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China in Africa: Developing a continent
2013-06-14
Brief:Trade between China and Africa was $10.5 billion in 2000, $40 billion in 2005 and $166 billion in 2011.
In the last decade, investment in Africa by the world's second-largest economy has surged to $2.9 billion from $75 million, and with it China's influence can be seen everywhere, Zhang Yuwei reports from New York.
 
When Asoka Ranaweera helped on a project to build an Ethiopia glass factory backed by the China Africa Development Fund in 2009, he considered it a "flagship investment" given the size of the investment at the time.
 
It was to be Ethiopia's first glass factory - worth $15 million - and built by Chinese investors through the CADF, a private-equity fund. The fund set up in 2007 planned to spend about $300 million on projects on the continent in 2008.
 
Located in the suburb of the capital city of Addis Ababa, the factory - built by China's construction firm CGC Overseas Construction Group Co Ltd - was to produce up to 60,000 tons of glass sheet every year, with about 30 percent of that for local use and the remainder for export to East African countries.
 
"At the time it was considered to be a flagship investment," says Ranaweera, founder and CEO of Grid2Grid, a Washington-based investment-consulting firm, which was approached by the CADF for assistance in locating viable projects in Africa.
 
That was four years ago. Now, China's footprint in Africa is big and getting bigger. Chinese investment surged to $2.9 billion last year from $75 million in 2003, with an average annual growth rate of 50 percent, according to China's National Development and Reform Commission.
 
China's investments and influence are seen everywhere in Africa, drawing criticism from some Western pundits who often connect Chinese investments to "colonialism". But many believe China brings hope to Africa.
 
Zambian-born economist Dambisa Moyo is one of them. Moyo has been outspoken about international aid to Africa. She argued in her New York Times best-selling book Dead Aid: Why Aid is Not Working and How There is a Better Way for Africa (2009) how foreign aid could hinder Africa's growth. But she recently said investment from the world's second largest economy is transforming Africa.

"I'm not saying that China should be given a red carpet, carte blanche, to come into Africa or, indeed, anywhere in the world, and do what they like," the economist recently said in a CNN interview. "We do need the investment, we need job creation and we do need actual trade in these places, but I think what's really essential is to focus on what China can do for Africa, as well as what Africa can do for China. And I think that discussion has not been as objective as it should be."
 
In street markets in cities such as Cairo, Luanda, and Johannesburg, all kinds of Chinese goods - clothing, jewelry, and electronics - are popular among Africans because of their affordable prices.
 
"As per capita incomes grew, Chinese consumer goods like microwaves, refrigerators and washing machines - among a host of other goods - entered the African market," says Ranaweera. "These goods, which were far cheaper than American or European products, became affordable to many in Africa's growing middle-classes."

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