Africa-China Loans Facts

This is from a CGD paper by Scott Morris, Brad Parks, and Alysha Gardner:

The World Bank’s portfolio is more concessional than China’s portfolio in every region of the world, and sometimes dramatically so. The overall concessionality of China’s portfolio demonstrates less variation from region-to-region, hovering between 15%-22% in all regions except Europe and Latin America. By contrast, the overall concessionality of the World Bank’s portfolio varies widely — from a low of 15% in Latin America to a high of 60% in Sub-Saharan Africa (which is also the region where Chinese lending volumes are highest). The differences between China and the World Bank are most stark in Sub-Saharan Africa. Whereas the overall concessionality of the World Bank’s portfolio in Sub-Saharan Africa is nearly 60%, China’s portfolio concessionality in the same region is only 22.5% All three measures of lending terms contribute to these differences in portfolio concessionality rates: China consistently has higher interest rates, shorter maturity lengths, and shorter grace periodsconcessionality

Notice that China is neck and neck with the World Bank across Africa, unlike in other regions where Bank lending dominates. What proportion of Chinese lending in Africa are concessional loans?

Whereas the overall concessionality of the World Bank’s portfolio in Sub-Saharan Africa is nearly 60%, China’s portfolio concessionality in the same region is only 22.5% .

Recall that, overall, China is the single largest creditor to developing countries:china creditor

What we should make of African states’ indebtedness to China? A lot of people have opined that China is engaging in debt diplomacy — intentionally trapping African countries with high interest non-concessional loans, after which it will demand all manner of concessions from them (perhaps UN votes, or other forms of assistance in aid of Beijing’s geo-strategic objectives). I have two thoughts on this.

First, the Chinese debt bonanza seen on the Continent over the last two decades was driven, in part, by local demand for infrastructure and other visible and attributable forms of “development.” And yes, intra-elite distributive politics and over-pricing was also involved. And Chinese firms, which often competed against each other, played along, too — perhaps because of the reasons Yuen Yueng Ang describes in her latest book (highly recommended). With this in mind, it is not entirely true to claim that Beijing pushed loans on African states. While it is true that some of the projects were driven more by the quest for kickbacks than for economic reasons, the fact is that individual country dynamics drove the demand for loans and projects. Some of those fit into China’s global geopolitical ambitions (like the Belt and Road Initiative). Others did not. 

Second, let’s think through the debt diplomacy game. Is the idea that China would ruin dozens of African states’ fiscal positions so much so that they would turn to Beijing for bailouts? How many Hambantota’s can China run across Africa? Does Beijing have the fiscal, military, or administrative capacity to do so?

The simple fact is that the use of gunboat diplomacy to settle sovereign debts is no longer kosher within the international system. My guess is that while Beijing certainly was out to buy influence with loans and other commercial relations, it also wanted to make money. Chinese officials were not running around peddling cheap concessional loans (see above). They were out looking for business for Chinese firms and banks. And so to the extent that African countries mismanaged their debt or invested in economically unviable infrastructure projects (even if in collusion with Chinese firms), that is on them.

Moving forward, it is clear that it will be in China’s best interest to make sure that its commercial relations in Africa do not stray too far from general economic viability. A strategic coddling of poor and weak allies will be very costly in the long run (see France in the Sahel). It will also likely turn African public opinion against China. For a long time, majorities of African publics have reported net favorable views of China. But this will most likely change if China morphs from a largely likable development partner building roads, power lines, and water works, to little more than a banker of tinpot tyrants in the business of building white elephants and saddling future generations with debt.

What’s really driving African Students’ enrollment in foreign universities?

The rise in enrollment of African students at non-African universities continues to be a topic of interest in the news media. Much of the discussion presently frames the emerging trends within the geopolitical competition between the West and China and Russia.

