China and Africa have a long history which took an even more significant twist in the last two decades. Bilateral relationships between China and African countries have resulted in various cooperations and trade improvements. Investments in Africa by private Chinese investors and state-backed actors have been springing up across each corner of Africa. Chinese foreign direct investment (FDI) in Africa reached $5 billion in 2021, rising from $75 million in 2003.
Some of these agreements have often raised eyebrows as many feel some investments take away from Africa more than they offer the continent. Those suspicions have led to many African countries suspending, reviewing or completely aborting certain agreements with China. But what do you do as a businessman when you are putting your money into something? You target high returns. As far as China has not identified itself as a Father Christmas or charity house, there is always a prize to pay for everything. Even the West which has always been vocal primarily due to the fear of being forced out of Africa by the growing relationship between the continent and China than a real concern for Africa is itself not a good friend of the continent.
With that said, let’s consider which African countries are the preferred destination for Chinese investment. This considers the volumes of investment from China in those countries. Financial aid, loans and investment joint facilities as well as any other forms of traceable Chinese investment are considered.
NB: The countries do not appear in any order.
Egypt is one of the biggest Chinese investment destinations in Africa presently. Relations between Egypt and China trace back to 1956 when the Arab Republic of Egypt became the first African nation to establish diplomatic relationships with the People’s Republic of China. The results of this friendship came very early when Egypt received $4.5 million in aid from China during the Suez Canal crisis when Egypt came under attack from the United Kingdom, Israel and France for nationalizing the canal.
Relations between the two grew stronger in the 1960s as they participated in the Non-Aligned Movement together. However, ties between the two experienced a significant strain between the 1970s and 1980s due to the Chinese government’s support of the Vietnam War. Things picked up positively in the 1990s culminating in the joint statement on “Establishment of a 21st Century-Oriented Strategic Cooperative Relationship“. The statement was after President Hosni Mubarak visited China at the invitation of his Chinese counterpart, President Jiang Zemin.
Trade between Egypt and China has skyrocketed in the past few decades, the same as investment. Visible Chinese investment in Egypt is seen in the Suez Economic and Trade Cooperation Zone (SETC) developed by the Tianjin Economic-Technological Development Area (TEDA) and the New Administrative Capital which has significant investment from China. When Xi Jinping visited the North African country in 2016, the investment deals signed included the Chinese ruler’s backing of the New Administrative Capital, a signature project of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. State-owned China State Construction and Engineering Corporation is a top investor, leading the pathway in the construction of the Central Business District of the New Administrative Capital.
Loans from China to Egypt have seen significant growth just like trade. While Egypt’s total external debt of $164.73 billion is primarily owed to multilateral institutions like the IMF and World Bank Group, China’s share of that debt is $8.3 billion. That figure is bigger than any owed to an individual country outside the Arab countries and also nearly equal to the combined debt owed to five Paris Club countries ( Germany, Japan, France, the UK and the US) $8.8 billion. It shows how much interest China has in Egypt and how willing Egypt is in welcoming China.
Multi-billion dollar projects such as the New Administrative Capital, Suez Economic and Trade Corporation Zone, the magnificent skyscrapers at the New Alamein City and the Benban Solar Park are a few of the numerous China-backed projects in the country. For instance, the towers at the CBD in the New Administrative Capital cost the CSCEC at least $3 billion in investment funding to put up. Also, the total Chinese investment in the New Administrative Capital is expected to cross $11 billion with the total project cost estimated to be around $50 billion, meaning 20 per cent of the investment cost could end up coming from China. To sum it up, Chinese investment in Egypt between 2017 and 2022 increased by 317 per cent according to the Washington Institute.
One cannot talk about the Africa-China relationship without mentioning Ethiopia. The landlocked Horn of Africa country has taken the lead in tapping into Chinese expertise in renewal energy and has scooped billions in investment towards that end. According to data from Statista, Ethiopia was the fourth-largest recipient of offshore Chinese FDI in 2020, only falling behind South Africa, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Zambia.
Ethiopia shifted its attention to the development of industrial parks across the country to boost production. China strategically became a partner helping to fund a number of those parks including the Eastern Industrial Zone. Located outside of Addis Ababa, the Chinese-built park houses several Chinese manufacturing companies operating there. Hawassa Industrial Park is another of the parks built by the Chinese with Chinese investment. Between 2010 and 2018, China ranked as the highest investment partner in Ethiopia both by volume of projects and value. The concentration of these investments was in manufacturing which accounted for US$570 million, approximately 78% of the total.
Moving away from industries but still on infrastructure, China is also Ethioia’s big-time partner in energy infrastructure. With investment in hydro, wind and solar, China has helped to transform Ethiopia’s energy landscape while setting an example for other African countries to follow suit. China invested at least $4 billion in the energy sector in Ethiopia between 2011 and 2018 with the most notable among them being the Gibe III hydro dam and the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam which both got funding from China. Beijing in 2013 provided $1.2 billion in loans to construct transmission lines between the GERD and local towns. Also in 2019, it offered $1.8 billion in loans to develop renewable energy projects related to the dam. To state the significance of those investments, Ethiopia in 2021 generated 100% of its energy from renewable energy sources. Hydro contributed 94% of the total, a testament to why China decided to splash billions in the sector.
While foreign direct investments and loans have been flowing from China to Ethiopia, trade between the two countries has also seen significant boosts over the years. China was Ethiopia’s largest import destination with volumes reaching $4.96 billion; representing 29% of the total import value in 2022. That figure was more than the combined total of the next four; India, the US, Turkey and Morocco. Exports were, however, very low with China only accounting for 4.21%; $129 million of the total in 2022.
Egypt and Ethiopia unarguably are among the strong trade partners with China and also serve as more attractive investment destinations for China. Though each country has substantial debt burdens towards China, they also have received enormous benefits from the investments. China is the single largest creditor to Ethiopia with Chinese loans to the landlocked East African country between 2006 and 2022 reaching $14 billion. Just like in the case of other African countries, China gave Ethiopia relief by allowing it to defer payments of debts maturing in the 2023-24 fiscal year. This relationship between China and Ethiopia and the historical affair between Egypt and China is a reason for these two appearing in this list.
This article is part of a series covering investments between Africa and China. To get more information about investment opportunities and avenues in Africa for Chinese and in China for Africans and foreigners, visit this site regularly. Subscribing to our newsletter will also ensure you do not miss out on any fine details coming from us.