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Ideas & Debate

Chinese President Xi Jinping with South African President Cyril Ramaphosa (left) and Senegalese President Macky Sall during the Forum on China-Africa Co-operation in Beijing last month. PHOTO | AFP 

Over the past few months, it has become clear that the world is multipolar and that Africa is seen as a key partner for all the different centres of global power.

There has been a notable shift in attention from perceiving Africa as a continent of poverty and aid to one for trade and investment.

The most talked about power is, of course, China which unveiled a $60 billion plan for economic engagement with Africa during the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation.

Right along China is the US which is creating the International Development Finance Corporation, an agency that can invest up to $60 billion in the developing world.

According to the Financial Times, the new agency will spearhead private sector investment through both debt and equity deals, and make profits for Washington.

The European Union (EU) is also on the money. Reports indicate that it is proposing a new Africa-Europe Alliance for Sustainable Investment and Jobs involving a 25 per cent hike in the EU Africa budget for 2021-27 to about €40 billion.

Japan will not be left behind. In 2016, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced that between 2016 and 2018, it would invest $30 billion in public-private partnerships in Africa.

Other countries such as India, Turkey, the United Arabs Emirates, Russia and Brazil also have an eye on the continent with their own Africa-focused economic initiatives.

So the question is why the mad dash for Africa? Why now?

There are several factors informing this renewed attention, the first of which is China.

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Africa would arguably, not be getting such determined attention particularly from Europe and North America, if China had not made such significant economic inroads into the continent. Old powers fear losing Africa to China, and have been forced to reassess their attitude towards Africa and make themselves relevant again.

A second factor is the fracturing of the Western alliance between Europe and North America — an alliance that has been the core of international power and influence since the Cold War. The UK is breaking away from the EU via Brexit, and the US is contemplating putting sanctions on the EU and Canada, and moving away from NATO.

Going forward it seems that a relationship that was once defined by cooperation and coordination will be increasingly defined by competition.

Theresa May hinted at this shift when she stated that she wanted the UK to overtake the US and become the G7’s biggest investor in Africa by 2022.

Thirdly, Africa has a new generation of individuals who are more educated than ever before, want prosperity at home, and have an entrepreneurial ambition and ability the continent has never seen.

Africans are approaching investors, making business deals with players all over the world and proving not only that no one knows Africa like Africans, but that there is money to be made here.

Lastly, the world seems to finally understand that it is better for everyone when Africa is doing well.

Whether this new focus is informed by an attempt to stem the flow of immigrants into Europe, or in response to sentiments of economic nationalism where publics have grown tired of sending billions to Africa and getting ‘nothing in return’, the impetus to focus on Africa’s economic potential is real.

The question now is: How does Africa leverage this renewed interest in the continent? How does Africa use the multiple offers to its advantage? We do not know when the world will next be so keen on Africa, we have to seize the opportunity at hand.



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