Commercial ties are being upended. As recently as 2006 Africa’s three biggest trading partners were America, China and France, in that order. By 2018 it was China first, India second and America third (France was seventh). Over the same period Africa’s trade has more than trebled with Turkey and Indonesia, and more than quadrupled with Russia. Trade with the European Union has grown by a more modest 41%. The biggest sources of foreign direct investment are still firms from America, Britain and France, but Chinese ones, including state-backed outfits, are catching up, and investors from India and Singapore are eager to join the fray. The stereotype of foreigners in Africa is of neocolonial exploiters, interested only in the continent’s natural resources, not its people, and ready to bribe local bigwigs in shady deals that do nothing for ordinary Africans.
The stereotype is sometimes true. Far too many oil and mineral ventures are dirty. Corrupt African leaders, of whom there is still an abundance, can always find foreign enablers to launder the loot. And contracts with firms from countries that care little for transparency, such as Russia, are often murky. Three Russian journalists were murdered last year while investigating a Kremlin-linked mercenary outfit that reportedly protects the president of the war-torn Central African Republic and enables diamond-mining there. Understandably, many saw a whiff of old-fashioned imperialism.