Many observers think the African economy is poised for great things. Fueled by a commodities boom, the continent’s output grew by 5% to 7% in both 2007 and 2008 and even managed 2% growh in 2009. China is not the only nation that has noticed the opportunities in Africa, but it is the one that has taken them most seriously, in ways that may change not just hte region’s economic landscape but its political one too.
The ambition, speed and scale of Chinese involvement in Africa is extraordinary. Two-way trade stood at US$10 billion in 2000. By 2006, it was US$55 billion and in 2009 it hit US$90 billion. Today the Chinese are pumping oil from Sudan to Angola, logging from Liberia to Gabon, mining from Zambia to Ghana and farming from Kenya to Zimbabwe. Chinese contractors are building roads from Equatorial Guinea to Ethiopia, dams from the Congo to the Nile, and hospitals and schools, sports stadiums and presidential palaces across the continent. They are buying too. Acquisitions range from US$5.5 billion stake in South Africa’s Standard Bank to a US$14 million investment in a mobile-phone company in Somalia.
The Chinese model for African development has some advantages. First, it’s quick. Loan talks with multilaterial agencies take years. The China-Angola discussions took weeks. The Chinese just ask what the government wants, and they don’t question or comment or judge. They just do it. China also works as visibly as it does quickly. Drive across almost any African country today and you’ll find Chinese engineers by the side of the road, sleeves rolled up, overseeing work crews.