The new scramble for Africa

Despite many headwinds, trade between Africa and China jumped to a record level of US$282 billion in 2022 — an 11 percent increase year-on-year.



June 19, 2023

BEIJING – Rising economic cooperation between the continent and China in a changing world is a sign of their rejection of unilateralism and hegemonic practices

The African Development Bank has indicated recently that economic growth in Africa is estimated to slow to 3.8 percent in 2023 from 4.1 percent in 2022 due to subdued investment and falling exports.

African economies, however, remain resilient in the face of dampened growth prospects and rising debt levels. Some African governments will therefore plan to sharpen their focus on macroeconomic stability, domestic revenue mobilization, debt reduction, enhanced trade and productive investments to reduce increasing economic challenges.

Over the past few years, Africa has increasingly become one of the stages for geo-economic competition among major economic blocs. Some analysts describe this phenomenon as a “new scramble for Africa” in reference to the first “scramble for Africa”, which took place roughly between 1884 and 1914 and resulted in powerful European nations dividing, occupying and colonizing the continent.

The reason for this “renewed “interest in Africa can be ascribed to the fact that the continent is on the threshold of significant economic transformation and development. Africa is about to embark on an exciting process of industrialization, closing its infrastructure gap and unleashing the potential of its massive agricultural and resource wealth as well as digital industry. It is no wonder that an increasing number of countries are recognizing the continent’s growing economic and demographic weight. It is forecast that the continent’s population will increase to approximately 2.4 billion by 2050 and that consumer and business spending will rise to roughly $16 trillion in the same year.

It is most encouraging to note that over the past few decades, the long-standing friendship and cooperation between Africa and China has grown exponentially, delivering fruitful outcomes across the board. China’s trade with Africa has risen 20-fold over the past two decades, with China being Africa’s largest trading partner over the past decade.

The next phase of closer Africa-China cooperation is taking place against the background of the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as a rapidly evolving political and economic international landscape, shifting global balances of power, with a great deal of uncertainty and many new challenges on multiple fronts, which will increasingly necessitate closer strategic coordination between Africa and China on a bilateral, as well as multilateral level, an approach both sides have already agreed to.

Despite many headwinds, trade between Africa and China jumped to a record level of $282 billion in 2022 — an 11 percent increase year-on-year, bolstered by China’s wider opening-up and Beijing’s recent push to boost imports from Africa.

Chinese exports to Africa totaled $164.49 billion last year, an increase of 11.2 percent year-on-year. Imports from the continent rose at a similar rate to reach $117.51 billion in the same period. It was the second consecutive year of growth after the pandemic which had a devastating effect on trade in 2020.

As Africa is regarded as an investment destination with significant untapped potential and in order to continue expansion of two-way investment, China undertook to invest a further $60 billion in Africa by 2035, especially in support of African agriculture, manufacturing, infrastructure, environmental protection, the digital economy and the blue economy.

In terms of investment promotion, China will also encourage enterprises to invest no less than $10 billion in Africa over the next three years, and will establish a platform for China-Africa private investment promotion.

The African side, which continues to face major economic and development challenges, has expectations for China-Africa cooperation to boost economic recovery and is eager to actively expand cooperation and value added exports to China. China has noted these African concerns and consequently announced a series of practical and results-based measures which would further facilitate trade.

As economic recovery of the continent is a top priority, the implementation phase of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement is of critical importance to Africa. The AfCFTA represents a comprehensive plan which seeks to create a single, liberalized market for goods, services and capital in a 55-nation bloc of 1.3 billion people with a $3 trillion combined GDP and which aims to enhance intra-regional trade, industrial and infrastructure development.

In supporting Africa to advance integrated cooperation, China has actively participated in the development of the AfCFTA and provided continued support toward the full implementation of this important initiative.

Given the polarized global landscape among others due to the Ukraine and other international crises and conflicts, as well as its negative economic impact globally, many African countries share China’s constructive international approach which promotes coordinated multilateral and global responses and which will continue to inject growing momentum into world peace and development.

This commendable approach, which strongly resonates with a vast part of the international community, demonstrates the legitimate demand of Africa and China to defend its sovereignty, security and development interests. It represents a powerful response in rejecting unilateralism and hegemonic practices in the world. It is unfortunate that a counterproductive approach of “geopolitical contests” and “bloc confrontation “may inevitably divert from global economic and development priorities which are required to promote global peace and address the plight of the poor and marginalized in the world.

African countries value their comprehensive strategic and mutually beneficial partnership with China and the continent should continue to work with China in firmly supporting each other on core interests and major concerns, jointly safeguarding true multilateralism and the strengthening of an international system with the United Nations at its core and a world order based on international law.

The author is a senior research fellow at the Institute of African Studies at Zhejiang Normal University and a former senior diplomat in the South African Department of International Relations and Cooperation. The author contributed this article to China Watch, a think tank powered by China Daily. The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

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