Sources close to the situation say that China’s influence in East Africa is being questioned due to its financial presence and debt traps.
Africa is the fastest-growing continent, with a pace of urbanization that is faster than India or China. Africa will be home to the largest number of people working by 2034. The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), which is home to at least 46 percent of the world’s manganese supply, has 50 percent of the world’s Cobalt reserves.
Africa’s Coltan resources (short for columbite-tantalites) are also of significant interest to the world; as it is an integral mineral used in the production of electronics, including cell phones.
East Africa is the fastest-growing subregion of the continent. It includes 13 countries, including emerging economies like Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia and Djibouti.
China has had long-standing relationships with Africa. It has slowly but steadily increased its economic and strategic presence over the years.
A senior government official stated that China’s absence in the region has created East Africa as a favorable region to expand its influence and establish a stronghold.
China has been a major economic power for the past two decades. Its lucrative investment packages, flexible politics, and targeted big-ticket development projects under Belt and Road Initiative are a huge opportunity for African countries.
The officer stated that it was a known fact that many Belt and Road Initiative projects in Africa were made by underhand deals with unscrupulous individuals who could have put their personal gain above the public interest.
China, despite being ostracized by the West and untainted by public opinion at home, has managed to build relationships with countries that were not actively opposed by it.
According to reports, “almost all African projects have been completed with opaque terms and dubious terms”.
The officer stated that the projects were “certainly not able to pass even a basic level” of financial scrutiny.
Public pressure for accountability is growing. Governments are pulling back from China, calling out the unfair terms that were imposed upon them in a take it or leave it’ deal.
The officer stated, “A Hobson’s choice is to be exact.”
As the promises of Chinese President Xi Jinping fade and the truth of Beijing’s intentions becomes more apparent, the spectre of the ‘Debt Trap” is real for many African countries.
Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Agenda states that Sub-Saharan African ports are an integral part of the BRI. Chinese investments in East African ports make up the backbone for Beijing’s Maritime Silk Road’.
These investments help China gain more markets access, and Beijing can exert more political influence, empower People’s Liberation Army Navy’s safety activism, and establish a dependence on Chinese technology.
One of the most memorable stories in the region is Bagamayo, Tanzania’s port.
The officer stated that a $10 billion investment in the port was repeatedly blocked by China Merchant Holdings, who demanded a 99-year lease.
Samia Suluhu Hassan, the new Tanzanian President, has announced that negotiations to develop the port will be reopened.
It has been speculated that China, the main investor in the project, may be looking to establish a second dual-use foothold along the East African coast. This would help Beijing achieve its strategic goals in the region.
Bagamoyo being under Chinese control, the Mozambique Channel which is an important route to shipping in eastern Africa would be easy to manage in war-like situations or low intensity conflict.
This port could be used for more than just commercial purposes. It may be used for ship repair for CCP (Navy), or even more.
Djibouti is another small country in East Africa that owes China more than 70% of its external debt. Djibouti is located at the Horn of Africa, making it one of the most important locations for projecting power in Africa and Asia.
France’s former French colony in East Africa was once crucial for France’s influence.
China and Chinese state-owned companies have invested almost $10 billion in Djibouti’s Doraleh Container Terminal. They also control most of the port.
These factors have enabled significant leverage, which led to the establishment of Djibouti’s first ever overseas Chinese military base in 2017.
Kenya is another country in debt trouble with China. Kenya is in danger of defaulting on Mombasa port payment and could be forced to pay the debt trap set up by Chinese companies.
China now has an Indian Ocean port facility that it can access with no restrictions, and from which it could project its power potential.
Similar to Hambantota, Sri Lanka’s Hambantota, Djibouti and Bagamoyo in Sri Lanka, Mombasa, Lamu and Mombasa can all be seen as examples of China’s debt-trap diplomacy. China is tailoring its support for the country by answering their immediate needs but also trapping them in its net and creating bonds for their lives that they will not be able to repay.
The officer said that the unbalanced terms of BRI projects are difficult to understand. “The project contracts invariably have conditions countries are forced to accept – loans at exorbitant rate, expansive concessions for Chinese agency to operate and grow at will, long-term exclusive unilateral lease, and a noncompetition clause.”
Many economically risky projects have been taken up by the BRI because of the political imperative to showcase China-Africa relations.
The Ethiopian railway project is a prime example of this. It required substantial renegotiation in terms of loan terms.
China’s funding of its BRI projects in Africa is largely financed by loans to governments that are large and subject to conditions such as the promise of signator’s not to disclose terms.
Zambia is the latest victim, and it’s struggling to pay its debt to China.
“What China intends to do in Africa is not less than what the Americans and Europeans did in the past.” China has managed to lure the poorest countries into an unavoidable trap by taking advantage of their weak economy and unstable governments,” said the officer.
According to the officer, the Chinese model in Africa was clearly predatory and self-serving. This realization is now dawning on many African countries.
China observers and BRI commentators for years have maintained that the BRI is a system that creates access to Chinese markets for goods. The narrative of infrastructure creation that will increase development in the host country is at best tenuous.
BRI’s African agenda must also be seen within a wider context. Global influence and power are the key to the Chinese Dream, as popularised by Xi Jinping.
The officer stated, “This is being obtained blatantly by coercion and belligerence. opacity. duplicity.
Economic subjugation of African countries, outlandish claims in South China Sea, interferences with legitimate maritime economic pursuits by littoral nations and lack of respect for international norms, belligerence over previously peaceful border areas are all signs of the treacherous intentions of the Chinese Dream.
The officer stated that it was time for the world to expose the CPC as what they really are: a ruthless, unscrupulous conglomerate, that treats sovereign countries with disrespect and disdain.”
China sees peace, prosperity, and regional influence as a zero sum game. This has been repeated on the international stage.
He stated, “It is certain that a country showing scant regard to its citizens is unlikely that any other nation is treated with equanimity & respect.”
This is evident from the experiences of African nations.