Was the China-Africa Summit a win for both sides?

At the China-Africa Summit, China pledged to continue supporting Africa with financial commitment on projects around industrialization, infrastructure, poverty reduction and security among other areas. In 2014, trade between China and Africa exceeded US$220 billion and China’s investment in Africa also surpassed US$30 billion and is predicted to reach an estimated $1.7 billion by 2030.

China-Africa relations have been on the rise since the year 2000, however, some also suggest that these no-strings attached investments, can also have a negative impact on the local environment.

For example, Kishi and Raleigh note that claims that the “Chinese aid model has negatively impacted local African trade, commerce and labour” are not without reason. In addition “increased competition has also been harmful to African enterprises and exports, both in internal markets for domestically oriented manufacturers as well as in external markets. Additionally, Chinese environmental and social standards have been cited as potentially problematic for Africa.”

Many emphasise that now is the time for African countries to loosen this tie with China and gear themselves towards self-development.

China has become the major destination of diverse African exports, as well as an increasingly significant source of a wide range of manufactured goods which many countries in Africa import. Imports from Africa are heavily concentrated in the relatively few countries that export petroleum, mineral and metal raw materials, such as Sudan, Congo, Angola, Zambia and South Africa. By comparison, China’s export of relatively cheaper manufactured products reach virtually all African countries and this has always been an unfavourable balance of trade. The Asian giant has successfully replicated this same web of dependency to Benin Republic, South Africa, Kenya and Togo.

While the Chinese have done much to boost development in some parts of Africa, the skill transfer between both entities is still very low. At this point, it is not surprising to note that in 2014, Nigeria, Africa’s largest economy, imported 159 million toothbrushes from China alone.

Africa’s relationship with China must be beneficial to both and should not be one-sided. Some have complained that the Chinese are making money on ideas from within the continent. “The Chinese basically copy every textile product in Nigeria thus undermining local production”, said Emir Muhammadu Sanusi II. Nigeria’s textile and apparel sector created over 600,000 jobs decades ago but has reduced drastically to 20,000 following a Chinese incursion into the textile industry.

In addition, many African countries have expressed their dissatisfaction with Chinese activities in their countries. In Kenya, hawkers expressed their grievances in a demonstration over the alleged infiltration into their trading space while Zambian local traders rioted in the copper mines against the Chinese.

African countries need to engage China in trade relations that will benefit both parties and must be able to negotiate better deals that will promote more nuanced economic development within the different countries.

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