China’s Influence in Sub-Saharan Africa: 

At a Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) in 2000, the Chinese inaugurated a “strategic partnership” with 44 African governments. Forums have been held every three years since; in the most recent meeting in 2018, Beijing pledged $60 billion in economic assistance, matching the previous pledge in 2015. China pledged $40 billion during the 2021 FOCAC. While some commitments scaled back from previous years, China promised additional support to combat COVID-19 and announced a goal to increase its imports from Africa to a total of $300 billion in the next three years.

China is now Africa’s biggest trading partner, with Sino-African trade topping $200 billion per year.

Over 10,000 Chinese firms are currently operating throughout the African continent, and the value of Chinese business there since 2005 amounts to more than $2 trillion, with $300 billion in current investments. Africa has also passed Asia as the largest market for China’s overseas construction projects. 

According to the Chinese Loans to Africa Database, Chinese financiers signed 1,188 loan commitments worth $160 billion with African governments and their state-owned enterprises between 2000 and 2020, predominately in transportation, power generation, mining, telecommunications. The top loan recipient countries over the last 20 years included Angola, Zambia, Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, and Cameroon, and most recently the largest recipients included Ghana, South Africa, and Cote D’Ivoire.

China committed to providing 1.2 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines to Africa, where developing countries have received only 1% of global COVID-19 vaccine supply.

While slowed due to COVID-19, available data indicates that China’s top leadership (the president, premier and foreign minister) has made a total of 79 visits to 43 different African countries 2008-2018. China also has an estimated 53 embassies in Africa, more than does the U.S., and 52 African countries have signed onto an agreement or understanding with the One Belt One Road initiative.


China’s Influence in International Organizations:

As of 2016, 39 African governments had publicly supported Beijing’s preferred method for resolving its maritime disputes sparked by its expansionist South China Sea claim, as opposed to abiding by a 2016 international tribunal ruling that the United States endorsed.

In 2018, African countries’ average voting coincidence with the United States on important U.N. resolutions was 29%. Their voting more closely aligned with Beijing, which voted the opposite of Washington (save for two abstentions) on all those resolutions.”

During a vote in June 2020 at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva about the controversial Hong Kong national security law, 25 African countries – the largest grouping from any continent – backed China

African nations comprised nearly half of the 37 signatories of a 2019 open letter defending China’s oppressive actions against its minority Uighur population.


China’s Strategic Investments in Sub-Saharan Africa:

The African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia was funded and built by China in 2012 for $200 million. It was reportedly bugged, and the servers were routinely hacked. China has denied the allegations it was responsible for these activities.

In 2018, China announced that it will build the headquarters of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in Abuja, Nigeria.

In December 2022, China will complete the construction of a new headquarters of the African Center for Disease Control. China funded the project which cost $80 million. The U.S. supported the initial creation of the Africa CDC following the deadly Ebola outbreak in 2014.

Chinese companies have financed and built, expanded, or renovated at least 24 presidential or prime minister residences or offices; at least 26 parliaments or parliamentary offices; at least 32 military or police installations; at least 19 ministries of foreign affairs buildings; and at least 14 sensitive intra-governmental telecommunication networks.

China constructed the Nairobi-Mombasa Standard Gauge Railway, which cost $4.7 billion, with plans to build industrial parks in multiple Kenyan cities and connect industrial areas with port access in Mombasa. Unfortunately, China abruptly declined to complete the railway into Uganda, and the opaque nature of the contract and the lack of external feasibility studies and environmental controls has been the subject of multiple legal challenges. The railway has also been underutilized causing the SGR to run at a crippling deficit. China is already Kenya’s biggest external creditor, with some 22% of the country’s external debt as of December.  A poll taken in 2019-2020 by Afrobarometer found that 87%believed their government had borrowed too much money from China.

Currently, about four hundred Chinese investment projects valued at more than $4 billion are in operation in Ethiopia. Chinese companies are reportedly building up to 70% of the roads in Ethiopia, and the high-profile Addis Ababa–Djibouti Railway, which links the landlocked country to the Doraleh Multi-Purpose Port. According to the IMF, Ethiopia is at a high risk of external debt distress, and its government debt ratio stands at around 60% of its gross domestic product. In December 2021, China supported the Ethiopian government in voting against a UN resolution calling out human rights abuses committed during fighting in the Tigray region.

First reported by the Wall Street Journal in December 2021, China is seeking to construct a military base in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea. Equatorial Guinea’s debt to China was an estimated 49.7% of GDP. Beijing and Malabo also have a 50-year diplomatic relationship, and Equatorial Guinea was the first African country to receive Chinese vaccines during the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2006, China EXIM Bank funded the initial construction of the Port of Bata, the deep water port in Malabo, and Chinese SOEs have made significant updates to the port.

•U.S. Department of Defense reports indicates that China is also considering basing access in Angola, Tanzania, Kenya, and the Seychelles, among other non-African nations.

In 2018, the Government of Djibouti nationalized the Doreleh Container Terminal and cancelled the 25-year concession with DP World, one of the world’s top port operators.  The Government of Djibouti claims it maintains full control of the port, however China Merchant Port Holdings has a 25% stake in the port. Next door, China Civil Engineering Construction Corp. and China State Construction Engineering Corp. have built a multipurpose cargo facility next door to handle cars, livestock, steel and other goods. As of 2021, China holds more than 70% of Djibouti’s debt. An estimated 400 Chinese soldiers are stationed at the base.

