Facing Chinese competition, Europe struggles to hold its position in Africa

With the French being chased out of Niger and Mali and Russian and Chinese influence growing, the European Union is struggling to maintain its presence on the African continent. Experts say that Brussels must rewrite its Africa policy if it wants to hold on to its clout.

Over the past 10 years, Chinese development funds have played an "absolutely essential role" in helping a number of African countries close the gaping infrastructure gap, says Eric Olander, editor of the China-Global South Project (CGSP), which tracks Chinese investment in Africa and other developing parts of the world.

China and its multibillion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative loans were often the only option for African countries, Olander says, as multilateral funders like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund turned off the tap or attached conditions that African governments were unwilling to meet, such as making improvements in human rights or governance.

Over recent years, China too scaled back its loans after growing economic problems at home.

But, says Olander, the Chinese "are going to come back in a very different way than they did in the past: rather than a concessional or a commercial loan, you're going to see more public-private partnerships, more creative financing that doesn't cause more debt distress on the borrowing country and also de-risks the loan from the point of view of the Chinese".

Playing on resentments

Meanwhile, the EU seems to be losing ground in Africa.

But Olander says the scheme lacks vision and strategy.


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