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China-Africa relations: Looking back and looking ahead

  NIAS Africa Team

Africa Weekly #37 & 38, Vol. 1, No. 37 & 38
15 November 2022


China-Africa relations: Looking back and looking ahead
China's relations with Africa has grown at an exponential rate under the leadership of President Xi Jinping and will continue to prosper during Xi's third term despite the numerous challenges.

By Avishka Ashok

During the 20th Party Congress of the Communist Party of China from 16-22 October 2022, Chinese President Xi Jinping secured his third term and consolidated his position. His tenure as the President has witnessed multiple achievements in internal politics and foreign affairs. The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) should be considered as one of his landmark accomplishments.
The achievements of the BRI in Africa brought the continent closer to China than it ever was. The Western countries were unable to grasp China’s sudden closeness with Africa. For Xi, Africa was not just a resource pool and a market for its products, but also a support group in the international order. Africa’s relationship with China has surpassed the expectations of the West and has been diversified into cooperation on agriculture, education, trade, industrial sector, science and technology, cultural and climate change.
China-Africa under Xi Jinping and the BRI: A new momentum
Xi’s agenda for Africa was two pronged. First, China focused on establishing relations and deepening the trust between the governments while promoting the all-round development of Africa. Although China’s relations with Africa commenced much before Xi took on the role of the country’s President, his tenure played a critical role in bringing the continent closer to Beijing. China is now Africa’s largest trading partner. The value of Chinese exports to Africa has risen from USD 85.13 billion in 2013 to USD 113.96 in 2020. Chinese Foreign Direct Investments also increased gradually and amounted to USD 44 billion in 2019. Through Xi’s tenure, trade with Africa has witnessed a gradual but significant growth.

(Image Source: GP Team)

