The 21st Century Scramble for Africa

By: Kyle Stramblad
Approximate Reading Time: 30 Minutes

Historical Background to 21st Century Great Power Competition in Africa

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Figure 1: The Berlin Conference, Illustration by Adalbert von Rößler, 1884.

The West has a checkered history in its interactions with Africa. Since 1488, when Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu Dias became the first European to round the southern tip of Africa, opening the way for a sea route between Europe and Asia, Westerners have found themselves increasingly involved on the continent, a tale which was recounted by Jared Diamond in Guns, Germs, and Steel. This involvement accelerated in the late-19th century, when European powers at the Berlin Conference (see Figure 1), agreed on how to divide Africa up amongst themselves for the purpose of colonization. At this conference, the United Kingdom, France, Portugal, Spain, Italy, Germany, and Belgium all laid claim to vast regions of Africa which have resulted in long-lasting consequences that linger to this very day. Dark legacies of the slave trade, unsustainable resource extraction, and racist colonial governance stand alongside positive narratives of education, economic development, improved health care, and democracy.

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Figure 2, Figure 3: The Scramble for Africa, 1900. Figure 4: Guns, Germs, and Steel.

Due to a rise in anti-colonial independence movements in the wake of World War II, Africa experienced decolonization by European powers that could no longer afford the expense of maintaining expansive overseas colonies. This post-war decolonization movement left a power-vacuum in Africa which resulted in Cold War competition for influence in the region.

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Figure 5: Shadow Cold War. Figure 6: Cold War Alliances, 1980. Figure 7: Winning the Third World.

One of the central stories of the Cold War is the competition between the United States, the Soviet Union, and China for access to and leadership of the Third World. Africa was a major battleground in this narrative. In Shadow Cold War, Harvard’s Dr. Jeremy Friedman artfully outlines the differences in the Sino-Soviet approach to Africa; China initially taking a much more radical approach to anti-imperialism, and thereby gaining popularity with post-colonization independence movements at the Soviets’ expense. The trilateral Cold War competition for influence in post-colonial Africa has set the context for the post-Cold War great power competition that is playing out in Africa today. While many view the Cold War primarily through the lens of United States-Soviet competition, in Winning the Third World, George Washington University’s Dr. Gregg Brazinsky tells the tale of the intense Sino-American rivalry that occurred in Africa.

Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Africa’s geostrategic importance to the United States was greatly diminished. Dr. John Mearsheimer, from the University of Chicago, outlined how the optimism during the unipolar moment which followed the Cold War in the 1990’s gave way to the “disastrous” state of American foreign policy today. Mearsheimer reflects on the United States’ pursuit of liberal hegemony as a grand strategy following the Cold War, which attempted to remake the world in America’s image. He concludes that the United States’ attempts to spread “liberalism abroad” failed due to the power of nationalism, the power of realism, and the overselling of individual rights.

According to Mearsheimer, the employment of liberal hegemony as a grand strategy by the United States is finished. This is due in part to the election of President Donald Trump, who has openly disagreed with the policies of all post-Cold War presidents going back to President George H.W. Bush. Furthermore, Mearsheimer argues that this is also due to the rise of China and the resurrection of Russian power. As a result of these changes to the international order, Mearsheimer suggests that United States foreign policy should be focused on safeguarding the Western Hemisphere, Europe, East Asia, and the Persian Gulf. Mearsheimer claims that the United States should not be concerned with Africa because “it is not of strategic importance.”

In light of increasing Sino-Russian influence and activities in Africa, one pauses to consider if perhaps Dr. Mearsheimer’s view of Africa as being strategically unimportant is accurate. The 2017 National Security Strategy (NSS) and 2018 National Defense Strategy (NDS) provide updated strategic guidance that suggest that the United States is engaged in great power competition with China and Russia across the world. According to the NSS, Africa remains a continent of promise and enduring challenges. Africa contains many of the world’s fastest growing economies, which represent potential new markets for United States goods and services. The United States seeks sovereign African states that are integrated into the world economy, able to provide for their citizens’ needs, and capable of managing threats to peace and security.

China and Russia have been actively promoting their national interests in Africa and competing with the United States’ vision for the continent. The following overview will provide a wave tops introduction of the United States’ posture in Africa, and will then examine China and Russia’s activities on the continent in order to explain why the United States should be concerned with their increasing influence.

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Figure 8 and Figure 9: An Emerging Continent Becomes a Global Powerhouse.

Why Africa has Geostrategic Relevance

Headquarters United States Africa Command’s (AFRICOM) area of responsibility (AOR) includes 53 countries on the African continent, but excludes Egypt, which falls within United States Central Command (CENTCOM). AFRICOM is reliant upon close coordination across multiple geographic Combatant Commands for the resources and personnel required to accomplish its mission. Specifically, coordination with United States European Command (EUCOM) and CENTCOM are critical for mission accomplishment, since these other AORs have the preponderance of military resources in the region. Using these resources, AFRICOM provides military support for diplomacy and development working through and with its partners.

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Figure 10 and Figure 11: AFRICOM’s Mission Statement and 6 Lines of Effort.

Beginning in 2018, AFRICOM began the process of operationalizing the NSS, NDS, and other recently revised strategic guidance into the current theater campaign plan. The vision that AFRICOM promotes is that of a safe, stable, and prosperous Africa. To overcome challenges such as demographics, infrastructure, economic development, corruption, and poor governance, AFRICOM promotes African solutions to African problems.”

As AFRICOM grapples with the challenge of great power competition with China and Russia in Africa, it continues to work to set the theater using a whole-of-government approach that ensures the authorities, capabilities, footprints, agreements, and understandings are in place to maintain access and accomplish its missions. By strengthening partner networks, the United States aims to out-compete its great power competitors by becoming the preferred partner over China and Russia. To accomplish this, AFRICOM has outlined six lines of effort (Figure 11).

Operational challenges facing AFRICOM include the sheer size of the continent, at roughly 11 million square miles. AFRICOM is very familiar with the tyranny of distance. From Tunisia to South Africa is 4,500 miles or roughly a 9-hour flight. Another challenge facing AFRICOM is resourcing, as it competes with other, higher priority, combatant commands for limited resources. Most of Africa’s challenges cannot be solved militarily. Generally speaking, the AFRICOM AOR engages mostly with the diplomatic and information instruments of national power, with some economic engagement, and very little direct military involvement. All of these instruments of national power, used in a carefully orchestrated national strategy will be required to compete with growing Sino-Russian influence on the continent.

Presently, the African population consists of 1.2 billion people, or roughly 16% of the world population. However, by 2050, the African population is projected to be 2.5 billion people, or roughly 25% of the world population. By 2100, half of the world’s children are projected to be African. This demographic forecast has the potential to be a huge opportunity for Africa. However, if African population growth is not managed effectively, it could lead to rising poverty and instability. Economically, Africa is currently the world’s second fastest growing region, after Asia, and the continent’s general economic performance is trending upward. Many economists are predicting that Africa is set to become the new China, with respect to its industrialization, urbanization, and rapidly growing workforce. Some economists are predicting that within 50 years, the label “Made in Africa” will become as common as “Made in China” is today. In The Next Factory of the World, Irene Yuan Sun details how Chinese investment in Africa is rapidly leading to industrialization and social transformation which are reshaping the continent.

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Figure 12 and Figure 13: Africa’s Economic Outlook.

Chinese Influence in Africa

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Figure 14 and Figure 15: Chinese Loans to Africa in US Billion Dollars.

China’s involvement in Africa, which was forged during the 1960s-70s anti-colonial independence movements, has given it a substantial “head start” over the United States in developing relational trust on the continent. Today, China is using this leverage to out-compete the United States in Africa by using an unrestricted warfare approach that blends the diplomatic, information, military, and economic instruments of power into a coherent strategy, using every facet of a country to achieve strategic objectives. Using subversion to discreetly gain influence and seize control of both resources and governance, China has chosen Africa to be the main recipient of its foreign aid. While claiming benevolent motives for the aid it provides, in reality, the preponderance of China’s aid in Africa is aimed at securing natural resources. Loans are provided to African nations in order to gain access to commodities such as oil, natural gas, and minerals. Observers in both Africa, and the Western world, fear that Chinese investments and economic activities in Africa will result in a recolonization of the African continent. 

