China’s Influence in Sub-Saharan Africa: 

At a Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) in 2000, the Chinese inaugurated a “strategic partnership” with 44 African governments. Forums have been held every three years since; in the most recent meeting in 2018, Beijing pledged $60 billion in economic assistance, matching the previous pledge in 2015. This high-level summit occurs every three years.

China is now Africa’s biggest trading partner, with Sino-African trade topping $200 billion per year.

China’s top leadership (the president, premier and foreign minister) has made a total of 79 visits to 43 different African countries over the past 10 years [2008-2018]. China also has an estimated 53 embassies in Africa, more than does the U.S.

Over 10,000 Chinese firms are currently operating throughout the African continent, and the value of Chinese business there since 2005 amounts to more than $2 trillion, with $300 billion in current investments. Africa has also passed Asia as the largest market for China’s overseas construction projects. 

Chinese FDI annual flows to Africa have been increasing steadily since 2003. From 2003 to 2018, the number has increased from $75 million in 2003 to $5.4 billion in 2018. 

According to AidData, between 2000 and 2014, China provided Africa $118 billion in total official finance, or about 34% of the total globally, and that this included $46 billion in Official Development Assistance (ODA). The study also concluded that China was catching up to the U.S. regarding the amount of total official finance flows provided globally.

The top five African destinations of Chinese FDI in 2018 were South Africa, Democratic Republic of Congo, Mozambique, Zambia, and Ethiopia. Seven of the ten top recipients of Chinese (ODA) are in Africa: Cote D’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, Cameroon, Nigeria, Tanzania and Ghana.

According to World Bank data, China was the largest bilateral lender to 32 of 40 low-income African countries as of 2020, with a total of $64 billion in disbursed loans outpacing the World Bank ($62 billion).

China’s first Free Trade Agreement on the continent, with Mauritius, went into effect on January 1, 2021. This agreement could become a model for other African nations.

During FM Wang Yi’s five country trip to Africa in early 2021,  the State Council Information Office released a white paper on China’s international development aid. The white paper reported that over a  five-year period from 2013 to 2018, China extended assistance to 53 countries in Africa – its top destination – accounting for nearly 45 percent of total foreign aid.


China’s Engagement Strategy in Sub-Saharan Africa:

President Xi’s speech at the opening ceremony of the 2018 FOCAC Summit in Beijing:

“We respect Africa, love Africa, and support Africa . We follow a “five-no” approach in our relations with Africa: no interference in African countries’ pursuit of development paths that fit their national conditions; no interference in African countries’ internal affairs; no imposition of our will on African countries; no attachment of political strings to assistance to Africa; and no seeking of selfish political gains in investment and financing cooperation with Africa . We hope this “five-no” approach could apply to other countries as they deal with matters regarding Africa. For China, we are always Africa’s good friend, good partner and good brother.”

The triennial forum will take place in September 2021 in Senegal.Chinese President Xi Jinping held a virtual summit with 13 African leaders, as well as the chair of the African Union Commission, focused on COVID-19 in June 2020.


China’s Strategic Investments in Sub-Saharan Africa:

The African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia was funded and built by China in 2012 for $200 million. It was reportedly bugged, and the servers were routinely hacked. China has denied the allegations it was responsible for these activities. In 2019, the African Union announced that China would fund and construct the Africa Center for Disease Control and Prevention Headquarters, also located in Addis Ababa, and hosted a groundbreaking ceremony in late 2020.

In 2018, China announced that it will build the headquarters of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in Abuja, Nigeria.

Chinese companies have financed and built, expanded, or renovated at least 24 presidential or prime minister residences or offices; at least 26 parliaments or parliamentary offices; at least 32 military or police installations; at least 19 ministries of foreign affairs buildings; and at least 14 sensitive intra-governmental telecommunication networks.

Chinese construction contracts on the content went from$1.9 billion in 1998 to a peak of $54.8 in 2015, now $48.8 billion in 2018.

