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Africans look to China for major projects, Europe for jobs – Survey

The Nairobi Expressway, one of the major projects done by Chinese in Africa. FILE Photo via @WuPeng_MFAChina

China hailed for quick decisions, faster implementation while EU is tipped for better working conditions

Kampala, Uganda | IAN KATUSIIME | A survey carried out by Inter Regional Economic Network (IREN) a Kenyan economic think tank, has revealed the extent of the perceptions African policy makers have towards China and European Union (EU) as the two blocs battle out for trade and investment opportunities in Africa.

The study titled “The Clash of Systems – African Perception of the European Union and China Engagement” shows that China has edged out Europe as a major trading partner for the African continent and that African prefer doing business with the Chinese due to their quick decision making, faster implementation of major infrastructure.

On decision making, the survey noted: “China has a massive approval of 75.2% over the European Union at only 55.8%,” and added that China is highly rated on timely completion of projects at 81.1% compared to 69.4% for the European Union.

“China has a commanding competitive advantage when it comes to large construction projects in Africa. Chinese state-owned companies have significantly changed the terrain of the continent with rails, roads, bridges, ports, dams, and skyscrapers,” the survey noted.

The EU, however, retains dominance in many aspects of the cooperation. “These include quality of the products or services delivered, good working conditions, employing local workers and creating jobs for Africans, upholding environmental standards, and better treatment of Africans.”

The survey was commissioned by the Global Partnership Hub of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation to better understand the strategies of Europe and China and how they are perceived in Africa, and to give recommendations to policymakers. IREN carried out the survey over the period of October – December 2021 involving more than 1,600 African policymakers drawn from Africa’s 8 Regional Economic Blocs (RECs) and covered three key areas: trade, investment, and development co-operation

“The African survey participants hold up a mirror to European Africa policy and expose Europe’s sometimes paternalistic and romantic view of Africa. Europe’s belief in the superiority of its own values contrasts with the pragmatic view of Africans on the performance and behavior of the two partners (EU and China),” says Stefan Schott, the Friedrich Naumann Foundation in East Africa Project Director. “To put it simply: A road completed in record time by the Chinese is a value in the perception of Africans and more concrete than abstract European projects to promote democracy, human rights or sustainability.”
Corruption

The survey results show that 55.2% of the policymakers believe that China uses corruption as a tool of trade compared to 32.5% who think the same of the EU. Much as the Europeans are seen as less corrupt, African policy makers perceive them as more meddlesome in the internal affairs of African partners, with China perceived to be less so at 50.1% compared to the EU at 64.4%.

The EU however has better prospects in the development cooperation in terms of quality of the products or services delivered, good working conditions, employing local workers and creating jobs for Africans, upholding environmental standards, and better treatment of Africans. The survey also showed the following indicators: 93.5% of policymakers perceive the EU as delivering high-quality products and services compared to 67.9% for China; In job creation and the employment of local workers, the EU scores 84.8% against China’s 71.7%;

The EU is also perceived as performing better in providing better working conditions at 70.5% compared to China’s 55.7%; and equally so it has a higher score than China on treatment of Africans as equal partners with a 61.3% to 51.4% ratio. On upholding environmental standards, EU one-ups with a82.5% to China’s 58.5%.

“While the EU outperforms China on most performance indicators, China continues to gain ground in Africa. This apparent paradox is easy to explain: obviously, the aspects of cooperation where China is strong are of particular relevance to the African partners,” explains James Shikwati, Founder and CEO of IREN. “In particular, China is focusing on large, material projects, while Europe in Africa is focusing on smaller and often more abstract projects.”
The study further recommends that Europeans must redefine their outdated and paternalistic approach to Africa. Africa should no longer be perceived as a recipient of aid, but a continent of opportunities.

For the African policymakers, the key recommendations are that African states should leverage on the choices and opportunities that the competition between the EU and China in Africa presents but guard against debt traps and expensive tradeoffs embedded in short-term gains at the expense of long-term interests.

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