The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), or the Silk Road Economic Belt and 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, refers to an infrastructure development strategy launched by the Chinese government with the intention of promoting economic cooperation among countries along the proposed routes. BRI is an essential component of China’s objectives to achieve national rejuvenation and restore China as a Great Power. The end state of the BRI is the building of a China-centric “Community of Common Destiny for Mankind.” In this sense, the BRI is a national strategy, with economic, political, diplomatic, and military elements.

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Figure 16 and Figure 17: China’s Belt and Road Initiative Links to Africa.

China views the revival of trade routes along the Maritime Silk Road, linking China to East Africa, as a symbol of its commitment to Africa. According to Chinese President Xi Jinping, Africa will benefit from the BRI because, “Inadequate infrastructure is the biggest bottleneck to Africa’s development.” BRI has also increased private Chinese investments in tourism, real estate, and agriculture, alongside numerous infrastructure projects. In September 2019, Africa was identified as the 2nd fastest growing tourism region in the world. The BRI will also facilitate regional African economic integration.

East Africa has become a central node in the Maritime Silk Road, connected by ports, pipelines, railways, and power plants built and funded by China. A railway connecting Mombasa to Nairobi, an electric railway from Addis Ababa to Djibouti, and China’s first overseas naval base in Djibouti are just three examples of BRI infrastructure investments in Africa. The Maritime Silk Road connects Chinese ports in Sudan, Mauritania, Senegal, Ghana, Nigeria, Gambia, Guinea, São Tomé and Príncipe, Cameroon, Angola, and Namibia. The final arc of this corridor connects Walvis Bay to Chinese ports in Mozambique, Tanzania, and Kenya.

Following the 1960s decolonization movements, China has transformed itself from being a supporter of anti-colonialization into the preeminent economic partner in Africa. This transformation occurred while the United States and the European Union were either incapable or uninterested in developing the continent. In contrast to Western strategies of the past, Chinese influence in Africa has not yet utilized military campaigns or overt colonization. Instead, economic and infrastructure projects, have been the Chinese model for cooperation with Africa.

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Figure 18: African countries participating in China’s Belt and Road Initiative.
Figure 19: China’s Second Continent: How a Million Migrants are Building a New Empire.

In China’s Second Continent, Howard French details how China’s newfound interest and investments in Africa have resulted in a diaspora of approximately one million Chinese emigrants on the continent. French describes Beijing’s empire construction through emigration alongside its efforts to emphasize that its projects bear no resemblance to Western imperialism of the past. While China’s engagement in Africa up to this point has been largely peaceful, and for the most part welcomed, there are growing signs that the honeymoon period is over.

The BRI has faced criticism because Chinese companies usually employ Chinese workers on construction projects instead of hiring local workers. China’s policy of employing Chinese labor for its infrastructure projects in Africa has resulted in more than 200,000 Chinese citizens working on BRI contracts across Africa. This emigrant population gives Beijing a justification to protect its Chinese citizens living abroad. China has adopted the concept of “protecting overseas nationals” as a core Chinese interest. This overseas Chinese diaspora has now given Beijing the justification to internationalize its private security companies in order to guard its far-reaching BRI interests and emigrant population. Today, around 3,000 ex-military members are employed in BRI projects around the world.

Meanwhile, Chinese companies regularly disregard the rights of African workers, demonstrate poor project management, and low-quality work. Recent news coverage has highlighted the racist face of the Chinese presence in Africa. Chinese immigrants running projects in Africa refuse to share tables with their African coworkers, lack respect for cultural differences, and do not appreciate multiculturalism. This outlook has been instilled through the Chinese Communist Party’s promotion of a singular Chinese identity and culture.

China’s increasing national influence in Africa is also evident in its investment in African media. The Chinese state broadcaster, CCTV, is building a continent-wide television powerhouse in Nairobi, and Xinhua news has teamed with African mobile phone companies to supply news via cell phones. Meanwhile, Beijing is building Confucius Institutes, designed to promote Chinese language skills and Chinese cultural influence, across the African continent. Beijing has also provided technologies to enhance intelligence collection, surveillance, monitoring, and response capabilities across the region. This includes facial recognition technologies, which were recently supplied to Angola, Ethiopia, and Zimbabwe. This is causing widespread concern across Africa.

Finally, both China and the United States have military presence in Africa, and there is potential that the escalating trade war rhetoric could result in instability on the continent. In 2017, China opened its first overseas military base in Djibouti and is planning on more bases throughout Africa. These bases could create friction between Chinese and United States forces.

While not all of China’s infrastructure and technology investments in Africa are malicious, the question remains, how will China wield its newfound influence over the continent?  As China extends its BRI presence, it requires African countries to meet certain preconditions before they can benefit from Chinese developmental aid and investments. For example, the abandonment of ties to Taiwan is a BRI prerequisite, which every country in Africa except for eSwatini has accepted. Moving forward, it will be interesting to see how China leverages its increased influence over African countries in Intergovernmental Organizations (IGOs) such as the United Nations, where the African Group of countries consists of 54 Members States (28% of United Nations members). Gaining influence over votes in the United Nations and in other IGOs could increase Chinese soft power on the world stage.

Russian Influence in Africa

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Figure 20: Russian Activities in Africa.

Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Russia’s foreign policy largely neglected Africa. However, over the past several years, Africa has regained Russia’s attention. Russia sees Africa as a place where it can grow its interests while avoiding Western sanctions imposed over its annexation of Crimea in 2014. As part of its resurgence, Russia has continued to establish itself as a global actor.  Although Russia does not have access to the same capabilities or resources as China and the United States, Moscow has been actively engaged across the globe. In Africa, Russia has developed a strategy to gain influence by being willing to offer its support with fewer strings attached than both China and the United States.

While Russian influence in Africa is not on the same scale as that of the Chinese, it uses political interactions, economic, security, and diplomatic engagements to secure alliances in Africa.  Russia has modeled its current African policy on that of the former Soviet Union, using ideological concepts of Pan-Africanism and African nationalism promote its foreign policy agenda. Russia supports African rulers, especially those in opposition to democratic and human rights-based initiatives supported by the United States and Europe. Many African governments resent Western pressure to promote democracy, human rights, and economic liberalization. Russian cooperation is usually tied to market access, natural resource agreements, arms sales, and diplomatic support for Russian interests in the United Nations (UN) or other organizations.

Throughout Africa, Russia is also engaged in information operations, development support, and arms sales designed to establish relationships with African leaders and promote Russian interests. Moscow has over 20 military agreements with different African countries, and where the opportunity arises, mercenaries are leveraged to increase Russia’s influence in the region. The mercenary force know as Wagner, controlled by a Kremlin-connected oligarch named Yevgeny Prigoshin (“Putin’s Chef”),  is helping to extend Russian power and influence in Africa by returning to many former Soviet operating locations, attempting to re-establish old connections. Most of the countries where Wager is active have natural resources that support Russian interests.

Russia, while resource constrained, uses asymmetric tools to compete for influence with Western and Chinese powers in Africa. Russia uses the security guarantees of Wagner to pressure African organizations and leaders. The employment of mercenaries provides flexibility that is prohibited by overt military activity. Information operations in Africa have also been gaining increased attention in recent news. In October 2019, evidence surfaced that Russia has been targeting African politicians and elections with misinformation campaigns on social media.

