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What China Knows about Africa That the West Doesn't

May 22, 2016 Topic: Politics Region: Africa Tags: ChinaForeign PolicyAfricaHistoryDevelopment

What China Knows about Africa That the West Doesn't

Europe has always misunderstood what Africans want.

In the next fifteen years, Africa’s consumer spending is projected to increase to $2.2 trillion—triple its level today. Megacities of the continent such as Cairo, Lagos and Kinshasa will soon be joined by Luanda, Nairobi, Addis Ababa and many others. With this explosion of urban life, entire chains of service industries will need to be provided, creating immense opportunities for local and global entrepreneurs alike. All this potential points to expansive and sustainable economic growth for the next several decades.

The next several decades will have many industrialized nations in the West and Asia experience significant aging, as their populations no longer have as many children and life expectancy continues to rise. Africa is already the world’s youngest population, and by 2034 will have a working-age population of 1.1 billion, making it the largest in the world. A young working population combined with increasing urbanization and industrialization will drive economic and consumer growth in the continent, making it one of the most economically dynamic regions in the world.

In the past fifteen years, Africa’s reality and promise has significantly shifted. From a continent derided as “hopeless” by prominent Western media outlets, Africa is now projected to become a great engine of economic growth with a rapidly urbanizing and growing market. Africa’s time has arrived.

A New Africa Strategy

The next several decades will see Africa moving towards a more central place in the global economy, rather than existing on the margins as it has. The vastness of a continent nearly four times the size of the continental United States, a young and booming population, and an era of rapid urbanization and growth will ensure that a presence in Africa will be crucial to global business and political players of our day. African states themselves will claim a larger voice on global affairs, and with growing economies of increasing scale, will eventually claim positions of prominence.

In the modern era, the West has long neglected Africa, either dismissing it as a hopeless basket case, or simply considering the continent only in issues of resources, security and defense. The entrance of China has suddenly shifted the paradigm in which Africa had been imagined. In the past, the West held a monopoly as the bearers of money and technology to which African states were forced to pander in order to gain access to either one or both. However, today, China’s presence provides alternatives to African nations minus the traditional political interference of Western states. As more states, such as India, Brazil and others, seek to gain influence on the continent, African states are at an unprecedented position where their strategic options are better than at any time before.

Although China has made a deep imprint on the continent, and today reigns as the largest trading partner of the continent, the West and particularly the United States retains key advantages including possessing more transparent political models, better and more mature technology in certain key sectors, and recognizable global brands that China still lacks. However, these advantages are not guaranteed forever, in fact, the window in which they exist is shortening day by day. Therefore, it is crucial that the United States, and other Western nations begin to reassess their attitudes and strategies in the continent in order to solidify partnerships with African countries as the continent gains more prominence in the future.

The West today has the opportunity to renew its relationship with Africa—to emerge from a dark history that began with exploitative imperialism and has more recently been marked by patronizing parenting. The reality is that Africa today is a continent teeming with ambition and energy, and it is time that Western states began to treat Africans as equal partners and to learn about their goals and needs on their own terms.

The invocations of “The White Man’s Burden” continue to exist only in the Western mind, and an attitude that once led to the shackling of Africans themselves now only serves to shackle Western abilities to understand Africa’s potential and future. The time to abandon that mindset is now. Otherwise, Western influence in the continent will continue to subside, and more rapidly than we could imagine.

 

Frederick Kuo is a UCLA graduate, San Francisco–based real-estate broker and published writer whose writing infuses economic analysis within a social and historical framework. You can follow his writing on amberpen.com.

Image: Flickr/Government of South Africa