The second phase of the strategy was implemented through the BRI. The global infrastructure development strategy of the Chinese government allowed China to invest heavily in foreign countries’ infrastructure, especially in Africa which was then trying to build its infrastructure capacities. The initiative was viewed positively by many developing countries in Africa, Latin America and Southeast Asia.
However, the China-Africa Research Initiative at the John Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies claimed that the continent owed China USD 143 billion since the 2000s. The US has often raised concerns regarding the feasibility of repaying such loans by African countries who are unable to sustain their economy independently and accused the initiative for dept trapping developing countries with attractive and unconditional loans. The West understood China’s sudden increase in interest in Africa and associated it with the abundance of resources on the continent and the availability of markets for Chinese goods. However, China’s long-term plans became clearer much recently when the African countries extended their support against holding a debate on the human rights violation in Xinjiang.
China’s achievements in Africa
African countries have well received China’s investments and involvement. China further solidified its presence in the continent through organized institutions like the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation which involves 53 out of 54 African countries. China successfully established trade ties with all 53 countries and pushed Chinese infrastructure building companies into the countries.
The following have been the major achievements for China under President Xi Jinping:
First, procuring a stable source for China’s energy needs. Under Xi Jinping’s leadership, China has crossed numerous thresholds in Africa. Apart from establishing itself as a key trading partner for African countries, China has also dipped into African energy and other natural resources. The African continent is the second largest source that caters to China’s energy demands, supplying 1.4 million barrels per day. In 2016, the International Energy Agency predicted that China would become the largest oil consumer by the 2030s. While accessing the cheap and abundantly available minerals and energy resources, China established itself as an irreplaceable asset in the African supply chain. The country is the third highest export destination for African states, after the EU and the US.
Second, securing China’s financial assistance and political support. The unconditional loans and monetary assistance provided by China have created a vicious cycle that African states cannot resist. As numerous states are unable to repay the loans granted by China, they turn to appease the country politically at an international gathering such as the United Nations. In October 2022, the UN Human Rights Commission rejected the appeal to open a debate on human rights violation in China’s Xinjiang Autonomous Region. This was the second motion to be rejected by the UNHRC in its 16-year-old history, and the decision is credited to the African and Latin American countries’ support towards China.
Third, the soft-power connecting China and Africa. Besides the close connection between China and Africa on infrastructure, energy and capital assistance, China has also played on African psychology by providing numerous student scholarships, tourist avenues, building schools, Chinese institutes, professional training, locomotive services, and more. China also engages with African countries in many diverse fields of cooperation. It regularly holds the China-Africa Think Tanks Forum since 2011, strengthening China’s foothold in African academic circles and providing an intellectual insight into African issues and upcoming obstacles for China. During the coronavirus pandemic, China delivered one-third of the total vaccines received by Africa. By building a positive image for itself, the Communist Party of China under Xi attempts to replace the European and American presence on the continent. The past exploitative colonial experiences of African states further helped bring China closer to the countries.
China’s challenges in Africa
There are two kinds of challenges for China in Africa.
First, the rising terrorism, religious radicalism, political instability and the rise of military coups. Mali and Burkina Faso experienced two military coups within a year. Even though the Chinese government is not bothered by the nature of the government in African countries, frequent changes in the political system disturbs the procedures and stability of the Chinese initiatives. In August 2022, China’s private sector pledged to invest USD 336 million into Burkina Faso in five years. Political and social instability makes it difficult for China to attain returns on its investments in Africa.
Second, the increased international support to China has opened the eyes of the West towards its lack of involvement in Africa and other developing countries. The EU also initiated an alternative to the Chinese funds and infrastructural development plan called the Global Gateway, but it has failed to topple the Chinese investments and other infrastructural projects. Besides, African states do not agree with the idea of picking either of the plans and dropping the other as they seek to take advantage of the situation by maximizing foreign investments within the country.
The Road Ahead: China and Africa during the 2020s
In November 2021, the State Council Information Office of China published a White Paper outlining the new era of the country’s cooperation with Africa. The paper highlighted China’s plan of building a stronger China-Africa community, all-around cooperation, strengthening mutual support and establishing new areas of cooperation to enhance the relationship between China and Africa. President Xi’s third term is a definite sign that China will continue its 2021 Africa policy. During the 20th Party Congress of the CPC, Xi stressed enhancing China’s position as a global power involving greater collaboration and cooperation with Africa since it forms a significant part of the ‘Global South’. 
The increasing attention from the West on China’s influence and presence in Africa will further push Xi Jinping to intensify its hold over the continent. There is a noticeable effort from the US, the EU, and Canada to engage with countries from the Global South as they attempt to remove China from its crowd of loyal followers. Xi will therefore push harder into African politics and attempt to influence the state institutions and processes to ensure a pro-China sentiment in the continent. In January 2022, China first expressed its intent to participate in and promote the peace processes in the Horn of Africa. The numerous engagements in the region, such as the China-Africa Cooperation Vision 2035, the Sino-African Declaration on Climate Change and the Declaration of the Eighth Ministerial Conference of FOCAC, have further intertwined China with Africa.

2 November – 15 November
By Anu Maria Joseph and Apoorva Sudhakar

Ghannouchi released after trial for money laundering
On 10 November, Ennahda party leader Rached Ghannouchi was released after a trial for a case on money laundering and incitement of violence. Prior to his trial, Ghannouchi said termed the case an “empty file” and an “invented problem.” The development comes as other Ennahda party members also face prosecution over transactions involving a digital content production firm which is under a probe since 2021 for alleged “plotting against state security.” Ghannouchi said these proceedings are “trumped-up and aimed at distracting the Tunisian people from the real problems we're facing.” (“Tunisia's Islamist leader Ghannouchi released after 'money-laundering' trial,” France24, 11 November 2022)

Government and Tigray forces signed ceasefire agreement
On 3 November, Ethiopian government and Tigray People’s Liberation Front reached a ceasefire agreement halting the two-year conflict which led to thousands of deaths and warnings of famine. The deal comes after the AU led formal peace talks which were held in South Africa. Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said: “The commitment to peace remains steadfast and our commitment to collaborating for the implementation of the agreement is equally strong.” The head of the Tigray delegation said: “Ultimately, the fact that we have now signed an agreement speaks volumes about the readiness on the part of the two sides to lay the past behind them to chart a new path of peace.” A spokesperson to the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said: “It is very much a welcome first step, which we hope can start to bring some solace to the millions of Ethiopian civilians that have really suffered during the conflict.” (“Five key takeaways from the Ethiopia peace deal,” Al Jazeera, 3 November 2022)