Meanwhile, Russia has begun to flex its military muscles in Africa that have not been seen since the Cold War. In October 2019, Russia deployed two Tu-160 “Blackjack” nuclear-capable bombers to South Africa, coinciding with President Vladimir Putin’s Russia-Africa summit designed to increase Russian influence in the continent. Putin has called for trade with Africa to double over the next several years and has written off over $20 billion of African debts. While Putin signed dozens of MOUs with African countries, Russia is no match for China.

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Figure 21: Russian mercenaries exert influence in Africa.
Figure 22: Tu-160s deploy to South Africa.


The 21st Century Scramble for Africa is underway, and China and Russia are actively competing for influence and strategic resources on the continent. This analysis examines China and Russia’s involvement in Africa in order to raise situational awareness of their growing influence. The United States has been slow to counter great power competition in the AFRICOM theater and should increase efforts to anticipate, adapt, and respond to changing dynamics.

In Winning Without Fighting, CSBA details how China and Russia are actively exploiting the gap between Western understanding of war and peace through the use of sophisticated political warfare strategies designed to operate in the gray zone, below the threshold of armed conflict, through the use of “active measures.” While these operations have been global in scope, areas of the developing world, such as Africa, Latin America, and Oceania have been targeted by Russia and China with influence activities designed to set the theater in their favor, undermine the advantages of the West, and gain strategic footholds.

Recent national strategic guidance signals that the United States has begun to view China and Russia’s engagement in Africa with more suspicion. China and Russia have been actively seeking to influence countries through debt-trap diplomacy and bilateral agreements in order to expand their influence on the continent. These activities are concerning in light of Globally Integrated Operations and the understanding that activities in one Combatant Command can have second and third order effects across Unified Command Plan boundaries. Africa can no longer be seen as a third or fourth-tier priority for policymakers.  Given current trends, Africa will play a significant role in the future world economy and it is time that the United States adopts a coherent strategy that implements all instruments of national power to help African partners develop to their full potential.

Paramount to United States strategy should be the realization that our African partners are the key to promoting a safe, stable, and prosperous Africa. In order to convince Africans that the United States should be their preferred partner, over China or Russia, we need to more humbly approach the way we operate on the continent and be more willing to promote African solutions to African problems.

Providing Context: Notable Sino-Russian Activities in Africa

The following collection of recent news articles and vignettes provide insight into some of the more notable Sino-Russian activities that have been underway throughout Africa, in order to paint a picture of the breadth of influence operations that are being undertaken. A brief synopsis is that China’s influence is pervasive. It has already brought 40 of Africa’s 54 countries – along with the African Union – into its Belt and Road Initiative and is actively courting additional African countries to reap economic incentives of Chinese partnership. Russia remains more localized in 12 countries and is more focused on military weapons sales. Both China and Russia are engaged in widespread influence operations across the African continent.

Algeria – Algeria is a member of China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Algeria is one of China’s most important markets in Arab Africa. Since 2000 it has seen a substantial increase in trade and investment with China. Algeria provides energy exports for China, seeing a 60-fold increase in its exports to China between 2000 and 2017. Together, Algeria and Sudan account for over 7 percent of Chinese imports into the Middle East and North Africa. Chinese FDI in Algeria is 6 percent of the total amount allocated to Africa. Such figures illustrate the level of interest. In addition, Algeria has also been among the region’s largest purchasers of Chinese arms. Chinese capital and finance is attractive to Algeria’s government, which aims to stimulate and develop its economy. Consequently, whatever government eventually emerges in Algeria, they will likely not overturn the bulk of previously established projects and activities with China. Algeria is the North African country with closest economic ties with China and ranks third overall, just behind South Africa and the Democratic Republic of Congo (The Diplomat, 8-March-2019).

Angola – Angola is a member of China’s Belt and Road Initiative. In 2017, Angola’s external debt stood at $37.2 billion, equal to nearly 30% of its gross national income. China has extended loans to finance oil and infrastructure projects in Angola, which is a member of OPEC. A drop in crude oil prices since 2014, however, caused the country’s revenues to decline and its external debt to swell. Johns Hopkins University’s China Africa Research Initiative found that Angola was Africa’s top recipient of Chinese bank loans between 2000 and 2015. Angola aims to reduce its heavy dependence on Chinese capital and diversify its sources of funding. Angola plans to receive loans from other countries, in order to cut back on credit from China, which holds nearly 70% of its external debt. Angola wants to attract more investment and loans from Japan, Europe and the United States in order to prioritize countries that have capacity to transfer technology and expertise (Nikkei Asian Review, 15-December-2018).

Benin –Benin has not joined the Belt and Road Initiative. China’s state-owned energy companies are increasingly looking to Africa for overseas oil and gas investments and oil production is set to intensify in West Africa. China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) signed a contract with Benin to build and operate a crude oil pipeline to export Niger’s oil. The 1,980-kilometer pipeline from the Agadem oilfield in Niger to the port of Seme-Podji on Benin’s coast, is the biggest investment in a cross-border oil pipeline CNPC has made in Africa. Benin’s ministers said the project would turn the country “into a hub for exporting crude oil.” China is the world’s top importer of crude oil with Africa accounting for more than a quarter of all oil and gas imports into the country (Climate Change News, 8-July-2019).

Botswana – Botswana has not joined the Belt and Road Initiative. Economics and governance provide some explanation as to why Botswana is holding out. Given Botswana’s middle-income economy, they are waiting to see what the BRI might mean in practice for others before jumping into an MOU, as they are unclear of the implications. Given the robust and stable political systems in Botswana, Chinese projects have come under much more scrutiny there than in other African countries (Quartz, 30-September-2019).

Burkina Faso – Burkina Faso is a member of China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Burkina Faso resumed relations with China recently after severing ties with Taiwan in May 2018. In Burkina Faso, peer pressure – not just checkbook diplomacy – helped motivate the switch from Taiwan.  Taiwan lost one of its last allies in Africa, when Burkina Faso switched its recognition in favor of China, leaving eSwatini (Swaziland) as the last Taiwanese partner on the continent. Scholars have so far explained Burkina Faso’s move chiefly through China’s checkbook diplomacy, considered the core of its strategy to isolate Taiwan. Another factor that helps explain the switch in allegiance is the growing instability and security threats resulting from the proliferation of armed groups across the Sahel region. The governments of five Sahelian countries – Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger – decided to pull their forces together through the setup of the G5 Sahel Joint Force. Launched in July 2017, the organization brings together 5,000 troops. The G5 Sahel is endorsed by the African Union and recognized by the UN Security Council, but it lacks the necessary funds, tactical training, and domestic reforms to operate efficiently. It is mainly sponsored by France. The United States has been reluctant to deploy American troops for combat purposes, restricting itself to advise, assist, and train African militaries. China, on the other hand, was willing to fund the G5 but Burkina Faso’s ties with Taiwan were raised as an obstacle (The Diplomat, 16-January-2019).

Burundi – Burundi is a member of China’s Belt and Road Initiative. China constructed the US$22 million presidential palace in Burundi’s commercial capital Bujumbura, completing another in a long list of projects by Beijing on the continent. The complex, took four years to build, was fully funded and built by China, and its handover was a symbol of friendship and cooperation between the two nations, according to the Chinese embassy. This is the first time in Burundi’s history to get such a nice infrastructure. It proves the strongest political and diplomatic relations existing between Burundi and China (South China Morning Post, 20-February-2019).

Cameroon – Cameroon is a member of China’s Belt and Road Initiative. In 2011, China committed to Cameroon by agreeing to build and finance a new port in the fishing town of Kribi. Cameroon’s existing port at Douala is overworked, run down, and restricted by its location on a sediment filled estuary. When completed in 2035, Kribi will be the biggest deep-water port in the region. It will handle exports of Cameroon’s bauxite, iron ore, and other minerals and could also serve the Chad-Cameroon Petroleum Development and Pipeline Project, which pumps oil from landlocked Chad. The Kribi port will extend the reach of China’s Maritime Silk Road into West Africa. The Gulf of Guinea is strategic for China, and a foothold there strengthens its interests in West Africa from the Ivory Coast to Gabon. China was also responsible for 90% of road construction, and it has also built dams and hydroelectric power facilities in Cameroon. The Cameroonian government has taken out considerable loans and debt repayments to China look increasingly problematic. One of the big concerns around Chinese loans in Africa is debt-trap diplomacy – the idea that Beijing will pressure countries that can’t repay loans to hand over key assets. Chinese mining companies are also operating illegal gold mines in East Cameroon with little respect for the land (CNN, 5-February-2019).

