have managed to fast track massive development projects. But this dependence has new strings attached. African governments are not able to condemn any action by China for fear of losing these new streams of investment and the Chinese usually bring their own workers, even for manual tasks that do not require much skills. This means that the population may benefit from the end product but will not share in the skills transfer required to manage future projects on their own.
So have we replaced the West with a new Colonial power? Only time will tell.