Government and Tigray forces agree to set up hotline
On 7 October, the African Union’s chief mediator said that following the latest agreement between the Ethiopian federal government and Tigray, both sides had established a hotline. The development comes after the two sides agreed to cease hostilities on 2 November. The mediator opined that exchanging a hotline was the first sign of progress. (“Ethiopian gov’t, Tigray forces establish hotline following truce,” Al Jazeera, 7 November 2022)

WHO head says food and medicine not reaching Tigray
On 10 November, the World Health Organization said that food and medicine are not reaching Tigray despite the signing of a ceasefire agreement the previous week. WHO head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said: “I was expecting food and medicine to start flowing immediately after the ceasefire. That’s not happening.” Meanwhile, an Ethiopian official said that Tedros was trying to undermine the ceasefire agreement and that food and medicine were reaching Tigray. (“Food and medicine not reaching Tigray yet - WHO,” BBC, 10 November 2022)

Protesters call for an end of violence in Nuba region
On 9 November, thousands of people belonging to Sudan’s Nuba ethnic group protested in the capital, Khartoum, calling for an end to violence in their region. The protesters carried placards saying “No to the genocide of the Nuba,” accussing the government of supporting the Arab militias trying to force out of their land. In October, at least 20 people were killed in a clash between Messiria Arabs and Nuba communities. (“Sudan protests call for end of Nuba region killings,” BBC, 9 November 2022)

General Burhan warns against interfering with military
On 13 November, Sudanese President General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan warned Islamist groups and political factions against interference in the military as talks with civilian parties to establish a non-partisan government are ongoing. The development comes after Islamists loyal to former dictator Omar al Bashir protested against the ongoing talks. Reuters quoted Burhan: “We'll cut out the tongue of anyone who speaks on the military.” (“Sudan's Burhan warns Islamists and other factions against interfering with the military,” Reuters, 13 November 2022)

Millions at risk of food shortage in upcoming lean seasons, say UN agencies
On 3 November, UNICEF and WFP warned that 7.8 million people, or two-thirds of the population, are at the risk of facing food shortages in the 2023 lean season from April to June. The two UN agencies said the shortage may persist because of a “combination of conflict, poor macroeconomic conditions, extreme climate events, and spiralling costs of food and fuel.” A joint statement outlined that despite these developments, funding towards humanitarian assistance for South Sudan has declined. (Waakhe Simon Wudu, “Two thirds of South Sudan population risk severe hunger in 2023 - U.N.,” Reuters, 3 November 2022)

US sanctions IS group over arms smuggling
On 2 November, the US sanctioned the Islamic State group (IS) and several individuals belonging to the group in Somalia over arms smuggling in East Africa. The sanctioned individuals are accused of providing intelligence support to the group and coordinating high-profile attacks. Since 2O15, IS Somalia has been active in the Horn of Africa. Despite significant regional and international support, Somalia continues to fight Islamist militancy and illicit arms network. (“US sanctions IS group in Somalia over arms smuggling,” BBC, 2 November 2022)

Over a hundred al Shabaab terrorists killed, says ministry
On 4 November, the Defence Ministry said at least 100 al Shabaab terrorists had been killed in their clashes with the army and allied militias in the Hiran region. The development comes after 120 people were killed in twin bombings outside the education ministry in Mogadishu on 29 October. Reuters reported that pictures of bodies of the alleged terrorists were circulated on Telegram through a channel linked to the army. Meanwhile, al Shabaab claimed that dozens of soldiers had been killed in clashes with security forces on 3 November. (“Somalia army says at least 100 al Shabaab fighters killed in clashes,” Reuters, 4 November 2022)