Cape Verde – Cape Verde is a member of China’s Belt and Road Initiative. China is a close friend of Cape Verde and has been supporting the island country since its independence from Portugal in 1975. Cape Verde regards China as the most reliable partner for African countries and supports China in defending its legitimate rights and playing a greater role in international affairs. Cape Verde is one of China’s important partners in Africa and their bilateral friendship sets an example for large and small countries of mutual respect and treating each other equally. China is willing to deepen mutually beneficial cooperation with Cape Verde in the fields of agriculture, fishery, marine economy, development of special economic zones, tourism, infrastructure, and human resources development (Xinhua, 21-May-2017).

The Central African Republic (CAR) – The CAR has not joined the Belt and Road Initiative. There’s nothing secret about Russia’s presence in the CAR. The streets are plastered with propaganda posters proclaiming “Russia: hand in hand with your army!” A local radio station churns out Russian ballads and language lessons. New recruits to the army are being trained in Russian, using Russian weapons. The Russian campaign in this war-torn country is anything but straightforward, drawing on a mix of guns-for-hire and clever public relations to increase Moscow’s influence, outmaneuver its rivals, and re-assert itself as a major player in the region. Both the United States and France, the CAR’s former colonial master, have expressed concern at Russian activities. The new head of AFRICOM, General Stephen Townsend, describes the mercenaries as “quasi-military” and closely linked to the Kremlin (CNN, August-2019).

Chad – Chad is a member of China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Taiwan and Chad used to have close ties in the 1990s, during which Taipei offered the country some US$72 million in economic aid in exchange for formal bilateral diplomatic relations. The relationship between Taiwan and Chad ended in 2006, when Beijing enticed Chad by providing the country with more economic aid, which, has already reached nearly US$220 million. Unlike World Bank aid, China’s aid to Chad was “unconditional,” and Beijing also promised not to “interfere in its domestic affairs.” But of course, in reality, there is no such thing as “unconditional help” in world diplomacy. In return for Beijing’s economic aid, Chad has signed exclusive oil deals with Chinese energy companies. Chinese energy giants have replaced ExxonMobil and the World Bank as the largest foreign investor in the Chadian oil industry (Ejinsight, 5-December-2017).

Comoros – Comoros has not joined the Belt and Road Initiative, but has expressed interest in deepening cooperation with China under the BRI. China is willing to link the Belt and Road Initiative with Comoros’ 2030 Development Plan for Emerging Economies and provide support for Comoros to realize its own sustainable development. Chinese President Xi Jinping met with Comoros President Azali Assoumani at the 2018 Beijing Summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC). Comoros appreciates and supports the BRI proposed by President Xi, and believes that the initiative will be helpful for Africa and China to achieve win-win cooperation (China Daily, 1-September-2018).

Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) – The DRC has not joined the Belt and Road Initiative. Only 14 African states are yet to jump on the BRI bandwagon, raising questions about these states and why they are holding out against Beijing’s assertive push into Africa. Geographically, these countries are spread across four regions in the continent: in the east (Eritrea, Mauritius), center (DR Congo, Central African Republic), west (Benin, Equatorial Guinea), and south (eSwatini, Botswana). While there’s no unifying justification why these countries are yet to sign MOUs with China on the BRI, there are political and economic factors leading them to adopt a wait and see mode.  DR Congo, CAR, and Benin opposed China’s accession to the United Nations in 1971 (Quartz, 30-September-2019). Russia and the DRC signed a contract to send Russian military specialists to the African state. Russia has sent military experts to the DRC to help maintain the weapons and military equipment supplied by Moscow. Russian Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Fomin told reporters after the signing that the contract concerns primarily repairs and maintenance of military equipment of Soviet and Russian production, including armored vehicles, artillery pieces, rocket launchers and helicopters. Fomin added that negotiations on new supplies to the DRC are underway (Xinhua, 24-May-2019).

Republic of the Congo – The Republic of Congo is a member of China’s Belt and Road Initiative. However, China’s investment strategy of throwing money at developing countries appears to have hit a snag in the Republic of Congo as the central African nation is seeking a bailout from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). This serves as a cautionary tale of the trouble Beijing could face with its plan for massive investments in maritime, road, and rail projects.  When the plunge of global oil prices in 2014 blew a hole in the Congolese government’s finances, it was China that stepped in to help. Now, The Republic of Congo is seeking IMF protection to avoid a possible default on its payments. China has agreed to restructure the debt owed – one of a series of preconditions sought by the IMF before it grants the debt-laden central African nation a bailout (South China Morning Post, 28-April-2019).

Cote d’Ivoire – The Ivory Coast is a member of China’s Belt and Road Initiative. China is funding massive modernization projects in Africa, including the Ivory Coast port of Abidjan. Critics say the initiative is all about spreading Chinese influence abroad and could land countries with debt (DW, 2-April-2019). Ivory Coast’s President Alassane Ouattara inaugurated a huge Chinese-funded dam designed to boost the country’s power capacity by nearly 14 per cent. The Soubre hydroelectric dam will help the Ivory Coast to meet its commitments under the 2015 Paris climate-change agreement to reduce its greenhouse-gas emissions by 28 per cent by 2030, across all sectors (South China Morning Post, 3-November 2017).

Djibouti – Djbouti is a member of China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Doraleh Multi-purpose Port is the linchpin of the BRI in Eastern Africa. Chinese state-run companies have built a free trade zone and promised to revamp the Djibouti port into a modern global facility. China has also financed a railway line linking the capital of Djibouti to Addis Ababa, has built a 63-mile long pipeline to supply safe drinking water, has offered to mediate the Djibouti-Eritrea border row, and has participated in anti-piracy patrols in the region. In 2017 China opened its first overseas military base in Djibouti. It has about 350 staff members and troops but it has the capacity to accommodate ten thousand people. The base provides assistance to China’s anti-piracy mission and support China’s BRI. Situated with good harbors, Djbouti helps China protect its growing interests as its vast infrastructure strategy takes hold. It is located at the gateway of the Suez Canal, through which 10 per cent of the world’s oil exports and 20 per cent of all commercial goods travel (South China Morning Post, 28-April-2019).

Egypt – Egypt is a member of China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Since President Sisi took office, he has he signed over twenty-five bilateral agreements, mainly on energy and transport issues. Port projects may help President Sisi check off some of his policy goals, but giving China such a foothold could threaten a number of United States interests in the region. The Chinese government has stayed out of Egypt’s internal affairs. Unlike the United States, Beijing has not criticized Cairo for its record on political detainees, torture of prisoners, or other human rights abuses. Sisi has sought to establish close logistical relations with China in the hope of eventually making Egypt a central player in the Middle East and North Africa. China could use its access to Egypt’s ports to gather intelligence on US interests (The Washington Institute, 19-August-2019). US officials have warned that a Russian fighter jet deal puts Egypt at risk of sanctions. Sanctions would fall under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), which targets purchases of military equipment from Russia. Egypt earlier this year signed a $2 billion agreement with Russia to buy more than 20 Su-35 fighter jets. The United States has over the years provided billions of dollars in economic and military aid to Egypt, a long-time ally whose military operates the F-16 fighter jet (The Jerusalem Post, 8-November-2019).

