Tag Archives: scramble for Africa

Unparalleled Generosity: How China Won the Hearts and Minds of Africa

When  it comes to building big things in Africa, China is unrivalled. Beijing-backed firms have redrawn the continent’s transport map. Thanks to China’s engineers and bankers you can hop on a train in Lagos to beat the traffic to Ibadan, drive across parts of eastern Congo in hours rather than days or fly into any one of dozens of recently spruced-up airports from Zanzibar to Zambia. Throw in everything else from skyscrapers and bridges to dams and three dozen-odd ports and it all adds up to rather a lot of mortar.

It was not always so. In 1990 American and European companies scooped up more than 85% of construction contracts on the continent. Chinese firms did not even get a mention. Now Western firms are struggling to win business in a fast-growing market. (The World Bank predicts that demand for infrastructure spending alone will be more than $300bn a year by 2040.) Africa’s population is growing faster than that of any other continent, and Africans are moving to cities faster than people elsewhere. Both these trends will drive demand. The dragon’s share will be built by Chinese firms, which in 2020 were responsible for 31% of all infrastructure projects in Africa with a value of $50m or more, according to Deloitte, a consultancy. That was up from 12% in 2013. Western firms were directly responsible for just 12% or so (compared with 37% in 2013)…

Chinese lenders are pluckier than their Western rivals. Sometimes this borders on recklessness. When Uhuru Kenyatta, Kenya’s president, wanted $4.7bn to build a new railway which the World Bank warned would never turn a profit, Chinese lenders backed it. The railway has since lost more than $200m. Often, Chinese firms are tough negotiators. Several have struck resources-for-roads deals, such as those worth more than $1.1bn in Ghana and Guinea, where the loans are backed by bauxite… 

In 2021,  China said it would stump up its own cash to build smart new foreign ministries in Congo and Kenya. It has also picked up the tab for numerous other official buildings, from parliament complexes in Sierra Leone and Zimbabwe to presidential palaces in Burundi, Guinea-Bissau and Togo. Given such generosity, it is hardly surprising that some African governments are predisposed to favor Chinese firms…. 

Perhaps as important is that China is unwittingly crowding in Western money by stoking the geopolitical anxieties of Western leaders. Britain’s government recently said its development arm would invest $1bn in Kenyan infrastructure and that a British firm would build a new rail hub in central Nairobi. The G7 group of countries last year launched the Build Back Better World initiative, a shameless copy of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). All this should mean more opportunities for construction firms of all nationalities, whether Western, Chinese or, with a bit of luck, African, too.

Excerpts from Chasing the dragon: How Chinese firms have dominated African infrastructure, Economist,  Feb. 19, 2022

US in Africa: Ghana

Ghana’s parliament on March 23, 2018 ratified a deal granting “unimpeded” access to the United States to deploy troops and military equipment in the West African nation in a vote boycotted by the opposition, legislators said.The Ghana-U.S. Military Cooperation agreement requires Ghana to provide unimpeded access to agreed facilities and areas to U.S. forces, their contractors and other related services.

It said facilities provided by Ghana shall be designated as either for exclusive use by U.S. troops or to be jointly used with their Ghanaian counterparts. “Ghana shall also provide access to and use of a runway that meets the requirements of United States forces,” it said. The Americans will use

But critics, including some civil society groups, say this year’s agreement amounted to mortgaging the country’s sovereignty.

Ghana votes to host U.S. military; opposition boycotts vote, Reuters, Mar. 23, 2018

Who Controls dot.Africa?

Now a virtual version of this scramble for Africa is taking place in a court in California, over ownership of the continent’s internet address, or technically its “generic top-level domain” (gTLD).The .africa name, which would grace the end of web and e-mail addresses, was meant to have joined existing ones such as .com about two years ago…But a dispute over who should control the .africa address has dragged on for years and been further delayed by a recent ruling.

At issue was a decision by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), a non-profit organisation that manages the web’s address book, to give control of the name to ZA Central Registry (ZACR), a South African non-profit that was one of two applicants for the name. ZACR’s ace was not just that it had the support of almost three-quarters of African countries (it needed 60%) but that it had been chosen by the African Union to look after the address book for the continent.The other applicant, DotConnectAfrica (DCA), a Mauritius-registered non-profit, was turned down because, among other things, it could not prove that it had enough support and because several African governments objected to it. Although it was clearly the weaker of the two applicants, DCA was thrown a legal lifeline when ICANN blundered, failing to halt its selection process when DCA appealed against the decision. Instead it went ahead and gave the rights to ZACR, opening the way to a further string of appeals and reconsiderations that have finally landed before a court in America. Judges there ordered ICANN not to hand out the name to anyone while the case drags tortuously on.

