China plays winning and losing hands in Africa

Chinese trade and investment in Africa are the single most important factors that allowed waves of millions of Africans to afford to pay human traffickers thousands of dollars for the chance of a better life across the Mediterranean Sea.

This migration, in turn, by shifting social habits and anthropology, is a crucial element altering European politics, polarizing passions and feeding the new populist rightist sentiments on the old continent.

Yet looking at things from Beijing’s perspective, these are all unintended consequences of a simple drive: buying raw materials from Africa to fuel Chinese growth and paying for it in infrastructure, industrial relocation and manufactured goods with better price and quality ratios than those coming from developed countries.

This process, which took some 20 years to unfold, is modifying Africa forever with the growth of an unprecedented new middle class. Of these people, the more adventurous mid-low ranking ones are moving north, the wealthier are staying home to start new lives and new ventures and the ones of the lowest class who feel discarded may fill the scores of religious and non-religious militias roaming the continent like birds of prey looking for easy pillage, social revenge or both.

To have some reference, Chinese investment in Africa surged from US$75 million in 2003 to $5.4 billion in 2018. The value of China-Africa trade in 2018 was $185 billion, up from $155 billion in 2017. In 2018, the largest exporter to China from Africa was Angola, followed by South Africa and the Republic of Congo. In 2018, South Africa was the largest buyer of Chinese goods, followed by Nigeria and Egypt.

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