Equatorial Guinea – Equatorial Guinea has not yet signed onto China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Only 14 African states are yet to jump on the Belt and Road Initiative bandwagon, raising queries about the profiles of these states and why they are holding out against Beijing’s assertive push into Africa. Economics and governance provide some explanation, given Equatorial Guinea’s middle-income economy, they are waiting to see what the BRI might mean in practice for others before jumping into an MOU, as they are unclear of the implications. Chinese projects have come under much more scrutiny in Equatorial Guinea than in other African countries. (Quartz, 30-September-2019).

Eritrea – Eritrea has not joined the Belt and Road Initiative. However, the Foreign Ministers of Eritrea and China have committed to a mutually beneficial relationship for both countries. The two sides have assessed their relations and discussed ways and means of boosting cooperation in various fields. China welcomed the positive developments in the Horn of Africa and underlined its readiness to help in the process underway. Eritrea was one of a handful of nations whose president was not in attendance during the Forum for China – Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) held in Beijing in 2018. China’s relations in Africa continue to elicit claims that most nations are being wooed into debt traps. Neighboring Ethiopia, Djibouti, and Kenya have substantive Chinese investments. Leaders of the three countries were recently in China for the second Belt and Road summit (Africa News, 8-May-2019).

eSwatini – eSwatini has not joined the Belt and Road Initiative. eSwatini is Taiwan’s last friend in Africa. China has tried to win over eSwatini repeatedly, but the tiny kingdom, previously known as Swaziland, is staying with Taiwan for “diplomatic and political morality” even though it is left standing alone. It is the only African country that maintains diplomatic relations with the Asian island after Burkina Faso switched to China in May 2018.  China does not allow countries to have official ties with both itself and Taiwan as it regards the island as a breakaway province that it has vowed to retake, by force if necessary. eSwatini may be standing its ground in a decades-old dispute between China and Taiwan, but not everyone is all in. The Communist Party of Swaziland, which refuses to adopt the country’s new name, says both sides are illegitimate and merely propping each other up on the international stage (BBC, 14-January-2019).

Ethiopia – The Belt and Road Initiative remains the driving force for Sino-Ethiopian relations. In 2012, a data theft incident began at the African Union (AU) Headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where information from the AU’s computer systems was allegedly transmitted to servers in China. This continued, at the same time every night, for five years, until it was discovered in January 2017. A year following, in January 2018, French paper Le Monde ran a story on it. That’s when the revelations went public. The computer systems in the African Union Headquarters were supplied by Chinese telecommunications company Huawei and paid for by the Chinese government. When sensitive data was routed from AU servers back to servers located in Shanghai, it raised many suspicions about the Chinese government’s use of Huawei equipment to spy on foreign activity. Amidst all of the ongoing controversy around Huawei, 5G, and national security, this incident has cropped back up in discussions about the extent to which the Chinese intelligence services do or could plant backdoors in Huawei systems for espionage purposes (Duke University, 30-May-2019).

Gabon – Gabon is a member of China’s Belt and Road Initiative. The development of Sino-Gabonese relations and the level of investment of Chinese companies in Gabon, has steadily increased over the years, and there is desire to strengthen Chinese investment. Initially, Chinese investors were involved primarily in the core sectors of lumber and mining; while bilateral cooperation was focused on trade. Since then, cooperation with China has been extended to the sectors of defense and culture. China has offered many scholarships to Gabonese students and also advanced training courses for public officials (Xinhua, 1-September-2018).

Gambia – Gambia is a member of China’s Belt and Road Initiative. China and Gambia have achieved notable cooperation on major infrastructure projects, enabling the bilateral friendship to take root among the two peoples. Gambia’s commitment to the one-China policy opened the way for the development of bilateral ties. However, recent anti-Chinese protests in a Gambian fishing village show the conflict of foreign investment in Africa (Xinhua, 6-January-2019).

Ghana – Ghana is a member of China’s Belt and Road Initiative. China may be engaging in unauthorized mining of gold and other mineral resources in the West African country. Chinese state companies are active in Ghana, developing roads, railways, and the power sector. Ghana has close ties with China, a major source of loans and other funding. Chinese companies are also involved in oil exploration, electric power generation and many other development projects in Ghana. According to the SAIS China-Africa Research Institute of Johns Hopkins University, Chinese banks extended the African country a total of $3.17 billion in loans between 2000 and 2015, making Ghana the seventh largest African recipient of Chinese lending. (Nikkei Asia Review, 6-January-2019).

Guinea – Guinea is a member of China’s Belt and Road Initiative. China agreed to loan Guinea $20 billion over almost 20 years in exchange for concessions on bauxite, an ore of aluminum which the country has in abundance. The money will be spent on badly needed infrastructure – Guinea is one of the world’s least developed countries. China often uses a roads-for-minerals formula to gain access to Africa’s resources. Guinea, Africa’s leading bauxite producer, holds some of the world’s richest bauxite and iron ore deposits (Reuters, 6-September-2017).

Guinea-Bissau – Guinea-Bissau has not joined the Belt and Road Initiative. Chinese logging has taken a heavy toll on farmers in Guinea-Bissau, in order to harvest its most important resource: the rosewood forest. The tiny country in West Africa saw a logging boom after the 2012 coup plunged the country into chaos. For three years the wood, which is valued for furniture in China, was shipped off by the tens of thousands of tons – destroying farmland and livelihoods in the process. Logging slowed after the state put a five-year moratorium on logging and exports in 2015. But with a presidential election coming up and the ban set to expire next year, farmers and activists say that they fear a return to widespread plunder (Reuters, 8-May-2019).

Kenya – Kenya is a member of China’s Belt and Road Initiative. The prospect that China might at some point be able to seize Kenya’s prized port of Mombasa has caused public confusion and alarm and again raised questions about the risks of participating in China’s BRI. Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta has strongly denied a local media report that the East African nation was at risk of having China seize the strategic port in compensation for unpaid debt related to belt and road infrastructure development projects. According to online news portal African Stand, Kenya may soon have to hand over control of its largest and most developed port, while other assets related to the inland shipment of goods from Mombasa, on the Indian Ocean coast, may also be affected. The report again raises questions about the risks for countries borrowing from China for infrastructure projects (South China Morning Post, 30-December-2018).

Lesotho – Lesotho has not joined the Belt and Road Initiative. Lesotho launched China-funded road project. The 91-km-long road connecting Mpiti to Sehlaba-Thebe parallels the Drakensburg mountain range. It will be upgraded from gravel road to asphalt road. Due to the complex terrain, the construction process will last 36 months. The project will cost $128 million US dollars. The Chinese government will supply $100 million US dollars of concessional loan. When the project is completed, it will become a double-lane road, shortening the driving time from Mpiti to Sehlaba Tthebe from 4 hours to 1-1.5 hours. It will also promote tourism since it connects Sehlaba-Thebe National park – the only world heritage in Lesotho (Xinhua, 7-December-2018).

Liberia – Liberia is a member of China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Infrastructure development in Liberia remains an important priority. China and Liberia have decided to cooperate to realize joint development and economic prosperity. Liberia, the Chinese government, as well as the Africa Development Bank, recognize that rehabilitating infrastructure in Liberia is essential. Liberia and China intend to work together to enhance political relations, economic ties, security cooperation, and people-to-people exchange.  Liberian President Weah told the Chinese publication, Xinhua, “Our need is roads … building roads to connect the country will help Liberia get back on track. If you look at most of our infrastructure, like the roads, they are being built by Chinese companies. This is one of the ways that China is helping (IOL, 12-June-2019).”

Libya – Libya is a member of China’s Belt and Road Initiative.  China has urged stakeholders to respect Libya’s sovereignty and called for a multilateral political solution to the Libyan crisis. Although China’s support for a political solution in Libya aligns closely with its positions on other protracted conflicts, like the Yemeni civil war and war in Afghanistan, Beijing’s official policy of nonalignment in Libya differs markedly from its handling of the 2011 Libyan civil war. During that conflict, Chinese companies were accused of negotiating arms sales to Muammar al-Gaddafi’s forces, and Beijing criticized NATO’s imposition of a no-fly zone and subsequent military intervention to overthrow Gaddafi. China’s pro-Gaddafi stance in 2011 could be explained by its possession of $20 billion in outstanding contracts with Libya before the war.  Beijing has vested interests in ensuring the UN-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) possesses control over Tripoli. China’s partiality toward the GNA can be explained by its pursuit of commercial opportunities with entities aligned with Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj (The Diplomat, 18-June-2019). Meanwhile, Russia has deployed private military contractors to Libya to deliver arms, train government forces and provide protection, developing ties with different parties in the ongoing conflict. (Bloomberg, 25-September-2019).