Ministry announces early closure of schools amid rising ebola cases
On 8 November, the education minister announced that schools will be closed from 25 November, two weeks prior to the scheduled end of the term amid the rising number of ebola cases, including the death of eight children. The minister said this “will reduce areas of concentration where children are in daily close contact with fellow children, teachers and other staff who could potentially spread the virus.” As of 6 November, the WHO said 64 people had died from the current outbreak. On 8 November, The Telegraph reported that Uganda’s health ministry expects around 250 casualties by January and 500 by late April 2023. (“Uganda to close schools early after eight children die of Ebola,” Al Jazeera, 8 November 2022; “Ebola outbreak projected to surge as response repeats mistakes of Wuhan,” The Telegraph, 8 November 2022)

Children and young adults at risk of gender-based violence, says UN
On 7 November, the UN International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) said the resurgent violence and consequent internal displacement has placed children and young adults at the risk of “gender-based violence in the extremely cramped camps.” The UNICEF Emergency Manager said around 100,000 people had fled the intense fighting in the Rutshuru territory in the last ten days. (“Mass displacements in eastern DR Congo threaten young lives,” UN News, 7 October 2022)

Army operations target M23 rebels, says civil society leader
On 8 November, Al Jazeera reported that the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s troops had bombed areas controlled by M23 rebels in the east. The news reported quoted the president of a civil society group who said the people had urged the army to finish their operations faster as people had already been displaced and several were living in camps with little humanitarian assistance. The reporter said around 90,000 people have been displaced after fighting in the region resurged in October. Meanwhile, the M23 spokesperson termed the army operations counterproductive, stating that they put the civilian lives at risk. (“DR Congo jets bomb M23 rebel targets in east, official says,” Al Jazeera, 8 November 2022)

At least two killed and 10 kidnapped by rebel forces
On 10 November, BBC reported that at least two people have been killed and 10 others were kidnapped by the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) rebel group in Kabasha area near the city of Beni in north-eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. This comes after a series of air strikes by the Congolese forces targeting militia groups in Runyoni, Musongati, Chanzu and Bunagana regions. According to aid agencies, nearly 90,000 people have been displaced by the renewed fighting in the region over the past two months. (“DR Congo rebel forces kill two, kidnap 10 others,” BBC, 10 November 2022)

Thousands displaced by insurgency, says HRW
On 2 November, the Human Rights Watch warned that more than 200,000 people who have been displaced due to Islamist insurgency in north-east Nigeria are struggling to meet basic food and shelter needs. The rights group said that the situation worsened when the Borno regional state authorities shut down the camps for internally displaced people. It said by August alone nearly 140,000 people were asked to leave the camp. (“Nigerians displaced by insurgency struggling - HRW,” BBC, 2 November 2022)

Finance minister faces censure vote amid economic crisis
On 10 November, BBC reported that Ghana’s Finance Minister Ken Ofori-Atta will face a vote of censure for his failed handling of the economy as the annual inflation rate reached 40.4 per cent in October. This comes after the cost of essential commodities like staple food, fuel and utilities reached a record high. The ruling party in a statement said that the censure vote was “ill-intended and aimed at derailing government’s efforts at resolving current socio-economic upheavals.” (“Ghana's finance minister faces censure vote,” BBC, 10 November 2022)

UN says more than one million affected by floods in South Sudan
On 3 November, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (Ocha) said that over one million people are affected by floods caused by torrential rains across South Sudan. Ocha said that lack of funds, damaged infrastructure, renewed violence, insecurity and inaccessibility are hampering the flood responses in the region. (“More than a million hit by flooding in South Sudan - UN,” BBC, 3 November 2022)

Drought claims hundreds of wildlife lives in Kenya
On 4 November, the tourism minister said 205 elephants and several wildlife were killed between February and October 2022 amid the ongoing drought. The species most impacted were elephants, 681 wildebeest, 381 common zebras, 49 Grevy’s zebras, 12 giraffes and 51 buffalo. This comes after the Grevy’s Zebra Trust, in September, said the drought had claimed 40 Grevy zebras in three months. (“Kenya drought killed 205 elephants in 10 months – minister,” Al Jazeera, 4 November 2022)

