Further reading on China’s investment in Africa … and what it means

At TEDGlobal 2013, Dambisa Moyo shares a shift afoot in Africa -- that with increased Chinese investment in the continent, people are beginning to see their economic system as the ideal. Photo: James Duncan Davidson

At TEDGlobal 2013, Dambisa Moyo shares a shift afoot in Africa — that with increased Chinese investment in the continent, people are beginning to see their economic system as the ideal. Photo: James Duncan Davidson

By Alex Gallafent

In today’s talk, Zambian-born economist Dambisa Moyo describes how China’s growing presence in Africa is challenging a centuries-old tenet of Western political thought.

Dambisa Moyo: Is China the new idol for emerging economies?Dambisa Moyo: Is China the new idol for emerging economies?For more than 200 years, Moyo argues, liberal democracy has ruled the roost. Particularly in the West, it’s long been considered the political system most likely to deliver economic success and social development — a system of political rights, enjoyed by individuals, this line of reasoning goes, is the necessary bedrock for market-driven growth and prosperity.

But Moyo points out that China has turned this idea on its head: China’s state capitalism has propelled the country’s explosive growth without extending expanded political rights to its citizens. In this provocative talk from TEDGlobal 2013, Moyo suggests that many in Africa now look admiringly at the Chinese example. Across the African continent, democracy is often absent, incomplete or ineffective. But Chinese companies (led by China’s government) are getting things done fast in Africa — and it’s impressed many, particularly those most disadvantaged by decades of economic and political inertia.

So, Moyo says, China’s visible economic impact raises a powerful (and some might say troubling) question for Africans: Why wait for lackluster democracy tomorrow if you can get a job or a new roof over your head today?

China’s presence in Africa is, depending on who you talk to, great news for the continent or completely opportunistic, a form of “new colonialism.” Here’s a selection of articles and stories that capture the diversity of thinking on the subject.

  1. Howard French, formerly of The New York Times, is the doyen of reporters covering China in Africa. In this article for the Africa Demos Forum, French opens up the story beyond the sheer facts and figures of Chinese investment in (and migration to) the continent. In particular, he highlights the extraordinary opportunities the Chinese are bringing with them, and the different mental perspectives Chinese and Americans bring to bear on Africa.
  2. This interview from PRI’s The World aired during the recent US government shutdown. The guest, Kenyan business analyst Aly-Khan Satchu, argues that Sino-African partnerships look even more attractive during times of dysfunction in Washington. (Read Adam Davidson telling the TED Blog why the government shutdown was a form of economic suicide.)
  3. Yun Sun, a visiting scholar at the Brookings Institution, chooses not to see the opportunities for international investors and governments in Africa as a zero-sum game. In this report, she shares why it’s in the best interest of all for African countries, China and the United States to find ways to collaborate.
  4. This monograph by David E. Brown, a career US foreign service member, looks at China in Africa from the perspective of American strategy. Its title, “Hidden Dragon, Crouching Lion,” gives you a hint as to his conclusions: the US should be worried.
  5. A short, interesting discussion from The Atlantic—not so much “Is China Transforming Africa?”, as its titled, but “How is China transforming Africa?” The participants, including Jeremy Goldkorn and Isabel Hilton, do a good job of moving beyond the China-bad/America-good narrative that often accompanies the subject.
  6. Deborah Bräutigam, a professor of international development at Johns Hopkins, writes a blog that offers regular counterarguments to pieces published in The Economist and elsewhere. In this piece for Foreign Affairs (from 2010), she echoes Dambiso Moyo’s conclusion: China provides African countries “with some things they very much want: employment opportunities, new technologies, and badly needed infrastructure.”
  7. Reaching back a little further, to 2008, China Rising is a series of radio stories from NPR that examined some of the historical antecedents to China’s current influence on the continent.
  8. This interesting discussion, hosted by The China Africa Project, moves the debate to its logical next step: many African economies are projected to enjoy enormous growth in coming years. Does that mean Africa ought to think of China not so much as a partner, but as a competitor?
  9. The China Africa Project also collects various radio and podcast segments related to this topic.
  10. In his recent TED Talk, Charles Robertson predicted that the slow and steady growth seen in Africa over the past 10 years is about to skyrocket. Charles Robertson: Africa's next boomCharles Robertson: Africa’s next boomThe chief economist of Renaissance Capital and co-author of the 2012 book, The Fastest Billion, Robertson predicts that Africa will grow from a $2 trillion economy today to a $29 trillion economy by 2050. In this detailed report, Renaissance Capital looks at the trade ties between China and Africa, showing how Chinese investment is improving its trading position.


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