Consider this take from the FT on African students in Russia:

Desree is one of 334,000 foreign students enrolled in Russian universities, according to government figures, a cohort that has more than doubled since 2010 as part of a push by Moscow to ramp up a policy that served as an instrument of soft power during the cold war. Russia is vying with Germany and France to be the world’s sixth most popular destination for international students and the second most popular non-English-speaking country after China.

…. Russian universities are teaching 17,000 students from African countries this academic year, up from 6,700 just eight years ago, President Vladimir Putin said at a conference dedicated to Moscow’s African relations in October. Four thousand are supported by scholarships provided by the Russian taxpayer.

Or this on China:

In 2003, less than 2,000 African international students were calling China home, yet a mere thirteen years later, this number had ballooned to around 60,000; a twenty-six fold increase. If one takes 2000 as the starting point, 60,000 represents a forty-four fold increase. As a result, “proportionally, more African students are coming to China each year than students from anywhere in the world.” Whereas the United States leads in raw numbers, with over a million international students compared to less than half that number in China, fully half of all foreign students in the U.S come from just two countries: China and India. In comparison, over sixty African and Asian countries send more students to China than the United States.

While there are certainly incentives (such as scholarships from home or host governments) that push or pull students towards foreign universities, that does not appear to explain all of the surge in African student enrollment abroad. Even within Africa, tertiary enrollment has surged over the last few years. According to The Economist, enrollment in African institutions of higher learning has doubled since 2000 and is projected to grow at an increasing rate into the near future:

In recent decades millions of young people like Mr Bahati have swelled the number of students in sub-Saharan Africa. Today 8m are in tertiary education, a term that includes vocational colleges and universities. That is about 9% of young people—more than double the share in 2000 (4%), but far lower than in other regions (see chart). In South Asia the share is 25%, in Latin America and the Caribbean, 51%.

Both the number and share of young people in tertiary education in sub-Saharan Africa will keep growing. The region has about 90m people aged 20-24, a figure projected to double over the next 30 years. Whereas 42% of that age group had completed secondary school in 2012, 59% are forecast to do so by 2030. If African countries are to meet the aspirations of educated young people, they must ensure there are opportunities for further study.

In other words, the observed rise in African enrollment in universities in China, Russia, and elsewhere could be largely due to this unmet excess demand in the region. A look at African enrollment in the US (which has better data and where enrollment has trended upward since 2012) further supports this claim. African enrollment in US universities appear to rise and fall with changes in the economic situation on the Continent (see figures below). Interestingly, there appears to be no lag in the correlation, suggesting that economic conditions largely impact households’ ability to fund their children’s studies abroad (or preparation for the same back home); as opposed to say some structural public under-investment in education during bad economic times. enrollmentincome

In sum, the geopolitical machinations of Beijing and Moscow are only a small part of the story here. The bigger story is the overall increase in demand for higher learning in Africa — driven in no small part by increased primary and secondary enrollment and rising incomes — that is not being met by African universities.


The earth might be getting greener

This is from NASA:

greening.png… the greening of the planet over the last two decades represents an increase in leaf area on plants and trees equivalent to the area covered by all the Amazon rainforests. There are now more than two million square miles of extra green leaf area per year, compared to the early 2000s – a 5% increase.

“China and India account for one-third of the greening, but contain only 9% of the planet’s land area covered in vegetation – a surprising finding, considering the general notion of land degradation in populous countries from overexploitation,” said Chi Chen of the Department of Earth and Environment at Boston University, in Massachusetts, and lead author of the study.

China’s outsized contribution to the global greening trend comes in large part (42%) from programs to conserve and expand forests. These were developed in an effort to reduce the effects of soil erosion, air pollution and climate change. Another 32% there – and 82% of the greening seen in India – comes from intensive cultivation of food crops.

H/T Max Roser

Why did modern nation-states not emerge in China?