Madagascar – Madagascar is a member of China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Chinese people in Madagascar comprise Africa’s third largest overseas Chinese population estimated at between 70,000 to 100,000 people. Malagasy fishermen see their traditional way of life threatened by the presence in their waters of Chinese fishing boats following the signature of a fishing agreement between Chinese investors and Madagascar business entities. The Chinese take everything, according to fishermen in Madagascar, one of the world’s poorest countries. The new fisheries deal with Chinese investors has provoked an outcry on the island where malnutrition is widespread (South China Morning Post, 13-December-2018). Madagascar, sometimes known as the “world’s eighth continent,” is a naturalist’s paradise. More than 80 percent of the flora and fauna on the island can be found nowhere else on earth. Among these rare species are two endangered variants of the rosewood tree. In Madagascar, rosewood traders are kingmakers, felling trees and governments. Going undercover, reporters found how they make millions smuggling the rare timber to China (OCCRP, 17-August-2018). A unit of China Nonferrous Metal Mining Group has signed a memorandum that could see the Chinese firm work on a rare earths project in Madagascar with rights to purchase products (Reuters, 24-June-2019).

Malawi – Malawi is a member of China’s Belt and Road Initiative.  Rejoice Shumba, spokesperson of Malawi’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs maintains that China is not out to exploit Malawi’s natural resources. The Chinese embassy in Malawi says its interest lies not only in Malawi’s natural wealth, but also in development. The embassy states that Malawi has benefited much from China, pointing at the construction of the parliament, Bingu National Stadium, the Karonga-Chitipa road in the northern region, the Bingu Conference Centre and Hotel, the University of Science and Technology, and the presidential villas. But in Malawi, agriculture, health and education still lag behind despite China’s promises. Shumba argues that “there are many variables which affect Malawi’s economic development. In 2016, Malawi imported goods and services worth $303 million from China while it exported goods and services worth $55 million. However, many Malawians say that importing low-quality products from China has rendered local traders jobless. Others argue that at least poor Malawians can afford to buy these cheap products. China also gives out loans to Malawi. In 2016, the two states signed an agreement for project financing worth $1.79 billion. The projects include a power plant and the construction of a new international airport (Development and Cooperation, 1-January-2018).

Mali – Mali is a member of China’s Belt and Road Initiative.  China’s peacekeeping contribution to UN operations in Mali represents another example of China’s developing willingness to send personnel into an active conflict zone. China’s expanded business interests in Africa, including the BRI, have resulted in calls for greater protection of Chinese assets and citizens abroad. Over the past decade, China has stepped up its dispute mediation activities, including work in many countries now part of the BRI. It has also sought to assure overseas Chinese, including those working in conflict-prone parts of Africa, that Beijing is seeking to better protect them. Mali, along with many other neighboring states in the Sahel region of northern Africa, were entangled in the aftershocks of the 2011 Libyan civil war. This resulted in the overthrow of longstanding leader Muammar Gaddafi. In March 2012, a military coup resulted in the removal of Malian President from office, and subsequent governments continue to struggle to prevent the country from becoming a failed state. France, the former colonial power in Mali, took the lead in launching counterinsurgency operations to expel Islamic extremist forces from northern Mali, and throughout the Sahel region, linking the Mali mission with those in Burkina Faso, Chad, Mauritania, and Niger known as the “G5 Sahel” (Oxford Research Group, 15-May-2019).

Mauritania – Mauritania is a member of China’s Belt and Road Initiative.  China encourages its companies, guided by market principles, to invest in Mauritania and help the country develop its industries through cooperation in areas such as maritime economy, light industry manufacturing, mining, and building materials. These are aimed at helping Mauritania gradually strengthen its capacity for independent development and establish its own industrial system. China also supports the important roles played by Africa’s regional organizations in dealing with African matters, supports the “G5 Sahel” mechanism championed by Mauritania, and will provide necessary assistance in maintaining regional security (Xinhua, 20-May-2017).

Mauritius – Mauritius has not joined the Belt and Road Initiative. In Mauritius, ‘Asia’s gateway to Africa,’ rivals China and India compete for the upper hand. Mauritius’ ties to India are historic, but China is key to its future. As rivalry grows in the region between Asia’s superpowers India and China, can the island nation continue to keep its door open to both? With a population of just 1.3 million, Mauritius relies on India for security, but needs China’s help for its ambition to become the Singapore of Africa, a financial and business gateway for overseas investors in the continent. About 70 per cent of the population is descended from indentured Indian laborers taken there by the British who ruled the island from 1810 to 1968 (South China Morning Post, 8-December-2018) .Given Mauritius’s middle-income economy, it is waiting to see what the BRI might mean in practice for others before jumping into an MOU. Given the robust and stable political systems in Mauritius, Chinese projects have come under much more scrutiny there than in other African countries. Nonetheless, Mauritius does receive high levels of Chinese investment (Quartz, 30-September-2019).

Morocco – Morocco is a member of China’s Belt and Road Initiative.  Morocco and China signed an economic and technical cooperation agreement in March 2019. The agreement will finance joint public projects. Since Morocco exempted Chinese citizens from getting visas before arrival in June 2016, Chinese investment and the number of Chinese tourists in Morocco has increased. With increasing numbers of tourists, the two countries announced a direct flight connecting Casablanca to Beijing or Shanghai. China’s BRI strategy established the Maritime Silk Road, a trade sea route connecting China to Europe through East Africa. Although it lies in northwest Africa, Morocco is relevant to China’s plan. Morocco is eight miles away from Europe, a major trade partner of China. The Strait of Gibraltar separating Spain and Morocco is a strategic global trade location. China made a number of investments in Morocco’s cultural, education, and technology sectors, laying the foundation for the long-term BRI projects.  The Confucius Institute, a state-affiliated organization promoting the Chinese language and culture, has also opened in Tangier (Morocco World News, 20-March-2019).

Mozambique – Mozambique is a member of China’s Belt and Road Initiative.  The Mozambican and Chinese governments have signed five cooperation agreements. Maputo and Beijing signed the MoUs at the end of bilateral talks between Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping (Club of Mozambique, 26-April-2019). Meanwhile, China’s search for sand is destroying Mozambique’s pristine beaches. The minerals found in sand are key ingredient cement, mortar, tile, brick, glass, adhesives, and ceramics. With rapidly developing cities, China has become the world’s largest consumer of concrete, and sand as a raw material (Quartz, 23-October-2019). Several Russian mercenaries have been killed by Islamist insurgents in Mozambique. On 10 October two Russian soldiers working for the Wagner private military company were shot dead after being ambushed. On 27 October, five more Russians were killed during an ambush.

Namibia – Namibia is a member of China’s Belt and Road Initiative. China’s return on investment from increased port access and supply chains in Namibia is not all about economics. In Walvis Bay, China’s port investments have been followed by regular People’s Liberation Army Navy deployments and strengthened military agreements. In this way, financial investments have been turned into geostrategic returns (Africa Center for Strategic Studies, 22-March-2019). China supports the Republic of Namibia economically, for example by building roads and harbors like the Port of Walvis Bay which serves the Southern African Development Community countries. Much of the goods destined for Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia and beyond pass through the port (Xinhua, 16-September-2019).

