Why China Succeeds in Africa

China’s investment in Africa is far more nuanced than cozying up to dictators. Rather than indulging in alarmism, the West could learn something.

Presencia china en el mapa de ÁfricaEscribe Richard Aidoo para The Diplomat.com, recogido en el Boletín Electronico de CEDE–About four decades ago, the Chinese braved the natural elements to help construct what has come to represent one of the great symbols of Sino-Africa cooperation – the nearly 2,000 kilometer Tazara railway stretching from land-locked Zambia through Tanzania to the coast. Delivered in the midst of the Cultural Revolution, this gift represents China’s agenda to reach out even during turbulent times in its history. This expensive project also exemplified a major step towards enhancing South-South cooperation, which had been initiated in 1955 at Bandung, Indonesia.

Last month, China once again delivered a symbolic structure in the form of a $200 million headquarters to house the African Union. Indeed, this superstructure has transformed the skyline of Addis Ababa, but more importantly, has added a crucial layer to the Sino-African discourse – helping connect Africa’s present to its past.

From stadiums in southern Africa through government offices and cultural buildings in western Africa to hydroelectric projects in the north of the continent, both apologists and critics of China’s engagements in Africa have found pillars for their arguments in these structures. Mostly, these passionate arguments concern issues around the ratio of Chinese to African labor at the sites of these projects, the nature of funding involved in a particular project, the quality of these structures and the motives behind Beijing’s seeming embrace of all things African. These are pertinent discussions to have, but should be well placed in the thicket of poignant messages that these strategically placed contributions (including the AU headquarters) by China send to stakeholders of the African continent. These gestures hold subtle insights and implications for understanding Sino-Africa relations, particularly for the West.

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