Having spent the last few years working in Africa, I have a perception of China that has been flavored by their implementation of large-scale infrastructure projects in countries like Kenya and Rwanda. Roads and buildings are going up in Nairobi and Kigali at a staggering speed and scale.
Throughout our trip, we repeatedly heard from Chinese companies about their strategic interests in Africa. Goldwind, the world’s second largest wind turbine manufacturer, recently built a 50MW wind farm in Ethiopia, and is planning additional capacity in Sudan. China Machinery Engineering Corp. (CMEC) also does a lot of work in Africa, focusing on construction of new plants due to a less developed and structured energy sector. CMEC’s main competitors in Africa are other Chinese companies. Sinopec, China’s 2nd largest oil and gas producer, is also focusing investment on the Middle East and Africa.
There has been a lot of media frenzy around China’s investment in Africa recently. According to an article in last month’s Economist, China is Africa’s biggest trading partner and buys more than one-third of its oil from the continent.
In the mining sector, African countries have mixed feelings about Chinese investment. Sinopec, for example, recently “explored in a Gabonese national park. Another state oil company has created lakes of spilled crude in Sudan. Zimbabwe’s environment minister said Chinese multinationals were ‘operating like makorokoza miners’, a scornful term for illegal gold-panners.”
It will be interesting to see how African sentiment evolves towards Chinese companies in the next few years, with China expected to invest $50 billion annually in infrastructure deals.