China has taken advantage of the enormous infrastructure investment opportunities in places such as Kenya and Zambia. Unlike western societies such as the United States, who have taken more of a social and traditional aid role in Africa, China has been developing and nurturing massive infrastructural contracts that almost all African countries desperately need.
One of the largest forces inhibiting these countries from lowering their poverty levels is the lack of infrastructure. Roads, railways, harbors and sources of energy will play an enormous role in the development of these African economies and China is capitalizing on this opportunity.
Today, China is the largest trade partner with the African Union. The bilateral trade agreement is valued at around 200 billion. Africa is not the largest trade partner of China, but they are strategically placing themselves in a position where they can have influence over the economic development of many African countries. Evidence of this is the large governmental contracts awarded to Chinese infrastructural firms to build massive highway and high-speed railway systems. These systems will connect many African countries and boost efficiency of trade. In the past, the logistics of transferring goods across the continent were on average 2-4 times as costly in comparison to other parts of the world. The time it takes to transfer goods across the continent is also significantly more because of the difficulty of logistics.
We can learn from China by understanding that the social and economic aid to many countries in Africa is important, but it is not a sustainable model of support. China’s leaders understand this, and want to help build up Africa’s economies while also benefiting from doing so. By playing an integral role in developing African nations, China is also building influence and developing relationships with African leaders that will almost certainly help them in the future.