Even so, Africans can do more to increase their share of the benefits. First, voters and activists can insist on transparency. It is heartening that South Africa is investigating the allegedly crooked deals struck under the previous president, Jacob Zuma, but alarming that even worse behaviour in the Democratic Republic of Congo has gone unprobed, and that the terms of loans to some dangerously indebted African governments are secret. To be sure that a public deal is good for ordinary folk as well as big men, voters have to know what is in it. Journalists, such as the Kenyans who exposed scandals over a railway project, have a big role to play.
Second, Africa’s leaders need to think more strategically. Africa may be nearly as populous as China, but it comprises 54 countries, not one. African governments could strike better deals if they showed more unity. No one expects a heterogeneous continent that includes both anarchic battle zones and prosperous democracies to be as integrated as Europe. The power imbalance between, say, China and Uganda is huge. It could be reduced somewhat with a free-trade area or if African regional blocs clubbed together. After all, the benefits of infrastructure projects spill across borders.
Third, African leaders do not have to choose sides, as they did during the cold war. They can do business with Western democracies and also with China and Russia—and anyone else with something to offer. Because they have more choice now than ever before, Africans should be able to drive harder bargains. And outsiders should not see this as a zero-sum contest (as the Trump administration, when it pays attention to Africa, apparently does). If China builds a bridge in Ghana, an American car can drive over it. If a British firm invests in a mobile-data network in Kenya, a Kenyan entrepreneur can use it to set up a cross-border startup.
Last, Africans should take what some of their new friends tell them with a pinch of salt. Democracy is a Western idea; development requires a firm hand. This message no doubt appeals to African strongmen, but it is bunk. A study by Takaaki Masaki of the World Bank and Nicolas van de Walle of Cornell University found that African countries grow faster if they are more democratic. The good news is that, as education improves and Africans move rapidly to the cities, they are growing more critical of their rulers, and less frightened to say so. In 1997, 70% of African ruling parties won more than 60% of the vote, partly by getting rural chiefs to cow villagers into backing them. By 2015 only 50% did. As politics grows more competitive, voters’ clout will grow. And they will be able to insist on a form of globalisation that works for Africans and foreigners alike.