Kenya announces deployment of its force in DRC
On 2 November, Kenya announced the deployment of its first contingent of a regional peacekeeping force to Democratic Republic of the Congo. President William Ruto will preside at the flagging-off ceremony in Nairobi for the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) joining the regional forces. The Kenyan troops will be a part of the East African Community (EAC) force, with an objective to help the Congolese army fighting M23 rebel insurgency. (“Kenya due to deploy army to fight DR Congo rebels,” BBC, 2 November 2022)

Children of African descent face higher level of discrimination, says report
On 8 November, the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent presented a report to the UN General Assembly outlining the discrimination faced by children of African descent. The report said the level of discrimination meted to these children reached an extent that they were not considered children, even by the law. The report highlighted that children of African descent were subjected to “heavier policing, including more arrests, police surveillance, racial profiling, strip searches and excessive use of force.” The Chair of the Working Group attributed such actions against children to racial discrimination, stereotypes and xenophobia. (“Children of African descent ‘not considered children at all’, rights experts charge,” UN News, 8 November 2022)

Kenya and South Africa signs visa-free entry deal
On 9 November, Kenya and South Africa agreed to a reciprocal visa-free entry deal which will be in effect from January next year. The two leaders also agreed to unveil a Pan-African airline between Kenya Airways and South African Airways. Kenyan President William Ruto said: “I express appreciation on the progress that we have made in the long awaited visa-free regime.” South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said: “We both occupy strategic points on the continent and there is a great need for a strategic partnership to be struck.” (“Kenya and South Africa agree on visa-free entry,” BBC, 9 November 2022)

France ends Operation Barkhane in Sahel
On 8 November, French President Emmanuel Macron announced the end of France’s anti-jihadist Operation Bakhane in Sahel. In a keynote address at the naval base at Toulon, Macron said: “I have decided, in coordination with our partners, to make official today the end of the Barkhane operation.” He added that the decision was a consequence of what France has experienced in the region, and a new strategy would be developed within six months. Macron said: “Our military support for African countries will continue, but according to new principles that we have defined with them.” (“France officially ends anti-jihadist Barkhane operation, ponders new strategy,” Africanews, 8 November 2022)

US announces USD 10 million reward for information on al Shabaab leaders
On 14 November, the US Department of State announced that it would offer USD 10 million for any information on three leaders of al Shabaab, aiming to interrupt the groups’s financial flows. amid the group’s intensified attacks on civilians and the government troops. The three people are the “emir” of al Shabaab Ahmed Diriye, his second-in-command Mahad Karate and a US citizen Jehad Mostafa believed to lead al Shabaab’s foreign fighters and its media wing. The State Department said: “The FBI assesses Mostafa to be the highest-ranking terrorist with US citizenship fighting overseas.” (“US offers $10m for information on al-Shabab leaders, finances,” Al Jazeera, 15 October 2022; “US offers $10 million reward for leads on Somalia’s Al-Shabaab leaders,” France24, 14 November 2022)

UK announces withdrawal of troops from Mali
On 14 November, the UK’s Armed Forces Minister James Heappey announced that the UK would withdraw its 300 troops from the UN’s peacekeeping force in Mali. Heappey said: “This government cannot deploy our nation's military to provide security when the host country's government is not willing to work with us to deliver lasting stability and security.” Heappey opined that the two coups in Mali since 2020 had undermined international efforts to establish peace amid the growing violence linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State. The minister further added that Mali’s partnership with Russia’s Wagner Group was also counterproductive to the region’s security. (“Britain to withdraw troops from Mali peacekeeping force,” Reuters, 14 November 2022)

About the authors
Avishka Ashok and Apoorva Sudhakar are Research Associates at the National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore. Anu Maria Joseph is a Research Assistant at NIAS.

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