‘How the West lost Africa to China’ is an increasingly frequent theme of international relations policy analysis. The West’s relations with Africa have not always been happy, but they have been deep and long. Long after slavery and colonialism, the West’s overall presence and influence in Africa are pervasive; so much so that Africa has long been taken for granted as almost ‘belonging’ to the West.
The West has viewed Africa mostly as an object of pity and/or scorn. It was considered that Africa was so dysfunctional and weak that it was not necessary to take it seriously. After all, what choice did Africa have but to be dependent on the West? Especially after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the West’s control, or at least undisputed dominance of Africa could be taken for granted in perpetuity, or so it seemed.
China’s explosive rise and its escalating trade ties with Africa are changing all this. China is now seen as an alternative to the West in all sorts of ways that few would have imagined as recently as two decades ago. The nature, scope and speed of this historical global re-alignment are generally the angles from which this phenomenon is examined. But this seismic shift is even more astonishing when viewed in light of the countless advantages the West would have been thought to have over China in the race for influence in and over Africa.
Africa is obviously not the West’s to be ‘lost’ by it. Yet there is also no questioning the fact of the West’s long dominance in Africa in trade, investment, the military sphere and countless other areas. These are all areas that China is beginning to muscle in on, with evidence that in the not too distant future, China will eclipse the West in many of them.
Africa’s growing relations with China need not necessarily mean the West is being displaced from Africa. The choice for Africa is not strictly or simply ‘China or the West.’ Instead, Africa has more choices in trade, investment, finance, etc than was the case before China became an obvious global economic player. Most of the many African countries that have growing economic ties with China will continue to have reasonably good relations with the West. Part of what is likely to be seen is a kind of specialization, in which China is engaged in the kind of African infrastructural and other long-term, finance-heavy development the West has shown no interest in, and the West continues its investment in areas like health, ‘civil society ’ and so forth.
However, there is simply no denying that there are going to be increasingly many areas where the interests of China and the West in Africa will clash, such as access to vital finite natural resources. It is to a significant extent in this regard that China has in short order increasingly out-smarted the West.
Here are ten of the huge advantages the West has/had over China in Africa that have nevertheless not slowed the rising Asian giant’s increasing presence and influence.