Report warns of ‘Great Game’ politics in Africa after China’s rise

Africa China
Nairobi station, part of Kenya’s new standard gauge railway. Last year, Kenya’s government said it would ask for an extra 30 years to repay China the $5bn it borrowed (Macabe5387/CC BY-SA 4.0)

A report this month highlights China’s newly dominant role in Africa won through infrastructure investment, and warns that competition for influence there between China and the US and its G7 allies risks descending into a 21st Century version of the imperial Great Game politics of earlier centuries.

The report by the free-trade think tank the Hinrich Foundation paints a stark picture of China replacing western countries as the dominant influence in Africa.

In 1990, it finds, western companies were building 85% of infrastructure projects valued at $50m or more; Chinese companies were building none.

By 2013, the western share of such projects had shrunk to 37% and China’s share had grown to 12%.

Now, China dominates with a 31% share while western companies’ share stands at 12%.

The report’s author, senior research fellow Keith Rockwell, says the West neglected African investment but is no longer “sitting idly by”.

At their summit in May this year in Hiroshima, G7 countries pledged to expand their 2022 Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment (PGII) through which they have pledged $600bn over five years.

Their interest is increased by Africa’s valuable reserves of so-called green minerals, metals like lithium, nickel and cobalt needed for low-carbon technologies from batteries to electric vehicle motors, Rockwell notes.

With infrastructure finance shown to have increased African countries’ debt, Rockwell urges African leaders to work together, including through the nascent African Continental Free Trade Area, to avoid debt dependency on either side competing for influence.

Further reading

Story for GCR? Get in touch via email: [email protected]

Latest articles in Trends