Competitor, Colonizer or Developer? The Many Faces of China in Africa

Terence McNamee
EABER Working Paper Series, No 79

This paper analyses the evolving China-Africa relationship with particular reference to the competing
perspectives on the impact of Chinese investment on the continent’s development. In doing so, it draws
on two recent studies by the Brenthurst Foundation, one on China’s natural resource demand and the
other on Chinese traders and small businesses in southern Africa. The paper also highlights potential
flashpoints in future Chinese-African relations and the dangers inherent in Africa’s heavy reliance on
Chinese resource demand. Ultimately, the paper concludes that China’s investment in Africa has for too
long been assessed in binary terms, good or bad. Notwithstanding some troubling aspects to China’s role
in Africa, that the continent has not derived a more substantial development ‘dividend’ from its
burgeoning ties with China is largely down to its own failings, especially its leaders’ short-sightedness and
lack of vision. In order to better exploit the growth of Chinese demand for its commodities, Africa needs
to be more proactive in defining its own interests.