This is from Yuhua Wang (highly recommended):

The collapse of the Chinese state in the early twentieth century was surprising. China was a pioneer in state administration: it established one of the world’s most centralized bureaucracies in 221 BCE, two hundred years before the Roman Empire. In the seventh century, it produced a quarter of the world’s GDP (Maddison 2007, 381) and became the first country to use a civil service examination to recruit bureaucrats…

Why, then, did China suffer a dramatic reversal of fortune, given its early bureaucratic development?

… elites’ level of support for state building depends on the geographic span of their social networks. If they must protect a geographically dispersed network, it is more efficient to support state-strengthening policies. These elites have an encompassing interest (Olson 1982, 48). If they need to protect a geographically concentrated network, it is more efficient to rely on private protection and oppose state strengthening. These elites have a narrow interest (Olson 1982, 48).

China…. As the elites’ social networks became localized, they also fragmented; they found it difficult to organize cross regionally. A fragmented elite contributed to a despotic monarchy because it was easier for the ruler to divide and conquer. Historians have noted the shift to imperial despotism during the Song era, as the emperor’s position vis-à-vis his chief advisors was strengthened (Hartwell 1982, 404–405). The trend further deepened when in the late fourteenth century the founding emperor of the Ming Dynasty abolished the entire upper echelon of his central government and concentrated power securely in his own hands (Hucker 1998, 74–75). This explains the increasing security of Chinese rulers [see image].

The despotic monarchy and the narrow interest elite became a self-enforcing equilibrium: the rulers were secure, while the elite used the state to protect their local interests and enjoyed their autonomy. Yet this arrangement led to the gradual decline of the Chinese state.

There are so many parallels to the challenges to state-building in Africa throughout the piece (many of which were documented by Catherine Boone in the excellent Political Topographies of the African State).

Read the whole thing here.

About 12% of ships around the world fly the Liberian flag

This is from The Economist:

Over 4,400 vessels (about 12% of global shipping) fly its flag. And the number is growing.

How did this happen?

The secret of this maritime success is an old practice known as the flag of convenience. In the 1920s shipowners began to register their vessels abroad for a small fee. This allowed them to avoid taxes and labour laws back home. Liberia had few regulations and made it easy to sign up. By the 1960s it had the largest merchant navy in the world.

Read the whole thing here.

Apparently, the government of Liberia makes over $20m a year from its shipping registry.

Two of the “unique advantages” cited on the registry’s website include:

Vessel Construction – The Liberian Registry does not require vessels to be constructed by a particular nation. The supplies for construction and outfitting are also free from similar restrictions. Without this type of protectionism, shipowners are allowed to search and solicit shipbuilders solely on commercial considerations, such as competence, experience, and price.

Vessel Manning – Manning requirements specified by the Liberian Registry are based exclusively on competence, international recognition and safe operation. Many national registries require manning by citizens of the country of registry. This promotes higher wages, inflated labour costs and overheads, excessive bureaucracy, and the potential for interference from organized labour.

The Liberian Registry is headquartered in Dulles, Virginia in the United States.

Since its inception, the Liberian Registry has been operated from the United States. In fact, the U.S. structure and principles governing the Administration of the Liberian Registry are embedded into Liberian law. Pursuant to these statutes, the Registry must be principally operated from the U.S. and managed by international maritime professionals for the benefit of the people of Liberia. The strong U.S. – Liberia alliance provides the Registry with the ability to participate in the international arena with key industry institutions.

Nigerians of Guangzhou: Institutional Adaptation in a Foreign Land

This is an old piece that is nonetheless fascinating:

Large-scale Nigerian migration to China began in the aftermath of the 1980s Deng Xiaoping reforms, which opened China to the international community. The first wave of Nigerian migrants to China arrived in the late 1990s.

…. The Nigerian community in China has elected officials who preside over matters affecting their members. The post of ‘President General’ is an elected position, in line with a Constitution that gives anyone holding office term limits of two tenures. As of March 2016, the President General had completed the tenure of his predecessor who stepped down and another election was planned towards the end of the year. The President General organizes the community, ensuring that safety, representation and support are accessible. The Nigerian migrant community is also made up of sub-communities between which the President General solves power imbalances.

