Constructing Africa: Chinese Investment, Infrastructure Deficits, and Development


Despite recent trends towards robust economic growth in many Sub-Saharan African countries, a number of challenges remain, including those emerging from persistent infrastructure deficits. China has emerged as a key partner to a number of African countries, including in financing and constructing large-scale infrastructure projects. China has become the dominant trading partner with Africa today, with bilateral trade and foreign direct investment (FDI) growing fourfold between 2001 and 2005. Relationships between China and African countries unfold in a context shaped by histories of relationships between African countries and external parties, particularly European former colonial powers, that have far too often been exploitative and unequal. These past interactions have been key elements in the construction of African infrastructure and institutions. Processes of construction of infrastructures in Africa, including institutions and a wide range of physical infrastructures, have been fundamentally incomplete in important respects, which has contributed to persistent poverty and instability in a number of African countries. As a result of past experiences, contemporary relationships between African countries and China are filtered through lenses shaped by past experience. The extent to which relationships with China will enable the development of more complete infrastructure construction in Africa is not yet fully apparent. However, the lessons of history suggest that attention must be paid to both processes of deconstruction and construction that accompany external relationships, be they with China or other external powers.

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