Regional Focus: China’s Influence Spreads in Emerging Africa

September 18th, 2012

CA1_BlogResource-hungry China is Africa's largest trading partner; the relationship has been a
key driver for economic growth in Africa.
Ties are reinforced by increasing investment in raw materials, but also in Africa's burgeoning consumer markets. The
opportunities for Africa are large,
however the continent occupies a low value-added role in China's supply chain,
as a result Africa is looking to entice
other emerging economies to invest in
the region.

Key points

  • According to UNCTAD, Foreign
    Direct Investment (FDI) inflows declined for the third consecutive year in Africa, to US$42.7 billion in 2011.
    Revolution in North Africa has led to a
    precipitous decline in FDI, which halved in 2011 alone to US$7.7 billion, with
    rates in Sub-Saharan Africa increasing.
    Large deposits of natural resources in West Africa
    have meant this region has been a beneficiary of large inflows of FDI; FDI inflows
    increased by 36.2% in US$ terms in 2011, to US$16.1 billion;
  • Between 2006 and 2011 the rate
    of growth in exports from Sub-Saharan Africa
    to China has averaged 22.8% a year, almost double Sub-Saharan Africa's average export growth. Click to Tweet! This period
    has corresponded to a period of significant growth in crude material exports
    (excluding fuel), which increased by 160% in US$ terms between 2006 and 2011;
  • China's exports to Africa have increased at a similarly rapid
    rate. Exports to Africa increased to
    US$64.3 billion in 2011, a 183% increase in US$ terms from 2006. Click to Tweet! An interesting
    point to note, the Middle East and Africa
    is one of only two regions in the world that China runs a trade deficit with,
    worth US$59.1 billion in 2011 due to China's imports of raw materials. The
    other is Australasia, a region China also imports a lot of its raw materials
  • China's private sector has
    upped investment in the African consumer market. According to UN statistics Africa's population passed the 1.0 billion
    mark in 2010 and is expected to grow to 1.6 billion by 2030. Click to Tweet! This trend,
    alongside a rapidly growing African middle class is driving new forms of
    Chinese investment in the region.

China's appetite for raw

As China has grown, its importance to international
has developed in tandem. Since the financial crisis of 2007-2008
China's outward FDI has increased significantly; outflows increased by 114% in
real terms between 2007 and 2011. Much of this growth has been an attempt to
secure energy and raw materials for the country's long term growth.

  • The commodities boom since
    2000 has benefitted Africa's
    resource-rich countries. The Metals index for example increased by 290% between
    June 2000 and its peak in February 2011. China's demand for goods has been
    instrumental to these rising prices, the country imported more metalliferous
    ores and scrap metal in 2011 than the 10 largest importers behind it. Click to Tweet! Raw
    material-rich African countries such as Nigeria, Zambia and South Africa have benefited from this demand,
    supporting a real GDP growth rate in Sub-Saharan Africa
    of 75.2% between 2001 and 2011;

Total GDP, FDI Inward Stocks
and Exports for Sub-Saharan Africa:


Euromonitor International from national statistics/OECD/International Monetary
Fund (IMF), International Financial Statistics (IFS)

  • To support China's long term
    growth the country has been investing heavily in significant projects in Africa, in an attempt to secure the raw
    materials needed to transform the country into a developed economy. Energy
    security is a case in point, oil is a major import for China, and as a result
    the country has invested heavily in refinery projects in Africa, to secure long term access to Africa's oil. Algeria, Chad, Sudan, Niger and
    Nigeria all boast oil refinery projects funded by Chinese firms. The Nigerian
    project alone is worth US$23.0 billion;
  • The general approach China has
    taken with investment and trade has meant investment in unstable countries.
    China has partnered with Zimbabwe, providing a US$10.0 billion loan in 2011 in
    return for mining rights in the country, again to ensure China's raw material
    security. This investment does however demonstrate the other side of China's
    involvement in Africa. Murmurs of a new
    age of economic colonialism are growing, though China vociferously denies these

A new era of African

The historical focus of China's investment has been
in raw materials, however a change is occurring. In 2010 Africa's population passed the 1.0 billion
mark, while according to the UN the median age was 19.7 years in 2010, this is
fostering rapid growth in the region's consumer markets. Between 2006 and 2011
consumer expenditure in Sub-Saharan Africa
increased by 19.3% in real terms, as such opportunities for FMCG firms are