….. There is an informal justice system within the Nigerian community in China that facilitates dispute resolution at a micro level—which, practically, the Chinese government cannot enforce due to the clandestine existence of many individuals. In my interview with Mr. T (not real name), he stated that the Nigerian community has a task force that handles policing on behalf of the community.

The justice system is presided over by executives (judges) who settle cases brought before them. According to a member of the community, the judges are elected and not appointed. They are often people well respected within and outside the community; as a result, people obey their directives.

Read the whole thing here.

Trends in trade and influence in Africa

Here are some interesting figures from the Center for Strategic & International Studies. Between 2010 and 2017 trade between African states and China rose from $91.2b to $165.4b. For the U.S. total trade volume contracted from $80.3b to $36.7b (admittedly some of this driven by declining oil prices). All major Western countries saw a decline in their trade volume with the Continent.

trade trendsGermany is the only major Western country that saw its trade volume with African states increase over the same period.

These figures also underscore the recent narrowing of the Red Sea – with Gulf states pushing for ever closer ties with African governments. A lot of focus has been on the geopolitical aspects of this shift (with Qatar and Turkey jostling for influence vs Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states). But as the trade data suggest, trade is also an important feature of the evolving Afro-Arabia relations.

Overall, it is likely that African states’ economic policies and regulations, as well as votes at the UN, will shift to reflect the changes in the strength of the Continent’s trade links.

More on this here.

Japan is trying to stem the decline of its economic influence on Continent with a new joint insurance product with African Trade Insurance Agency and a Saudi bank. The U.S. is about to launch the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation.


Here’s why African states value their economic and political ties with China

This is from an excellent essay by  in Foreign Policy:

…. when former U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson raised a cautionary alarm for Africans to be wary of Chinese predatory investments just a few months ago, his lecturing tone did not go over well. Many African leaders reacted negatively to the underlying assumption that they were not qualified to figure out profitable from predatory investments on their own.

Sierra Leonean President Julius Maada Bio rebuked the warning as misguided, saying, “We are not fools in Africa. … At difficult times, when we needed help most, China was there for us.”

The expansion of Confucius Institutes across Africa is another part of the push worth engaging with. With more than 50 Confucius Institutes teaching Chinese language, as well as the Communist Party’s version of Chinese history and culture, more and more Africans have the chance to study Chinese and travel to China on cultural scholarships. In 2015, approximately 50,000 African students attended Chinese universities, compared with 40,000 in the United States and the United Kingdom. Elementary and middle schools in several African countries are now offering Mandarin as a foreign language.

I highly recommend that you read the whole thing.

H/T Judd Devermont

Are Metros Overrated?

This is from a story in The Guardian:

The ITDP bemoans Africa’s obsession with metros. Lagos in Nigeria – the largest city in the world without a functioning mass transit system – has been trying to build a metro since the 1980s. In the latest of many incarnations, the project was supposed to begin operations in 2012 at a cost of $2.4bn (£1.9bn). Six years after the supposed start date, construction is “nowhere near complete”, says Kost.

Abidjan, the economic capital of Ivory Coast, began construction of a metro last year. The French-financed and -built line is projected to carry 500,000 passengers a day at a cost of $1.7bn. Dar es Salaam’s bus system, by contrast, has capacity for 400,000 people and cost less than a 10th of that – about $150m.

Addis Ababa in Ethiopia opened a Chinese-built and -operated light rail line last year at a cost of $475m. Shenzhen Metro Group has a deal to run it for the first five years.screen shot 2019-01-09 at 4.03.54 pm“With a metro, an international firm will often just parachute in its own system,” says Kost. “Bus rapid transit allows existing stakeholders to get involved. That’s what we did in Dar es Salaam and what we’re planning in Nairobi, where the bus bodies will be built in the city and local operators will look after tickets, fare collection and IT. It’s good for the development of the local economy.”

