China colonized Africa

China in AfricaNew colonial rule?

As part of the think tank theme 2020 "Decolonize yourselves", the program "Economy and Society" examines the question of how the colonial era has shaped the economy to this day.

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Pompous music in a documentary that the Chinese state television produced for the African market. Content: China and Africa fight together like brothers against COVID-19. Pallets of medical supplies are loaded from an airplane. A generous donation. That is the image that China wants to spread. The People's Republic as a close partner of Africa, on whom one can rely in times of need. China's interests on the continent are by no means unselfish.

The most populous country in the world has been expanding its infrastructure in Africa for years. Especially in countries like the Congo, whose mines include coltan, which is so important for the mobile communications industry. The deal is roads for raw materials, says Kenyan economist Aly Khan Satchu.

"China is becoming the center of a new era in which it is a matter of creating a global infrastructure. African heads of state sometimes believe that China is a kind of Santa Claus. That is not true: China wants profits for its investments."

China invests - and gives loans

The latest mega-project: a free trade area in small Djibouti on the Horn of Africa. It shouldn't be finished for a few years, but around 700 companies have already settled there. There is also already a large port. China's gateway to the continent and part of the new Silk Road. Port chief Aboubaker Omar Hadi sees no problem in the Chinese commitment.

"That's nothing new. China has had trade relations with the continent for six centuries - especially with East Africa. China ties in with these relations. And ultimately it is an investment in world trade."

In fact, China has put its own money into the free trade area and port. But most of all, it has lent huge sums to Djibouti. At the opening of the first section of the economic zone, the International Monetary Fund warned that the debt of the small country is now 85 percent of its gross domestic product. Two thirds of this has to be paid back to China. Growth on credit can be dangerous, says economist James Shikwati from Kenya.

"At this stage it is too early to talk about dependency. But one should take a closer look at the agreements that China has concluded with African countries. If we cannot repay, there is a possibility that China will want to control what happened in the countries. "

Do business, don't ask questions

It is difficult to say how much the continent is in China as a whole. Very few governments wanted to give precise information, says James Shikwati.

"A good example: We have different figures on how much money Chinese banks have made available for the expansion of the railway line in Kenya. Some say four billion dollars, some mean five billion. Many of China's deals with African governments are done behind closed doors."

China also wants to further expand trade with Africa. The continent with its growing population is particularly interesting as a sales market, says Ganesh Rasagam from the World Bank.

"They see Africa as the new growth market, they want to enter. Second, they want to keep everyone else out. Their motto is: We are here to do business and don't ask questions about corruption and human rights."

Neither does China have to reckon with counter-questions. African countries want growth and infrastructure - now. Even if they might pay a heavy price for it in the future. But could China's interests on the continent also be described as a new colonial rule? Port chief Aboubaker Omar Hadi from Djibouti reacts angrily to such a question.

"Not at all. Who says that? These are the same nations that once enslaved us. And should we listen to them now?"