Zambia defaulted on external debt payments in November 2020. China holds roughly $6 billion in bilateral loans. Zambia is the continent’s second largest producer of copper, which accounts for 70% of the nation’s revenue. 65.8% of Zambia’s external debt is held by China. 

Amid the COVID-19 outbreak, two Zambian officials alleged that China was demanding copper mining assets, including the third largest mine in Zambia, Mopani, as collateral for possible debt forgiveness after citing provisions in loan agreements.

Under pressure from the G20 debt forgiveness initiative and criticize about saddling countries with unsustainable debt, China has agreed to restructuring Zambia’s debt in order to pave the way for future IMF investments.

As many as two-thirds of China’s heavily subsidized fishing vessels in West Africa fish illegally, rapidly depleting fishing stocks and costing West Africa an estimated $2 billion a year.

More than 60% of China’s estimated total distant-water catch, worth $5 billion, takes place near West Africa.

China has space programs in nine countries— Angola, Algeria, Ethiopia, Egypt, Namibia, Mozambique, Nigeria, South Africa, and Sudan, —from which it launches their satellites, trains their space agencies, and, in the case of Kenya and Namibia, manages their ground-based satellite tracking stations. China is also building a continental satellite data receiver station in Ethiopia and ground facilities in Egypt as part of a wider effort to integrate Africa into the Belt and Road Space Information Corridor.


China’s Soft Power and Exchange Programs in Sub-Saharan Africa:

Between 2011 and 2015, under the auspices of the Sino-Africa Political Party Leaders program, the PRC financed more than 200 young African political leaders. In 2015, the program expanded, with Beijing advertising that it would host 1,000 young African political leaders by 2018. In 2022, the PRC opened its first permanent CCP-funded party school in Africa.

The Office of Chinese Language Council International (“Hanban”) manages overseas Chinese language-learning Confucius Institutes, including 61 in Africa.  Ministry of Commerce manages school construction in Africa and professional training. China also sponsors vocational training in Africa and some SOEs administer training in their areas of expertise. 

Hanban scholarships have contributed to the number of African students studying in China growing 26-fold in 12 years. There are now more African students in China than in the U.S.—only France hosts more African students than China does.

The treatment of African students during COVID-19 lockdowns, including thousands of students trapped in China during the early days of the pandemic, faced widespread public outcry across the continent.

The 2021 FOCAC Summit included an announcement of 10,000 training and seminar opportunities for high-end talents, a sharp reduction from the 2018 FOCAC, that promised 50,000 scholarships and training opportunities in China.


China’s Smart Cities and 5G Investments in Sub-Saharan Africa:

Huawei has constructed up to 70% of Africa’s information technology infrastructure.

Huawei and ZTE have likely built more than 40 telecom networks in over 30 African countries, and national and government networks in more than 20 African countries.

In Uganda, President Museveni signed a $126 million deal with Huawei for a smart city surveillance technology project, part of which is focused on building a new digital surveillance unit for the police force and installing hundreds more street cameras in the capital, Kampala.

Nine African countries use safe city systems provided by Chinese firms: Botswana, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Kenya, Mauritius, Morocco, South Africa, Uganda, and Zambia.


China’s Surveillance and Media Influence in Sub-Saharan Africa:

In 2009, the PRC revealed plans to allocate $6.6 billion to fund the expansion of Chinese state media in Africa. It uncertain what financing was provided in actuality, but the “external propaganda” budget is approximately $10 billion.

In 2018, Ugandan authorities enlisted Huawei technicians to assist them in penetrating the digital communications of Bobi Wine—an opposition member of parliament who is running against President Yoweri Museveni in 2021—which led to the arrest of Mr. Wine and dozens of his supporters.

A Chinese company, Cloudwalk, has agreed to provide facial recognition technology to the Zimbabwean government, something it has done for Chinese police involved in the draconian surveillance of China’s Xinjiang region.

ZTE, the Chinese government linked telecommunications giant, provided the Ethiopian regime under Prime Minister Hailemariam the technology to monitor its citizens’ telecommunications activity.

In Zambia, Huawei technicians helped the government access the phones and Facebook pages of a team of opposition bloggers running a pro-opposition news site, which had repeatedly criticized President Lungu. The technicians helped identify the bloggers location, leading to their eventual arrest by Zambian police forces.

In South Africa, companies linked to China have a 20% stake in Independent Media, the country’s second-largest media group, which includes 20 prominent newspapers, the outlet drew controversy by canceling a column that focused on the plight of Chinese Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang.

In Kenya, Huawei established the Integrated Control and Communications Center which provides support to over 9,000 police officers and 195 police stations.


China’s Security Assistance and Arms Transfers in Sub-Saharan Africa:

In 2017, China offered $100 million in new military aid to the African Union over the next 5 years.

Between 2017 and 2020, China transferred almost three times as many arms to sub-Saharan Africa than the United States did (in terms of both quantity and quality), according to CSIS analysis of data compiled by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia, the Seychelles, Tanzania, and Zambia each received more than 90 percent of their arms from China.

In 2017, China built its first overseas military base in Djibouti, nearby the only permanent U.S. military base on the continent. In 2018, China was accused of interfering with international airspace and high-powered lasers emanating from the Chinese base injured U.S. military aviators flying in the area. 

China is training militaries in a number of African countries, including Namibia and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and recently inaugurated a military training center the Chinese army built in Tanzania.

Between 2005 and January 2020, Beijing increased the size of its troop contributions to U.N. peacekeeping operations (PKOs) from 1,059 to 2,544 personnel. Nearly all Chinese peacekeepers are deployed in Africa, most notably in Mali and South Sudan.


*Last Updated: 11/14/2022