Regular readers know that I have a bias for Kost’s argument. Read the whole thing here.

H/T Dina Pomeranz.

How can African governments increase their bargaining power vis-a-vis China?

Folashade Soule has answers.

First, a reminder that African governments are not uniformly bad at negotiating with China:

….when you look closely at what happens on the ground, some African countries are much better at negotiating with the Chinese than others. Railway projects in East Africa appear to be a good example. In Kenya, the Standard Gauge Railway is the largest infrastructure project since independence from Britain in 1963. China Eximbank provided most of the finance for the first phase – 472 kilometres of track between Nairobi and Mombasa – at a cost of US$3.2 billion.

In neighbouring Ethiopia, an electric train line from Addis Ababa to Djibouti, which is also Chinese-financed, opened two years ago. The cost for this more expensive type of railway was US$3.4 billion – for 756 kilometres. Kenya claims that its railway cost more for reasons like the terrain and the need to carry higher volumes of cargo. At the same time, however, many believe other issues to have been at play – including failures around the negotiation process.

Second, there are Soule’s suggested remedies:

Involve everyone: When all relevant government departments are involved in a negotiation, it does take longer. The process is more coherent, however, and the resulting project is less likely to breach national regulations.

Empower negotiators: The Chinese often adopt a take-it-or-leave-it approach. In many cases, Africans are not confrontational enough in return. They don’t appreciate that China has a surplus of domestically produced materials they are seeking to offload, for example. Wiser negotiators will play China off against other countries seeking to finance infrastructure projects on the continent, such as South Korea or the United Arab Emirates.

Keep the public onside: China tends to be popular in Africa – more so than the US in around 60% of countries on the continent. Yet the public also see negatives: many think Chinese products are poor quality, while there is a growing perception that dealing with China tends to favour Chinese labourers.

Increase knowledge: African governments are still relatively new to dealing with China; they should take every opportunity to share lessons with one another. There is a role for African universities here. They should set up more centres of Asian studies to close the gap in information and knowledge.

I fully agree.

While it is true that China has geopolitical ambitions in Africa, a lot of Chinese infrastructure plays in Africa are commercial in nature. It is in China’s interest that these projects succeed. That means that African governments could get better deals (in terms of value for money) by doing their homework (on Chinese politics and commercial and institutional architectures) before chasing the money. Similarly, public opinion presents a potential bargaining chip — (the threats of ) transparency and robust public participation should force Beijing’s hand in settling for better deals (from the perspective of African governments). 

All this, of course, is predicated on the assumption that African elites get loans from China to finance infrastructure projects; as opposed to dreaming up projects in order to get loans that then find their way into private bank accounts. 

Read the whole thing here.

H/T Zainab Usman.

Claims About “Good” Institutions

This is from Yuen Yuen Ang’s excellent book on How China Escaped the Poverty Trap:

When foreign experts enter developing contexts and insist that there is one standard of good institutions — namely, that found in wealthy societies — this by itself imposes a lethal impediment against localized adaptation. Imagine “good governance” in medieval European communes being measured according to how closely they approximated institutions in the future. Then imagine foreign consultants dispensing praise and conditional aid to these European communes based on how well they score in good governance alongside contemporary countries; such an index would be titled “Worldwide and Timeless Governance Indicators” (WTGI). Further imagine medieval commune leaders and merchants being herded into classrooms to be taught about the technicalities of replicating institutions from the future in their current communities. Could this be an environment that empowers medieval actors to improvise fitting solutions for the needs of their time?

Highly recommended.

The wonder that is Chinese growth

Below is an amazing illustration of shifts in the sizes of leading global economies:

For more on China see here, here, here, and here. This reminded me of this graphic from Carlos Lopes, former head of the UNECA:Dr3w9PhW4AAnCGU

All that happened in just 36 years. Time is on Africa’s side. If (and that’s a big IFF) African elites can get their act together. As shown in the graph below, the lost long decade (1980-1995) was particularly brutal for African economies — but it was a temporal dip and not a permanent feature of African economies.income

It is also worth noting that in 1980 African states and China were not at the same level of institutional development. By that time China had already accumulated centuries of coherent stateness — which made it possible for elites to optimally allocate human and capital resources in ways that produced the growth miracle.

