Why China might be better for Africa than the West likes to admit


China’s epic investment in the African continent raises eyebrows across the West and numerous voices who are quick to criticise the Asia powerhouse’s intentions.

China is trying to muscle in on Africa’s natural resources, tie its countries up with dodgy loan agreements and exploiting the continent for the sake of its own wealth are favourite arguments in the West – almost as if this isn’t what Western powers have been doing for hundreds of years already.

The general consensus among many is that China is embarking on a new kind of economic imperialism, tying up African nations with wads of yuan and employing its own people to build profitable infrastructure projects that benefit its own interests.

However, a new study by McKinsey, which was presented at last week’s World Economic Forum (WEF) on Africa suggests that China could be better for Africa than the West likes to admit.


‘Dance of the Lions and Dragons’

The McKinsey study, which is entitled “Dance of the Lions and Dragons” won’t be publicly released until the upcoming World Economic Forum in  Asia (May 10-12, Phnom Penh, Cambodia). However, Georges Desvaux, the managing partner of McKinsey’s Africa office, gave a primer of the report at the World Economic Forum on Africa in Durban last week.

Above all, it seems McKinsey’s findings counter many of the popular accusations thrown China’s way by Western powers over its aggressive investment in Africa.

While it’s true China is now the continent’s largest economic partner, Desvaux says claims that Chinese firms simply infiltrate African nations don’t add up.

“It [China] is creating an industrial footprint in Africa, creating jobs and bringing in new technology and new processes to Africa,” he says.

The McKinsey study apparently found that 30% of the 10,000 Chinese firms operating in Africa are in manufacturing sectors and 86% of their employees are local, including 40% of their management staff.

This goes against the common notion that Chinese firms only target resource-orientated industries and employ Chinese. Instead, it appears they’re bringing a large chunk of their manufacturing expertise to African nations and training locals people through their investment projects. And let’s not forget economic experts have been saying for years that manufacturing is key to lifting millions out of poverty and unemployment in Africa countries.


What’s in it for Africa?

Nobody is pretending Chinese investment in Africa is an act of generosity from the East but it comes without a number of the stipulations Western interests are bundled with.

First of all, you don’t see China interfering in African politics or stamping its blueprint for globalisation on the continent – at least not yet. Of course, China isn’t a democratic country and it also gets its fair share of criticism from rights groups over press freedom, human rights and the familiar talking points.

So while Western investment generally comes with democratic obligations, there’s no such interference from China. After all, the Asian superpower has developed at a phenomenal rate, but it hasn’t come without its hardships for the people. Singapore and South Korea also rapidly clawed their way through hardship into economic prosperity and this appears to be the favoured approach by some of Africa’s most successful economies – Ethiopia and Rwanda to name a couple – where authoritarianism is the price of development.

Right or wrong, this is the direction many African leaders are taking and China appears happy to let them choose for themselves. And, according to this study from McKinsey, at least 30% of the investment coming into China is building a manufacturing sector of employable Africans that could that could make the difference between a dependent and more self-reliant Africa. Not to mention the fact China also ranks in the top five partners for trade, infrastructure finance, foreign direct investment (FDI) and aid.


Chinese gains mean Western losses

The Western agenda against Chinese investment in Africa is anything but sophisticated. Any economic, political or territorial gain for China is a loss for the US and the popular kids at United Nations High. And what better way to settle a schoolyard dispute that with some god old-fashioned trash talking?

McKinsey isn;t the first authority to suggest Chinese investment in Africa might actually be a good thing. In fact, the notion is finally starting to catch on in Western mainstream media – just in time for a McKinsey study to back the idea up with numbers.

The global firm places China as the continent’s third largest donor, representing “a $440 billion Africa-China opportunity by 2025“. As for the rest of the findings in its Dance of the Lions and Dragons report, those will have to wait until the next World Economic Forum events this week.


Featured image: By NINTENPUG – Own workThis vector image includes elements that have been taken or adapted from this:  Africa China Locator.png (by Yug).This vector image includes elements that have been taken or adapted from this:  BlankMap-World6, compact.svg (by Lokal Profil)., CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=32791152



About Aaron Brooks

Aaron Brooks is a UK journalist who wants to cut out the international agendas in news. Spending his early years in both England and Northern Ireland he saw the difference between reality and media coverage at an early age. After graduating from the University of Chester with a BA in journalism, his travels revealed just how large the gap between news and the real world can be. As Editor-in-Chief at East Africa Monitor, it’s his job to provide a balanced view of what’s going on in the region for English-speaking audiences.