Amid a surge of European and U.S. inward-looking nativist populism, the West’s longstanding influence in Africa is in retreat. At the same time, China appears to be doubling-down on globalism with a trillion dollar bet called “One Belt, One Road” or OBOR.
OBOR is China’s hugely ambitious global mercantile agenda that aims to connect the PRC to trade routes across the Indian Ocean through the Middle East, Europe and back to China via Central Asia. Already, Beijing has spent an estimated $250 billion, some in Africa where it is either building or has plans to construct railroads, data centers and its first ever overseas military installation among dozens of other planned infrastructure projects.
Despite the many misgivings Africans feel about China, they are also making a hard-nosed calculation that the continent can profit from a close relationship with China in a way it can’t with the West
With so much money flowing around amid a concerted Chinese-orchestrated, OBOR-themed propaganda push, it is easy to get carried away by the audacity of the whole project. A trillion dollars? What country is spending that kind of money in this day and age? No one but the Chinese. So, it’s important to keep some perspective here and to appreciate that OBOR will never be able to live up to the massive hype, nor will it likely deliver the “win-win” benefits so often promised to Beijing’s partners in Africa and elsewhere around the world. But that doesn’t mean OBOR will not have a tremendous impact on certain parts of Africa and continue to re-orient the global trading system away from its once deeply entrenched pillars in the West towards new centers in the East.
As Africa’s primary trading alliances shift from West to East, the continent’s diplomatic and political allegiances are also expected to follow. Although there is considerable apprehension among many African leaders about becoming too dependent on China, there is also a growing sense that it would be foolish not to follow the shift in geopolitical power that increasingly favors Asia over the U.S. and Europe.
“Despite the many misgivings Africans feel about China, they are also making a hard-nosed calculation that the continent can profit from a close relationship with China in a way it can’t with the West,” said Dr. Cobus van Staden, Wits University lecturer and co-host of the China in Africa podcast, in a recent column published in the Huffington Post.
In this edition of the show, Cobus joins Eric to discuss why he thinks OBOR is so transformational, even as China’s trade and immigration levels with Africa are steadily declining.