As China Pledges $60 Billion In African Development Aid, Critics Are Skeptical

At the latest meeting of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged $60 billion in developmental aid for African nations. The money will help fund infrastructure, agriculture and training, according to Forbes.

FOCAC has been held once every three years, beginning in 2000. This year, it was in Johannesburg, South Africa, and was attended by the Chinese president, the presidents of Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa, and dozens of other heads of state. Since the triennial conference began, trade between Africa and China has increased dramatically. China is now Africa’s most important trading partner, a position held by the United States until six years ago.

While $5 billion of the package will be given in the form of grants and interest-free loans, $35 billion will be in the form of loans and export credits, according to The New York Times. The Forbes report called into question the actual dollar amount involved, saying such high numbers often involve double-counting and may include the dollar amounts of previous pledges.

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China will also forgive debts for some of Africa’s least-developed nations, according to Yahoo! News. Funds will also be used to train journalists, build or update healthcare centers, provide aid to countries plagued by drought, and bring satellite reception to some 10,000 African villages.

“China has the strong political commitment to supporting Africa in achieving development and prosperity… [China] now has the technology, equipment, professional and skilled personnel and capital needed to help Africa realize sustainable self-development,” Xi said.

Critics allege the relationship between Africa and China has been largely one-sided, according to Forbes. Most of the important manufacturing and infrastructure still resides in China. Africa imports Chinese goods while China has chiefly been interested in Africa’s natural resources.

Furthermore, The New York Times reported that some of the momentum of Africa-China relations is slowing down. Africa’s two biggest economies, Nigeria and South Africa, are starting to slump, as is China’s own economy. In late November, The New York Times also reported on China’s expanding military ambitions, including construction of its first overseas military base in Djibouti, East Africa.

Business Insider reports that China has heavily invested in oil and uranium mining in Niger. The Azelik uranium mine in Niger is owned and operated mostly by Chinese interests. The government of Niger owns only a 33 percent stake in the mine.

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Many locals are unhappy with the development. The Christian Science Monitor reported in 2010 that a hundred local women gathered to hurl stones at the mining equipment in In’gall, where much of the mining is taking place.

“If you could see what In’gall has become, you’ll have tears in your eyes,” said Kamil Khamed, a Niger native, in an interview with Business Insider. “They violated all of the country’s mining laws. You can read through the laws. They don’t respect a single one.”

Still, leaders at FOCAC remained optimistic about the relationship between China and African nations. African leaders like Samuel Andrade da Cunha, a prominent statesman in Angola, are enthusiastic about transforming some of their economies to compete with the developed world, including bringing in new technology and educating young Africans on how to use those technologies and become competitive.

“We would like technology and everything to be transferred from China to Angola,” da Cunha told The New York Times. “We would like to make products in Angola by building factories or developing agriculture in Angola, which we can then export to other countries.”

Despite the handful of promises that have been made and the headline-grabbing $60 billion figure, it remains to be seen just what China’s package to Africa will be used for and how much of it will actually be delivered. Economist Aubrey Hruby discussed the difficulty in tracking the funding as it is disbursed through different state agencies in Africa.

“There’s not a lot of transparency in how it’s broken down,” Hruby told Yahoo! News.

[Photo by How Hwee Young – Pool/Getty Images]