China began building the Nairobi-Mombasa Standard Gauge Railway in 2017, with plans to build industrial parks in multiple Kenyan cities and connect industrial areas with port access in Mombasa. China is already Kenya’s biggest external creditor, with some 22% of the country’s external debt as of December.

Currently, about four hundred Chinese investment projects valued at more than $4 billion are in operation in Ethiopia. Chinese companies are reportedly building up to 70 percent of the roads in Ethiopia, and the high-profile Addis Ababa–Djibouti Railway, which links the landlocked country to the Doraleh Multi-Purpose Port. According to the IMF, Ethiopia is at a high risk of external debt distress, and its government debt ratio stands at around 60 percent of its gross domestic product.

DRC and Botswana became the 45th and 46th signatories to BRI after FM Wang Yi’s trip to Africa in January 2021. During the visit to Kinshasa, Wang announced the cancellation of $28 million of the DRC’s interest-free loans and committed an additional $15 million of development projects and $2 million to support Kinshasa’s new role as head of the African Union.

The Chinese Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC) signed the initial agreement to build the port at Kribi, Cameroon in 2009. Since then, 10 Chinese firms, including CHEC and its holding company, China Communications Construction Co., have obtained concessions to mine bauxite, iron ore and other minerals. The first and second stages of the Kribi port complex will cost $1.3 billion, while it’s also building a $453 million highway linked to the port, holds a contract to dredge the port of Douala and has signed an accord for a railway to the Mbalam iron-ore deposit. Cameroon also has a large timber industry, of which China has been accused of illegal exports.

In 2018, the Government of Djibouti nationalized the Doreleh Container Terminal and cancelled the 25-year concession with DP World, one of the world’s top port operators.  The Government of Djibouti claims it maintains full control of the port, however China Merchant Port Holdings has a 25 percent stake in the port. Next door, China Civil Engineering Construction Corp. and China State Construction Engineering Corp. have built a multipurpose cargo facility next door to handle cars, livestock, steel and other goods. As of 2018, Djibouti had $1 .4 billion in loans from the Chinese government—the equivalent of 75 percent of Djibouti’s GDP.

During FM Wang Yi’s trip to Tanzania in 2021, it was announced that two Chinese firms, China Civil Engineering Construction and China Railway Construction, had won a $1.3 billion contract to construct a railway linking the Lake Victoria port city of Mwanza to Isaka, which connects to the seaport of Dar es Salaam. This comes after numerous Chinese investments had stalled in recent years, over debt concerns and corruption issues.

Zambia’s external debt, currently estimated at 35% of its GDP, has reached nearly $10 billion in 2018, up from $1.9 billion in 2011. Zambia is the continent’s second largest producer of copper, which accounts for 70% of the nation’s revenue. 65.8% of Zambia’s external debt is held by China. 

As many as two-thirds of China’s heavily subsidized fishing vessels in West Africa fish illegally, rapidly depleting fishing stocks and costing West Africa an estimated $2 billion a year.

China has space programs in nine countries— Angola, Algeria, Ethiopia, Egypt, Namibia, Mozambique, Nigeria, South Africa, and Sudan, —from which it launches their satellites, trains their space agencies, and, in the case of Kenya and Namibia, manages their ground-based satellite tracking stations. China is also building a continental satellite data receiver station in Ethiopia and ground facilities in Egypt as part of a wider effort to integrate Africa into the Belt and Road Space Information Corridor.


China’s Soft Power and Exchange Programs in Sub-Saharan Africa:

Between 2011 and 2015, under the auspices of the Sino-Africa Political Party Leaders program, the CCP financed more than 200 young African political leaders. In 2015, the program expanded, with Beijing advertising that it would host 1,000 young African political leaders by 2018.

The Office of Chinese Language Council International (“Hanban”) manages overseas Chinese language-learning Confucius Institutes, including 61 in Africa.  Ministry of Commerce manages school construction in Africa and professional training. China also sponsors vocational training in Africa and some SOEs administer training in their areas of expertise. 

