China has invested billions of dollars into the continent of Africa to build massive infrastructure projects in its countries. Much of this infrastructure is part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, an estimated one trillion dollar plan to connect the country to trade routes all over the world.
While China’s Belt and Road Initiative was only proposed in 2013, the country’s first project on the African continent was built decades ago. The Tazara railway, completed in 1976, was built to connect copper mines in Zambia to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania’s former capital. The Tazara railway was the first infrastructure project built on a pan-African scale.
China’s Belt and Road projects will be designed to create new trade routes within and between African countries. In 2017, a Chinese firm opened a railway network in Kenya, connecting its capital Nairobi to the port city of Mombasa. There are already plans to extend this network into South Sudan, Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi.
Many observers worry that African countries won’t be able to pay back these debts, placing them in what’s been called a “debt trap.” But others think that as African countries rise economically, they could actually have the upper hand by the time they negotiate payments back to China. This explains why African leaders have been so confident in calling Chinese investment a “win-win.”
But is China’s investment in the continent actually a “win-win” as some African and Chinese leaders have said? Or is it just a new form of colonialism on a continent that’s experienced so much of it?