CGTN Observes: Is China luring Africa into a debt trap?

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Chinese President Xi Jinping (front C) and African leaders stand together for a group photo during the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) 2018 Beijing Summit in Beijing, China September 3, 2018. How Hwee Young/POOL Via REUTERS

For many years, China and Africa shared remarkable similarities, including colonialism and the burden of poverty.

Today, critics of China-Africa relations seem to have chosen to ignore important historical facts.

To understand this better, it’s important to put some things in perspective.

In 2009, China overtook the U.S. as Africa’s biggest trading partner and Chinese foreign direct investment also grew by leaps and bounds.

This period also marked the beginning of unprecedented Chinese infrastructure development in Africa. From Cape Town to Cairo, ports, rails, roads and airports have sprung up across Africa; like the 795-kilometer Addis Ababa-Djibouti railway and Kenya’s 600-kilometer Standard Gauge Railway, which was completed over a year ahead of schedule.

A paradigm shift started to re-engineer Africa and turn around its fortunes. This is because China adopted a different engagement model with Africa from which the West had pursued since 1885.

Evidence of Chinese engagement with Africa is easier to see in real projects. A 2017 McKinsey report titled: Dance of the Lions and Dragons, notes that across trade, investment, infrastructure financing, and aid, there is no other country with such depth and breadth of engagement in Africa.

The Chinese “dragons” – firms of all sizes and sectors – are bringing capital investment, management know-how, and entrepreneurial energy to every corner of the continent – and in so doing, they are helping to accelerate the progress of Africa’s “lions,” as its economies are often dubbed.

The Belt and Road Initiative, proposed by President Xi Jinping, is well synchronized with African Union’s Agenda 2063 connectivity aspirations. Ports, railways, roads and airports will make Africa’s Continental Free Trade Area a reality. The linkages will create a market of two billion people and ratchet up the continent’s GDP to trillions of dollars by 2030. Millions will be lifted out of poverty.

The latest debate though, is about debt! The now overhyped debt debate that appears to target and label China as predatory is, to say the least, unfair. Africa’s debt burden isn’t new. For many years, it has had more to do with the West than the East.

Countries must borrow to grow and this is something that happens globally. Chinese money in Africa has been sunk into real projects, not elusive, intangible ideas that have no impact on the well-being of the people.

Interestingly, critics of China-Africa engagement have consciously chosen to ignore the fact that top leaders of the Western world in the last year made a bee-line to Africa, to cut their own trade deals.

For Africa, the East or West, whichever fits is best. And for now, we know Chinese investment in Africa is definitely a welcome gesture that originates from China’s own experience and adapts to African realities.

So, with more Chinese personnel and enterprises gaining on the ground experience with Africa, we have reasons to believe Sino-African relations will bear more fruits for both sides.

And Indeed, the more, the merrier!

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