Here is a good nuanced take on trends in economic growth and development on the Continent.

The U.S. tops list of FDI projects in Africa

This is from EY’s 2018 Africa Attractiveness report:

Screen Shot 2018-10-30 at 5.27.43 PMMature market investors continue building on their deep-seated ties to Africa. In 2017, the US remained the largest investor in the continent, with a noticeable 43% growth in FDI projects. Western Europe, another well-established investor, also built on its already strong investments into Africa, up by 17%. However, emerging-market investments fell, with both intra-regional and Asia-Pacific investment declining by 12% and 13%, respectively. This is, in part, attributable to slower emerging markets growth and weak commodity prices.

It is odd that this report does not give the dollar values of FDI projects. But it has a summary of the distribution of projects and the number of jobs created. This is an important indicator because it reveals projects’ real impact on the real economy — as opposed to projects designed to create enclave economies. Notice that China is far and away the leader on this metric — with Chinese projects resulting in nearly three times as many jobs as American projects (FDI from Italy appears to be particularly good at producing actual jobs).

Screen Shot 2018-10-30 at 5.40.30 PM

Here’s another interesting observation on the sectoral focus on FDI projects from the report:

Over the past decade, we have discussed a shift from extractive to “consumer-facing” sectors, thanks to Africa’s growing consumer market. Mining and metals, along with coal, oil and gas, previously the major beneficiaries of FDI flows, have slowed, while consumer products and retail (CPR), financial services, and technology, media and telecommunications (TMT) have risen.

In 2017, FDI shifted somewhat, with consumer-facing sector investments slowing, in line with challenging operating conditions. The focus changed instead to manufacturing, infrastructure and power generation.

And finally, here are of “FDI-to-jobs” conversation rates. On this measure South Africa and Kenya stand out for their apparent inefficiency in converting FDI projects into jobs.

Screen Shot 2018-10-30 at 5.54.29 PM.pngMore on this here.



Can African states eliminate malaria?

Southern Africa has an ambitious plan to eliminate malaria by 2030. According to the FT:

Under the Elimination8 plan, the idea is to end malaria by 2020 in four so-called frontline states where transmission levels are already low — below 10 per 1,000. These are Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Swaziland. Four higher-transmission, “second line” countries — Angola, Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe, where transmission rates can climb as high as 400 per thousand — have until 2030 to get the job done.

Kenya presents a less sanguine but still somewhat positive story. The country reported 8.3 million cases of malaria in 2018, a decline of 12% from 2012. And out of these cases, 16,000 fatalities were reported. Contrast this with China which in 2017 reported a grand total of 2,672 malaria cases, all of which were due to infections while abroad. China’s population is 1.4 billion. Kenya’s population is 49 million. 40 years ago China reported more than 24 million malaria cases annually.

So how did China do it?

Screen Shot 2018-04-24 at 9.08.41 PM.pngThrough a combination of vector control, human behavioral change (including use of treated bed nets), and treatment. All three approaches are important. For instance, while the malaria mortality rate of 0.09% in Kenya is not super high (thanks to treatment), it still means that each year millions of work hours are lost due to illness. It is also a significant drain on the healthcare system. In addition, while treated bed nets have been shown to save lots of lives, we should still work towards complete elimination of the disease.

And that will require an aggressive form of vector control, something that is glaringly missing from most malaria programs on the Continent.

Interestingly, the international community used to take vector control seriously, which resulted in some significant results (see map):

 In 1955, the UN committed to ending the scourge of malaria. It was optimistic because it thought there were effective tools. The pesticide DDT had been found to kill the mosquitoes that were spreading the disease in US army camps in the Pacific during the second world war. Widespread use of DDT and the drug chloroquine drove malaria out of many countries in the Americas, Europe and parts of Asia.

