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China shunts U.S. into second place in Scramble for Africa

August 7, 2009

A presidential visit followed by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s African tour cannot conceal a stark reality: China has overtaken the United States as Africa’s top trading partner.

That is one of the main problems facing Clinton on a seven-nation jaunt meant variously to spread Washington’s good governance message and shore up relationships with its key oil suppliers on the continent.         


U.S. officials are keen to trumpet a 28 percent jump in 2008 in trade with sub-Saharan Africa to $104 billion, even if the increase is attributable mainly to the high price of oil, which accounts for more than 80 percent of U.S. imports from Africa.

However, there is another statistic that says more about the direction of development on the poorest continent: this decade’s tenfold increase in trade with China to $107 billion last year, narrowly eclipsing the United States.

The financial and then economic crisis that has pushed U.S. and European economies into recession and forced their companies to crimp overseas expansion is only likely to accelerate the trend despite the regional goodwill towards U.S. President Barack Obama, whose father was Kenyan.

Nor is China the only emerging economy seeking a slice of a continent estimated to hold a third of the world’s mineral resources, and nearly a billion people slowly finding they want — and can afford — things like life insurance and iPhones.

The $23 billion bid by mobile phone firm Bharti Airtel to tie up with South Africa’s MTN Group, Africa’s biggest operator by subscribers, is the latest and biggest example of an Indian company on the prowl in the region.

Brazil is also making its presence felt, with offers of technology and know-how to boost food and biofuels production in Africa, where only a fraction of potential arable land is under cultivation.

In June, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev flew in to Egypt, Namibia, Angola and Nigeria — the last two being Africa’s biggest oil producers — to underscore Moscow’s intentions not to be left out in the cold.

For sure, the increased competition does not mean the world’s biggest economy is throwing in the African towel, especially given that Angola, for instance, accounts for 7 percent of its oil imports.

But maybe it might make visiting Washington bigwigs bite their tongues before embarking on yet another morality lecture the moment they set foot on African soil.


Goodnews for Africa, we welcome this new multipolar world were competition is the name of the game. We are not just restricted to dealing with the USA or the EU, its great news.

Posted by Nduka Tolefe | Report as abusive

I second Nduka Tolefe Esq.s comments. 10 Years ago the demand side of the Equation was egregious and one sided. Today, we have a new c21st Multipolarity on the Demand side which I am certain mitigated and tapered the epicentre of the V, which would otherwise have been a great deal deeper.

The Chinese arrival is not something new. I come from Mombasa and if you care to visit the Museum at Fort Jesus [the c21st just landed just outside the Fort with the recent arrival of the undersea Cables some 100 Years after the Railways were built] you will find Centuries old Chinese Porcelain.

The Point is that a lot of Trade is all about the extraction of Natural Resources. Now whilst this is important, this is the historic landscape. It has had singularly poor trickledown.

The future is not about whats in the ground, it is about the Folk who walk on the ground. Africa’s greatest resource is it Human Resource and thats the next supergrowth curve and the Gold is in finding Platforms to leverage Human Capital.

Aly-Khan Satchu
Twitter alykhansatchu


Hillary Clinton appears to understand the need for a balancing act in promoting both trade and human rights.
Both are important to Africa and as long as the current US regime doesn’t emabrk on some of the patronizing attitudes of the Bush administration, then they can regain the initiative in Africa. But in China, there sure have a tough match.
This should be good for the African governments sensible enough to play both sides off each other to get the best deals for their citizens.


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