Can China’s ambitions in Africa be compared to European Colonization of Africa?
But can the two be compared? To answer this question we first have a look at the history of the West’s win-lose relationship with Africa.
The Transatlantic Slave Trade Period
In the 16th century when the Europeans saw that they needed labor, instead of asking nicely and presenting a deal to Africa, they just had to be evil about it. They began the process of the vilification of the black man, theories were proposed of how these Negroes were savages lacking in intelligence and needed the light of Europeans to bring them civilization, the scientists talked about how the black man was less evolved and the religious men talked about how black people were descendants of Noah's son Ham in the Bible who Noah cursed and hence were meant to be slaves blah,blah,blah.
Interpreting everything to be “evidence” of how there was no moral problem with them using black people as slaves so in order to prevent themselves from feeling any form of guilt, they socially engineered a very toxic form of racism, and we are still living with the consequences of that decision to this very day, because some people wanted to make money.
Estimates say 12.5 million Africans were shipped to the New World, Americas. And in the Maafa (Black Holocaust) It is estimated that 40 -100 million people were directly affected by slavery via the Atlantic, Arabian and Trans-Saharan routes.
The Colonial Period
Following the collapse of the profitability of the slave trade, its abolition and suppression, as well as the expansion of the European capitalist Industrial Revolution, European imperialism continued to focus on Africa as a source for raw materials and markets for the goods produced by industrialized nations.
This lead to the partition of Africa by the European powers during the Berlin Conference of 1884-85, a meeting where not a single African was present. The result was a continent defined by artificial borders with little concern for existing ethnic, linguistic, or geographic realities.
By the early twentieth century, much of Africa, except Ethiopia and Liberia, had been colonized by European powers.
Colonialism plundered resources worth trillions and trillions of US dollars from Africa to Europe. And now the World Bank lends that money back to African countries and they have to pay it back with high interest rates. This is how the west has kept Africa and the rest of the developing world down.
This expansion of various European colonial powers, and the subsequent establishment of colonies on indigenous territory, frequently involved acts of genocidal violence against indigenous groups in Africa.
King Leopold of Belgium, is believed to have killed up to 12,000 000 in the Congo.
The Italians under Mussolini are believed to have killed 2,000,000 Ethiopians.
The Germans are believed to have killed 250,000 Africans in the Namibian Desert in the 1800s in what was the "world first concentration camp"!
Now, can China’s ambitions in Africa be compared to European Colonization of Africa?
Yes, China is doubling down on its investments in Africa. And there seems to be an assumption that “China’s own economic and geostrategic interests in Africa are maximized when its lending partners are in distress.” This is where the “debt-trap diplomacy” idea comes in. However, this has never been convincingly argued and its application in Africa is, at best, tenuous. The language of “debt-trap diplomacy” resonates more in Western countries, especially the United States, and is rooted in anxiety about China’s rise as a global power rather than in the reality of Africa.
The reality of Africa’s debt to China is not particularly remarkable when taken against the aggregate of sources of Africa’s external debt stock (see chart below).
A few African countries: Angola, DRC, Ethiopia, Kenya and Sudan account for over half of Chinese lending in Africa. A number of African countries’ (Djibouti, Kenya, and Angola) debt obligations to China are high and many are now alarming—as they would be regardless of creditor.
There is a high likelihood that some of this debt will be restructured.
China's investment will allow Africa to lead the 22nd century
The Population Reference Bureau projects that Africa will be home to 58 percent of the projected 2.6 billion increase in global population between now and 2050. Africa is not creating jobs anywhere near the pace needed to accommodate those numbers. It also lags behind all other regions of the world on every measure of infrastructure coverage. This has led to tepid industrial growth, with Africa’s share of global manufacturing falling from about 3 percent in 1970 to less than 2 percent in 2013.
China has financed more than 3,000 strategic infrastructure projects in Africa and extended tens of billions of dollars in commercial loans to African governments and state-owned enterprises.
China’s export of excess industrial capacity and its model of special economic zones has benefited the nascent manufacturing sector on the continent. An in-depth evaluation of Africa’s economic partnerships with the rest of the world in trade, investment stock, investment growth, infrastructure financing, and aid concluded that no other country matches the depth and breadth of Chinese engagement.
For Africa, Chinese financing and by extension, FOCAC remains an indispensable option.
First because there is the history of the West dismissing African infrastructure plans as “uneconomical and unnecessary” and a long history (since the ’60s) of the Chinese stepping in instead. The West has also almost exclusively anchored its engagement with Africa in development rather than business. European Union President Jean-Claude Juncker himself admitted as much in his State of the EU address when he noted, that the EU will “have to stop seeing this relationship through the sole prism of development aid.”
Second because across Europe and the United States, nativist political parties and racist politicians, some openly hostile to Africans, are either winning elections or comprising significant parliamentary blocs.
Therefore, investment from China is one of the few ways African countries can get financing for the infrastructure it so desperately needs. And to Africa this is a “win-win” situation.