But it all fell apart. There was no real attempt to tackle malaria in sub-Saharan Africa because it was thought to be too difficult. Elsewhere, elimination fell foul of the problem that has bedevilled all malaria control efforts: resistance of the malaria parasite to drugs and of the mosquitoes to pesticides. Then in 1962, Rachel Carson’s blockbuster Silent Spring was published, alerting the world to the environmental devastation wreaked by DDT. The UN’s malaria eradication plan was officially scrapped in 1969.

The over-correction arising from Carson’s paradigm-shifting findings meant that much of the world was willing to sit on their hands as more than 400,000 people died each year of malaria. The WHO only dabbles in vector control through treated bed nets. Sadly, resistance to its choice of insecticides stood at 81% in 2016.

That translates to over 200 million people infected each year, over 400,000 of whom die.

Even Bill Gates agrees that complete eradication of malaria is the most sustainable solution:

“Eradication is the only sustainable solution to malaria,” Bill Gates said on the release of the report his foundation produced with the UN last September. “The alternative would be endless investment in the development of new drugs and insecticides just to stay one step ahead of resistance. The world can’t afford that approach.”

Is anyone out there investing in research on environmentally-safe insecticides?



What exactly is China up to in Africa?

Leading Afro-Chinese relations scholar Deborah Brautigam has a great piece over at the Washington Post:

On Chinese imported labor in Africa:

Surveys of employment on Chinese projects in Africa repeatedly find that three-quarters or more of the workers are, in fact, local. This makes business sense. In China, textile workers now earn about $500 a month — far more than workers in most African countries. Chinese investors flocking to set up factories in low-cost countries like Ethiopia are not thinking about importing Chinese workers. Like U.S. and European factory owners who moved their factories to China in past decades, Chinese firms are now outsourcing their own manufacturing to cheaper countries.

On Chinese loans to African states:

… In Africa, we found that China had lent at least $95.5 billion between 2000 and 2015. That’s a lot of debt. Yet by and large, the Chinese loans in our database were performing a useful service: financing Africa’s serious infrastructure gap. On a continent where over 600 million Africans have no access to electricity, 40 percent of the Chinese loans paid for power generation and transmission. Another 30 percent went to modernizing Africa’s crumbling transport infrastructure.

On alleged Chinese land grabs:

… the total amount of land actually acquired by Chinese firms was only about 240,000 hectares: 4 percent of the reported amount.

I like to remind my students of the qualitative difference of the “Chinese model” of resource exploitation in Africa.

Previously, Exxon, Elf and other Western resource sector firms would pay African leaders in cash, most of which wound up in Swiss banks, property in southern France, and various tax havens outside the Continent. This was, if you will, the “Western model” of resource exploitation in Africa.

afrobarometerEnter the Chinese. Their model is to pay for resources both in cash and in kind. African leaders still get cash that they can stash abroad. But they also get roads, railways, stadia, hospitals, water works, among other infrastructure investments. And more recently Chinese firms have begun to invest in actual factories — most notably in Ethiopia. It is no wonder that a majority of Africans have a favorable view of China (see image).

Some of these projects produced sub-standard structures (in the recent past the quality has gone up). And the level of indebtedness of African states as a result should concern every sane person. But this arrangement is orders of magnitude better than useless capacity building workshops and janus-faced democracy promotion on the back of rapacious pillaging with little public investments to show for it.

Finally, the inability of African states to negotiate reasonable deals with Beijing is on African political and economic elites. The Chinese have every right to rationally push for the best deals they can get. And if they are smart, they will also work to avoid future defaults by not overstepping their bounds.

To paraphrase a Mozambican diplomat at a recent event here on campus, Africans are too smart to allow themselves to be recolonized by the Chinese.