  • China's comparative advantages
    are highly complementary to the African market. Relatively low cost electronics
    are in demand in Africa, in particular
    the market for telecommunications is booming. Lower costs of production and
    more aggressive investment strategies have allowed Chinese firms to flourish
    against western competition. Huawei, a Chinese telecommunications firm, has
    invested US$1.5 billion in Africa since
    it entered the market in 1998, with its low cost smartphone offerings gaining
    market share on the continent;
  • The structure of China's trade
    globally is also developing. Between 2001 and 2006 the most rapid growth in
    exports originated from machinery and transport equipment and basic
    manufactures. However between 2006 and 2011 another trend has emerged. Certain consumer
    goods have been growing above the total export average. Travel goods and
    handbags for example grew at an average annual rate of 20.4%, 6.0 percentage
    points higher than the average rate of total export growth, while furniture has
    also grown above trend;

China’s Average Annual Growth in
Exports by Commodity: 2001-2011


Euromonitor International from the United Nations (UN), International
Merchandise Trade Statistics

The radar diagram notes growth in the 10 export categories for China, each
spindle axis represents the average growth rate between 2001 and 2011.
Machinery and transport for example is the fastest growing sector, at 25.8%.

  • The turmoil and unrest after the
    Arab Spring in North Africa means many
    of the current opportunities lie in the Sub-Saharan region. Nigeria is a
    country to note in particular. A growing middle class is emerging; in 2011 11.0 million Nigerian
    households had an annual disposable income of over US$5,000 in purchasing power
    parity terms, 33.3% of its population. This provides major opportunities in a
    growing consumer market. Click to Tweet!

Africa developing relations with

China's influence
in Africa has inevitably grown
alongside its increasingly active, widespread and formalised involvement with
the region. The fifth China-Africa
Cooperation Forum for example ended in July with China pledging an additional
US$20.0 billion in loans to Africa over
the next 3 years.

  • There are two contrasting
    trends developing in the investment relations of China and Africa. Chinese raw material and energy
    investment projects are dominated by state funded initiatives, usually in the
    form of sovereign wealth funds and largely aimed at energy and resource
    security. The consumer markets on the other hand have been left largely to
    private investors;
  • The state-backed sectors have
    in some cases been criticised for a colonialist bent. Although this accusation
    is perhaps overly-dramatic, there is no doubt that China's investment in Africa has taken a long term perspective. For
    example, investment has expanded out to include transport and infrastructure
    projects, usually in partnership with nation states. These investments will benefit
    Africa through spillover effects on
    employment and technology. It is important that Africa
    is able to upskill to prevent being locked into a low-value added role in
    China's supply chain


The high price of commodities has no doubt been a
boon to the economic performance of Africa,
however the slowdown in the world economy in 2012 means non-food commodity
prices are declining in the short term. The Europe Brent crude oil spot price
declined by 17.7% between 26th March 2012 and 24th July 2012, while the metals
index has also declined.

  • The crisis in the Eurozone and
    global uncertainty
    is reducing demand for Chinese exports, slowing its industry
    in the short term. Euromonitor International forecasts real GDP growth of 8.2%
    in 2012, though large downside risks are present. This is having a knock on
    effect on demand for energy and raw materials. Longer term growth in China is
    however expected to remain strong but at lower rates than in previous years;
    the real GDP growth target set by the Chinese government is 7.5% a year for the
    coming five years. The continued migration to urban centres and government
    efforts to drive consumption in China means the volume of energy and raw
    materials demanded by China is likely to rise. As a result the commodity-rich
    African countries are expected to continue to benefit from China's growth;
  • Since late 2010 the Arab
    Spring in North Africa has excluded
    this region from access to the opportunities of China's FDI to a large extent
    and restrained consumption. This is slowly changing however; real annual
    disposable income per capita is expected to increase by 36.9% between 2012 and
    2020 in Egypt while real GDP is expected to grow by 57.9% in Egypt over the
    same period. Euromonitor International therefore expects increased
    opportunities in North African countries between 2012 and 2020; Click to Tweet!
  • According to the UN, Africa's population is set to increase to 1.6
    billion by 2030, the fastest growing region in the world. Click to Tweet! As this region
    develops opportunities in consumer markets will increase. Greater competition
    from Western European and North American companies, as well as other emerging markets is likely; however China's
    companies have demonstrated a willingness to invest early in African markets,
    giving them an advantage over potential competition.


Have a question or a thought to add? Leave us a comment below.

Lydia Gordon