Africa’s Latest False Choice

DJIBOUTI – With the rise of Asian economies and their desire to play a greater role on the world stage, it has been suggested that Africa should choose between keeping its partnerships with the West and embracing new alliances with the East. This is the same false choice that African countries were told that they had to make during the Cold War, when the Soviet Union and the West, led by the United States, competed for exclusive influence across the continent.

The idea that Africa must once again choose between two competing blocs – Chinese and the Western – has become widespread among Western strategists, think tanks, and journalists. Reducing African options to such a crude choice conjures the specter of a new “Great Game,” with foreign powers once again carving up the continent for their benefit. According to this narrative, Asian investors, particularly the Chinese, will gorge themselves on the continent’s resources until nothing is left.

African governments and businesses take a more nuanced view. In recent years, Western investors have fixed their sights on emerging markets such as Brazil and China, leaving a funding gap for the pioneer markets of Africa. Many of our Asian partners have been successful in developing their industrial base, something that African countries seek to do as well. China, after all, is now the world’s largest economy (in terms of purchasing power parity), just three decades after opening itself to rapid development.

Meanwhile, economic growth is no longer a distant promise in Africa, but a reality. According to the World Bank, Sub-Saharan Africa’s GDP grew at a 4.7% annual rate in 2013, with the pace expected to accelerate to 5.1% in 2015 and 2016. Today, no global investor can afford to ignore Africa’s tremendous potential. Similarly, no developing country should ignore the great opportunities implied by engagement with Asia’s emerging powers. It is only natural that trade and diplomatic relations between two dynamic continents should be on an upward path.