Cash, history keep Europe as Africa’s prime partner

Hard cash but also the intangible ties of history have kept Europe in pole position as Africa’s main partner, even if an influx of Chinese investment is prompting many African countries to look eastward. Successive years of hefty spending, particularly in infrastructure, have propelled China into the continent’s top slot when calculated in terms of individual investor nations.
But a quite different picture emerges when this is seen through a broader prism — the ties between Africa and Europe as a 28-nation bloc.
“Europe is in front, given the shared history,” said Pierre Dagbo Gode, professor of political science at the Felix Houphouet Boigny University of Abidjan.
“Europe is the premier trade partner, the top investor, the top donor,” a European diplomat in Brussels added, speaking ahead of a summit between the EU and African Union in Abidjan.
According to the Chinese ministry of commerce, trade between China and Africa was worth $149.2 billion last year — $92.3 billion in exports from China, against $56.9 billion of imports.
That made China, for the eighth year, Africa’s foremost individual trade partner — well ahead of France and Germany.
However, trade between the EU and Africa totalled 286 billion euros in 2015 ($341 billion at current rates) with a 22-billion-euro surplus in Europe’s favour.
Europe also contributed some 21 billion euros in foreign aid — more than the United States and China combined.
“When people say Europe has let China overtake it you have to keep things in perspective,” said an EU diplomat in Abidjan.
Factors such as language, cultural cooperation, university exchanges, a military presence and aid all help to ensure “Europe remains the point of reference” for Africa, the source said.
Even so, Chinese competition is hotting up.
Beijing’s big policy is to mix aid and loans at ultra-low interest rates to muscle in on numerous large-scale projects. “They have a very aggressive policy, in the good sense of the term, on loans and this seduces states,” said one financial observer in the region.
According to China’s state-run Xinhua news agency, quoting Fitch Ratings, loans from China to Africa over the past decade amounted to $67.2 billion — a whole $12.5 billion more than those made by the World Bank.
“The aspects which attract Chinese enterprises to Africa are the development potential, resources and the market,” said Xu Tiebing, professor of international relations at the Communication University of China. — AFP