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Africa’s Asian Decade

China's President Xi Jinping (L) accompanies Congo President Denis Sassou Nguesso (R) to view an honour guard during a welcoming ceremony inside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on September 5, 2018. Lintao Zhang / POOL / AFP

In today’s China-Africa Daily Brief email newsletter we showcased an article by the analyst and former Liberian Public Works Minister, Gyude Moore, arguing that the pandemic-induced economic crisis will lock in Chinese influence in Africa for at least a decade.

He argues that the legacy of large-scale lending to Africa will give China leverage at a moment when both the United States and Europe can’t muster the vision to engage with the continent. The pandemic’s quadruple impacts of a commodity crash, capital flight, a remittance freeze and a collapse in tourism all lessen African governments’ options, which will make them more dependent on the one partner who actually shows up: China.    

I share Moore’s concern that African countries run the risk of being “exposed to Chinese retaliation for inevitable outcomes of our democratic processes that do not align with Beijing’s worldview.”

The question then becomes how to hedge against this outcome. As Moore points out, Western powers’ shrinking influence doesn’t only come from their blinkered view of the continent, but also because they’re embarking on their own ‘decoupling’ from China. To my mind, it’s still an open question whether such a maneuver is even possible, or if it’s a reflection of Brexit-style magical thinking and nostalgia for past imperial power. But either way, it’s sure to be both distracting and expensive, which will further dim Western bandwidth on Africa.

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