Whilst Africa as a continent continues to grow at a modest pace, 6.6% GDP growth in 2012 (4.8% and 5.3% are forecast for 2013/14), the fact remains that this growth is not high enough to alleviate poverty and move countries up the Human Development Index (HDI). Growth alone has proved to have little impact on poverty reduction. Whilst resource rich African countries continue to benefit from relatively high commodity prices, this represents a short-term positive. It`s infrastructure, power production and intra-African trade (via locally manufactured goods) that will push countries up the HDI on a durable and sustainable growth path and this is where China could prove to be the making of the continent.
Whilst China-African relations have been shaped in the past by China securing the supply of resources and financing the infrastructure to obtain them, the future will be a far more expansive relationship, involving both the state sectors and private entrepreneurs selling to Africa’s consumers, and not just outsourcing production there. To facilitate this, China currently deploys some 150 commercial attaches throughout the continent..
Africa represents about half of the 25 fastest growing economies of the world, meaning rapidly accelerating consumption of made in China products: everything from low cost textiles to up-stream advanced technologies are suitable for African markets and the rapidly growing middle classes. Private investment is simultaneously taking advantage of the wage cost differential and adding value to products on African soil, if not carrying out the full manufacturing process there. On a recent visit to Ethiopia, the landscape I encountered transported me back to Guangdong with its neat lines of machining factories.
Surprisingly China currently lies in 6th place behind the UK, India, USA, UAE and France in terms of greenfield investment, however the ambition is there to increase this dramatically. Chinese FDI is currently re-focusing on the manufacturing and infrastructure sectors, and current Chinese governmental subsidies are now aimed at developing industrial parks, to both enhance manufacturing capacity as well as facilitate technology and skill transfer. In return African Nations will increasingly be expected to support China`s policies in international forums. China increased its share of total African exports from 3.2% in 2000 to 13% in 2011, whilst investment has gone from US$100 million to more than US$12 billion in the same period.
Potential stumbling blocks that must be addressed now by the new Government are: environmental concerns, worker safety, compliance with local labor law and corporate social responsibility. Currently Chinese businesses on the continent often rely on imported Chinese labor, offer limited job training or opportunities for Africans to rise beyond unskilled work and continue to have image problems among the local populace. China is not unaware of such issues and is actively addressing its image problem in Africa with vigorous soft power initiatives: 5,000 fully paid scholarships to Chinese Universities, technical training for over 30,000 Africans, the launch of the very slick CCTV Africa as well as numerous local grants for infrastructure projects. China is fast addressing its image in order to reverse hostility towards deeper economic engagement.
China, not only has the supply chain in place, the FDI, the political will, but also a multitude of both smaller and state run companies well placed to provide the skills, technology and materials needed to realize Africa’s structural transformation: the reallocation of economic resources from activities with low productivity – such as small farming and informal trading – to more productive ones – such as manufacturing, will ultimately define the rate of development of the African Continent as China’s demand for African raw materials grows at a slower pace each year.
Human development in Africa
Very high and high human development
Algeria, Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, Seychelles, Tunisia.
Medium human development
Botswana, Cape Verde, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon,
Ghana, Morocco, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland.
Low human development
Angola, Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, Congo, Congo, Demireps. Côte d’Ivoire, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, São Tomé and Príncipe,
Senegal, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe.
Source UNDP 2013