At stake is more than the money that would flow to whoever gets the right to sell .africa website addresses, but also an important principle over who should control regional names that are, in a sense, a virtual commons. African states have every right to feel aggrieved that, having decided who should control the web address of the continent, they are as powerless to enforce their wishes as they were in Berlin in 1884.

Excerpts from A virtual turf war: The scramble for .africa, Economist, June 10, 2016

Scramble for Africa II – Secret Cables

Africa emerges as the 21st century theatre of espionage, with South Africa as its gateway, in the cache of secret intelligence documents and cables seen by the Guardian. “Africa is now the El Dorado of espionage,” said one serving foreign intelligence officer.

The continent has increasingly become the focus of international spying as the battle for its resources has intensified, China’s economic role has grown dramatically, and the US and other western states have rapidly expanded their military presence and operations in a new international struggle for Africa…. The leaked documents obtained by al-Jazeera and shared with the Guardian contain the names of 78 foreign spies working in Pretoria, along with their photographs, addresses and mobile phone numbers – as well as 65 foreign intelligence agents identified by the South Africans as working undercover. Among the countries sending spies are the US, India, Britain and Senegal.

The United States, along with its French and British allies, is the major military and diplomatic power on the continent. South Africa spends a disproportionate amount of time focused on Iran and jihadi groups, in spite of internal documents showing its intelligence service does not regard either as a major threat to South Africa. “The Americans get what they want,” an intelligence source said…

Chinese intelligence is identified in one secret South African cable as the suspect in a nuclear break-in. A file dating from December 2009 on South Africa’s counter-intelligence effort says that foreign agencies had been “working frantically to influence” the country’s nuclear energy expansion programme, identifying US and French intelligence as the main players. But due to the “sophistication of their covert operations”, it had not been possible to “neutralise” their activities.

However, a 2007 break-in at the Pelindaba nuclear research centre – where apartheid South Africa developed nuclear weapons in the 1970s – by four armed and “technologically sophisticated criminals” was attributed by South African intelligence to an act of state espionage. At the time officials publicly dismissed the break-in as a burglary.

Several espionage agencies were reported to have shown interest in the progress of South Africa’s Pebble Bed Modular Reactor. According to the file, thefts and break-ins at the PBMR site were suspected to have been carried out to “advance China’s rival project”. It added that China was “now one year ahead … though they started several years after PBMR launch”.

In an October 2009 report by South Africa’s intelligence service, the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), on operations in Africa, Israel is said to be “working assiduously to encircle and isolate Sudan from the outside, and to fuel insurrection inside Sudan”. Israel “has long been keen to capitalise on Africa’s mineral wealth”, the South African spying agency says, and “plans to appropriate African diamonds and process them in Israel, which is already the world’s second largest processor of diamonds”.  The document reports that members of a delegation led by then foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman had been “facilitating contracts for Israelis to train various militias” in Africa…

[According to leaked documents]: “Foreign governments and their intelligence services strive to weaken the state and undermine South Africa’s sovereignty. Continuing lack of an acceptable standard of security … increases the risk.” It lists theft of laptop computers, insufficient lock-up facilities, limited vetting of senior officials in sensitive institutions, no approved encryption on landlines or mobiles, total disregard by foreign diplomats for existing regulations, ease of access to government departments allowed to foreign diplomats, and the lack of proper screening for foreigners applying for sensitive jobs.  According to one intelligence officer with extensive experience in South Africa, the NIA is politically factionalised and “totally penetrated” by foreign agencies: “Everyone is working for someone else.” The former head of the South African secret service, Mo Shaik, a close ally of the president, Jacob Zuma, was described as a US confidant and key source of information on “the Zuma camp” in a leaked 2008 Wikileaks cable from the American embassy in Pretoria.

Excerpts Seumas Milne and Ewen MacAskill Africa is new ‘El Dorado of espionage’, leaked intelligence files , Guardian, Feb. 23, 2015