Hanban scholarships have contributed to the number of African students studying in China growing 26-fold in 12 years. There are now more African students in China than in the U.S.—only France hosts more African students than China does.

Zimbabwe was one of the first countries to receive 200,000 free doses of Sinopharm. President Mnangagwa said, “This kind gesture attests to the fact that China is indeed a true friend of Zimbabwe.” China has significant investment in diamond mining and energy sector.


China’s Influencing Policy Programs in Sub-Saharan Africa:

As of 2016, 39 African governments had publicly supported Beijing’s preferred method for resolving its maritime disputes sparked by its expansionist South China Sea claim, as opposed to abiding by a 2016 international tribunal ruling that the United States endorsed.

In 2018, African countries’ average voting coincidence with the United States on important U.N. resolutions was 29 percent. Their voting more closely aligned with Beijing, which voted the opposite of Washington (save for two abstentions) on all those resolutions.”

Almost half of the signatories of the letter supporting China’s crackdown on Hong Kong were African nations.

African nations comprised nearly half of the 37 signatories of a 2019 open letter defending China’s oppressive actions against its minority Uighur population.


China’s Smart Cities and 5G Investments in Sub-Saharan Africa:

As of May 2019, Huawei has constructed up to 70 percent of Africa’s information technology infrastructure.

Huawei and ZTE have likely built more than 40 telecom networks in over 30 African countries, and national and government networks in more than 20 African countries.

In Uganda, President Museveni signed a $126 million deal with Huawei for a smart city surveillance technology project, part of which is focused on building a new digital surveillance unit for the police force and installing hundreds more street cameras in the capital, Kampala.

Nine African countries use safe city systems provided by Chinese firms: Botswana, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Kenya, Mauritius, Morocco, South Africa, Uganda, and Zambia.


China’s Surveillance and Media Influence in Sub-Saharan Africa:

In 2018, Ugandan authorities enlisted Huawei technicians to assist them in penetrating the digital communications of Bobi Wine—an opposition member of parliament who is running against President Yoweri Museveni in 2021—which led to the arrest of Mr. Wine and dozens of his supporters.

A Chinese company, Cloudwalk, has agreed to provide facial recognition technology to the Zimbabwean government, something it has done for Chinese police involved in the draconian surveillance of China’s Xinjiang region.

ZTE, the Chinese government linked telecommunications giant, provided the Ethiopian regime under Prime Minister Hailemariam the technology to monitor its citizens’ telecommunications activity.

In Zambia, Huawei technicians helped the government access the phones and Facebook pages of a team of opposition bloggers running a pro-opposition news site, which had repeatedly criticized President Lungu. The technicians helped identify the bloggers location, leading to their eventual arrest by Zambian police forces.

In South Africa, companies linked to China have a 20 percent stake in Independent Media, the country’s second-largest media group, which includes 20 prominent newspapers, the outlet drew controversy by canceling a column that focused on the plight of Chinese Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang.

In December 2020, Reuters reported that Chinese hackers (again) obtained access to the African Union headquarter’s security camera footage.


China’s Security Assistance and Arms Transfers in Sub-Saharan Africa:

China accounted for nearly 25 percent of arms exports to sub-Saharan Africa from 2014 to 2018, while the United States accounted for less than 10 percent .

In 2018, China was accused of interfering with international airspace and directing high-powered lasers from the Chinese base, which resulted in two injured U.S. military aviators flying in the area. 

China is training militaries in a number of African countries, including Namibia and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and recently inaugurated a military training center the Chinese army built in Tanzania.

Between 2005 and January 2020, Beijing increased the size of its troop contributions to U.N. peacekeeping operations (PKOs) from 1,059 to 2,544 personnel. Nearly all Chinese peacekeepers are deployed in Africa, most notably in Mali and South Sudan.