Niger – Niger is a member of China’s Belt and Road Initiative.  China and Niger should enhance Belt and Road cooperation and implement major projects in areas such as infrastructure, energy and agriculture. President Xi Jinping made the remark while meeting with Niger’s President Mahamadou Issoufou. China and Niger signed a number of cooperation documents after their talks. Xi appreciated Issoufou’s efforts in promoting the China-Niger and China-Africa friendship over the past few years. China will continue to support Niger to fight terrorism and safeguard regional peace and stability (China Daily, 29-May-2019). Meanwhile, the government of Niger has announced plans to redraw the boundaries of one of Africa’s largest biodiversity reserves, in a push from China to exploit the region’s oil. Under the plans, areas of the reserve which overlap with CNPC’s oilfields will be declassified from their protected status to allow the company to expand its oil exploration activities (Climate Change News, 8-July-2019).

Nigeria – Nigeria is a member of China’s Belt and Road Initiative.  Chinese investment in Nigeria’s oil and gas industry has reached $16 billion, according to Nigeria’s state-run oil company. While Nigeria’s oil industry welcomes China’s interest, analysts worry about a lack of transparency. When a top official with China National Offshore Oil Corp., (CNOOC) paid a visit to Abuja, Nigeria, he was recommended by a top official of Nigeria’s state-run oil company to increase investment in Nigeria’s petroleum industry. The two countries need each other to reach their oil production targets. Africa’s largest oil producing nation pumps 2 million barrels a day and has a goal of producing 3 million barrels a day by 2023. China’s domestic oil production has been on a steady decline because of natural depletion and other geological challenges. So, experts predict that up to 80 percent of China’s crude oil supply will be imported by 2030. In comes Nigeria, but there’s skepticism. Nigeria has had a hard time reaching its production targets. There’s sporadic militancy in the oil-producing region, as young people often take violent action to demand more access to the country’s oil wealth. There’s theft happening right at the pipelines. Oil operations in Nigeria are disrupted several times a year. Nigerian business mogul and the richest man in Africa, Aliko Dangote, is building what will be Africa’s largest oil refinery in the Nigerian commercial city of Lagos (VOA News, 28-August-2019).

Rwanda – Rwanda is a member of China’s Belt and Road Initiative. The prime minister’s office in Kigali is a shiny new complex in the heart of the capital. The complex, built at a cost of $27 million, was a gift from the Chinese government to Rwanda. There are many testaments to the progress since the end of the Rwandan genocide—the seats of a stable government, the industrial complexes behind a growing economy, the housing for an emerging middle class—have been built by the Chinese. The projects have been marked by red flags, stars, and plaques, which have put in plain sight a rising, and worrying, trend for Rwanda and the region. Even as China invests more attention and resources in Africa’s development, it sinks nations on the continent deeper into debt and dependence. Now many in the West—prominent politicians, generals, economists, and more—believe that the costs are outweighing the benefits and that Chinese investments are imperiling African prosperity and sovereignty in the process (The Atlantic, 3-August-2019).

Sao Tome and Principe – Sao Tome and Principe are members of China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Sao Tome and Principe resumed relations with China recently after severing ties with Taiwan in 2016. China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi, on an annual trip to Africa, visited the tiny island nation, off the continent’s western gulf. Beijing’s interest in the archipelago, with its population of roughly 200,000, may seem unusual. But experts CNBC spoke to have suggested that Sao Tome and Principe could serve as a strategic transport hub for the superpower. China has pledged to provide the archipelago with a $146 million for the modernization of its International Airport and the construction of a deep-sea container port, which could serve as a logistics hub for Chinese exports to Central Africa. This is not the first time a foreign power has expressed an interested in Sao Tome and Principe as a port. In 2002, the BBC reported that the United States was considering building a naval base on the island to safeguard oil interests in the region — though little has been heard of this plan since (CNBC, 17-January-2018).

Senegal – Senegal is a member of China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Senegal has taken the lead in West Africa in signing cooperation documents and China is willing to facilitate the construction of agreed infrastructure projects and expand cooperation with Senegal in emerging fields such as industrial parks in accordance with its needs. The Senegalese foreign minister said the BRI and the eight major initiatives in collaboration with Africa proposed by President Xi Jinping dovetail highly with the Agenda 2063 of the African Union and the Emerging Senegal Plan proposed by President Macky Sall, which will bring mutual benefits and win-win results for China and Africa (Xinhua, 7-January-2019).

Seychelles – Seychelles is a member of China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Seychelles and China will be opening up trade connectivity, deepening investment and industrial cooperation through two newly signed Memoranda of Understanding. The first MOU addresses cooperation between the two countries within the framework of the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road Initiative. This will aim, State House said, at promoting socio-economic and infrastructural development between China and Seychelles, a group of 115 islands in the western Indian Ocean. Seychelles and China will also be cooperating in the marine sector through a ‘Blue Partnership.’ The agreement will establish closer relations between ocean-related agencies in the two countries. It is also expected to improve the understanding of the ocean and climate change and strengthen marine environmental protection (Seychelles News Agency, 3-September-2018).

Sierra Leone – Sierra Leone is a member of China’s Belt and Road Initiative.  In the fall of 2018, Sierra Leone became the latest African country to rethink a Chinese loan. Sierra Leone canceled a Chinese loan to build the $318 million Mamamah International Airport in Freetown, a legacy project of the country’s previous government. The World Bank and IMF raised concerns about Sierra Leone’s debt, and the new government concluded the project was “uneconomical.” United States politicians regularly accuse China of debt-trap diplomacy, portraying African countries as victims of bad Chinese deals. But this cancellation is the latest example of African governments’ wielding agency in their relations with China (Axios, 6-November-2018).

Somalia – Somalia is a member of China’s Belt and Road Initiative. China will start fishing along Somalia’s coastline just as piracy makes a comeback. The country with mainland Africa’s longest coastline is inviting China to its shores. Somalia granted fishing licenses to 31 Chinese vessels to exploit tuna and tuna-like species off its coast in a bid to tap the sector for economic growth. The Horn of Africa nation is especially known for its seasonally high abundance of large pelagic fish and its diverse tuna samples including the yellowfin, longtail, and bigeye tuna. Yet the sector has remained untapped, bedeviled by poor infrastructure, lack of regulation, and a culture that prizes meat from livestock over seafood. By authorizing foreign permits, Somali authorities hope to make the sector sustainable, generate revenue and also contribute to national and international trade. Somalia has never had a large domestic industrial fishing fleet and has mostly used foreign fleets to undertake fishing for them. In West Africa, however, Chinese vessels have been accused of depleting stocks, using opaque measures to obtain licenses, and threatening the livelihood of fishermen (Quartz, 24-December-2018).

South Africa – South Africa is a member of China’s Belt and Road Initiative and is Africa’s most advanced economy. China is South Africa’s largest trading partner and has pledged more investment in South Africa than any other country. With around 80 percent of the continent’s communications infrastructure already built by Huawei and fellow Chinese firm ZTE, the pressure the United States has exerted not to sign deals with Huawei will never work in Africa (Reuters, 29-July-2019). Meanwhile, Russia has deployed two Tu-160 “Blackjack” nuclear bombers to South Africa in a display of defense cooperation. The two bombers, which are capable of launching nuclear missiles, are the first to ever land in Africa and will be escorted by fighter jets from the South African Air Force when they touch down at the Waterkloof air base in Tshwane, the South African National Defense Force said in a statement. The bombers and a number of other Russian military aircraft will also land at the site. The arrival of the bombers in Africa’s most industrialized nation coincides with Russian President Vladimir Putin hosting an Africa summit, the first such event to be organized by Russia. The nation is competing with China and the US for influence in Africa (Time, 23-October-2019).

Sudan –Sudan is a member of China’s Belt and Road Initiative and constitutes one of China’s most important markets in Arab Africa. Since 2000 Sudan has seen a substantial increase in trade and investment with China. Sudan provides energy exports for China. Together, Algeria and Sudan account for over 7 percent of Chinese imports into the Middle East and North Africa. Sudan is China’s largest recipient of foreign aid. Such figures illustrate the level of interest on both sides. In addition, Sudan has also been among the region’s largest purchasers of Chinese arms. Chinese capital and finance are attractive to Sudan’s government, which aims to stimulate and develop its economy. Consequently, whatever governments eventually emerge in Sudan, they will not overturn the bulk of previously established projects and activities with China (The Diplomat, 8-March-2019).

South Sudan – South Sudan is a member of China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Few countries would look at South Sudan as an ideal location for a business venture, but China has built much of its reputation as a world power on an economic philosophy of risk-taking. South Sudan also offers a lucrative opportunity for entrepreneurs intrepid enough to take it. The East African country boasts 3.5 billion barrels’ worth of crude oil in proven reserves, and petroleum geologists will likely find more in the two-thirds of South Sudan that they have yet to explore. Despite the challenges of working in a war zone, China dominates what analysts have assessed as the third largest oil reserves in Africa. Even before South Sudan became independent in 2011, China had a monopoly on the oil sector in Sudan. This monopoly continued in independent South Sudan. Much of China’s success in Africa comes from the world power’s tendency to avoid criticizing allies who ignore human rights and international law. This approach to foreign policy underpins the BRI (The Diplomat, 11-February-2019).

Tanzania – Tanzania is a member of China’s Belt and Road Initiative. China and Tanzania are presently in talks to get US$10 billion Bagamoyo deep-water port project back on track.  The project was suspended indefinitely by Tanzania’s president over problems with terms of deal, which is being developed under China’s BRI and is intended to be Africa’s largest deep-water port. Tanzanian President John Magufuli described the terms – which include long tax breaks for investors in the special economic zone, halting the expansion of other ports and the loss of some sovereignty – as “exploitative and awkward.” Beijing has steadily increased its investments and trade with African countries in recent years. Chinese investments in Tanzania topped US$7 billion in 2018. But that increase in funding has led to charges that Beijing is using the BRI to gain political leverage in Africa by saddling developing nations with debts they cannot repay. The projects have also been criticized for their lack of transparency, feasibility and sustainability (South China Morning Post, 11-July-2019).

Togo – Togo is a member of China’s Belt and Road Initiative. A follow-up group for the past Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) has been sent to China by the Togolese government, to track potential partnerships and investments. The group was recently at the head office of the China Road and Bridge Corporation. The Chinese construction group had during the FOCAC said it was interested in handling the corridor project falling under Togo’s national development plan (which was presented at the event). China Road and Bridge Corporation is actually already operating in Togo, on the Lomé-Vogan-Anfoin road project and has also worked on the rehabilitation of the Amakpapé Bridge (Togo First, 26-June-2019).

Tunisia – Tunisia is a member of China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Tunisian Prime Minister Youssef Chahed met with Song Tao, head of the International Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China and hailed the development of Sino-Tunisian relations and the strengthening of political mutual trust, since the two countries established diplomatic ties 55 years ago. Cooperation in various fields between the two countries has been moving forward under the BRI. Tunisia hopes that China will actively participate in projects such as the construction of highways, railways, bridges and other infrastructure as well as the development of economic zones in Tunisia. The CPC is open to conversations with Tunisian parties to promote development of Sino-Tunisian ties in the future (China Daily, 27-July-2019).

Uganda – Uganda is a member of China’s Belt and Road Initiative. However, as China builds up Africa, some in Uganda warn of trouble. China’s assertive, large-scale investments in Africa are starting to find pushback in Uganda, where some critics worry the East African nation is using oil it hasn’t even begun to produce to borrow hundreds of millions of dollars for infrastructure projects. Longtime President Yoweri Museveni recently caused an outcry by interfering in a bidding process for one major project and naming the Chinese firm he wanted, raising questions about Beijing’s growing influence. And while Chinese projects in Africa are promoted as coming with no political demands, Uganda recently issued a surprising statement against the protests in Hong Kong, where people have revolted for months against the mainland’s interference in their affairs. But resistance among some Ugandans to Chinese funding is growing as they see other countries balloon their debts to worrying levels. Some opposition figures allege that the funding can fuel corruption. Even Uganda’s finance minister appears to be concerned that growing debt to China could have consequences for his country’s sovereignty. Uganda’s national debt stood at over $10 billion in 2018, nearly a third of it owed to China (Associated Press, 24-October-2019).

Western Sahara – While Western Sahara is not officially a recognized state, Morocco’s status as a member of the Belt and Road Initiative and the Morocco-China partnership is influencing the outlook for the future of the disputed territory. In 2016, Morocco’s King Mohammed VI went to China two months after UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s controversial statement describing Morocco’s presence in the Western Sahara as “occupation.” The visit came shortly after the Security Council renewed the mandate of the UN mission in the territory known as MINURSO, and against the backdrop of Morocco’s disappointment with the United States as a result of its unsupportive stance towards Morocco in the Security Council. Morocco hopes that through partnership with China, it can achieve certain political gains with regards Western Sahara. China does not advocate the establishment of micro-states based on the principle of self-determination. Influenced by its history – the foreign occupation of parts of its territory such as Hong Kong and Macau, in addition to its own problems with separatism both in Taiwan and Tibet – China is one of the few influential countries that does not support the concept of self-determination as necessarily leading to independence (The New Arab, 19-May-2016).

Zambia – Zambia is a member of China’s Belt and Road Initiative; however, resistance is growing to China’s presence in the country. Zambia’s ties with China are among the longest of all African countries. Today, more than half a century after the relationship began, there is growing anti-Chinese sentiment in Zambia, much of it fanned by polarized media claiming that China has taken control of the nation’s economy. China is heavily invested in Zambia’s copper mining industry. Chinese state-controlled firms are flourishing, winning almost every government project. Airports, hydropower stations, highways and others; such multi-billion-dollar infrastructure projects have become the new signature of China in Zambia. However, since this is accompanied by a high influx of Chinese citizens, many Zambians are now responding with a resounding ‘no’ to these development projects. The projects are funded through government loans from China. Chinese-funded construction and infrastructure projects are almost always awarded to Beijing-backed firms. Zambians question the quality and longevity of Chinese-built infrastructure. Additionally, there is concern that the Chinese projects have contributed to the high level of corruption in Zambia (DW, 4-September-2019).

Zimbabwe – Zimbabwe is a member of China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Thousands of Zimbabweans are facing eviction as another Chinese investor prepares to take over a mine-rich village on the outskirts of the capital Harare. The generosity of President Mnangagwa’s government to Chinese investors is threatening the livelihoods of thousands of villagers.  Despite Zimbabwe’s strict mining code, setting strict licensing rules complete with environmental impact studies and compensation for displaced families, many foreign companies tapping into the country’s vast mineral resources still manage to operate outside the rules. The government’s desperation to find investors has allowed unscrupulous companies to enter the country under questionable deals. Zimbabwe’s platinum reserves are estimated to last for the next 400 years. Zimbabwe has been discovered to own huge reserves of coal, uranium, gas, lithium, gold, antimony, iron, steel, chrome. Despite the International Monetary Fund expecting Zimbabwe to slide into recession in 2019, the country is regarded as one of the richest not just in Africa, but on the world stage on the strength of its untapped mineral reserves (RFI, 30-April-2019).

Kyle “Jäger” Stramblad is an Academic Instructor in the Multi-Domain Operational Strategist concentration at the United States Air Force’s Air Command and Staff College. He attended a semester of undergraduate studies abroad at the University of Cape Town, South Africa studying colonial and post-colonial experiences in African history. Besides living in South Africa, he has traveled to Botswana, Egypt, Morocco, Namibia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. In 2011, he flew AFRICOM missions in Libya providing command and control, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance.  In July 2019, he participated in a visit to Headquarters United States AFRICOM. This staff visit’s purpose was to determine how Air Command and Staff College could better prepare professional military education students for AFRICOM’s unique and challenging mission. Email:

Disclaimer: The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Air Force or the United States Government.

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