How much land does China own in Africa?

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China’s increasing influence in Africa has been a topic of discussion and debate for quite some time. As China’s economic and diplomatic power continues to expand globally, it is only natural that their presence in Africa, a continent teeming with untapped potential, has become a focal point. With numerous players involved and a vast landscape to navigate, it is necessary to delve into the details and map out China’s land ownership in Africa.

To understand the extent of China’s land ownership in Africa, it is important to first grasp the sheer size and scale of the continent itself. Covering approximately 30.37 million square kilometers, Africa is the second-largest continent on the planet, with a diverse range of cultures, climates, and resources. It is home to a population of over 1.3 billion people, making it an attractive investment opportunity for countries seeking to secure resources, expand their markets, and establish a geopolitical foothold.

Unsurprisingly, China has been actively pursuing these opportunities in Africa over the past few decades. Through strategic investments and partnerships, China has secured approximately 186,000 square miles or 465,000 square kilometers of land across the continent. This accounts for roughly 7% of Africa’s total land area.

China’s land ownership in Africa can be better understood by examining specific countries where their presence is more pronounced. One such example is Zambia, a landlocked country in southern Africa that has attracted significant Chinese investment. China owns large tracts of land in the country, particularly in the agricultural sector, where they have established commercial farming projects. These projects have not been without controversy, as concerns about the displacement of local farmers and the impact on food security have been raised. Nonetheless, they illustrate China’s desire to secure resources and establish a foothold in key sectors of the African economy.

Another notable example is Ethiopia, a country that has seen substantial infrastructure development and investment from China. In recent years, China has financed and constructed numerous highways, rail lines, and industrial parks in Ethiopia, with the aim of enhancing connectivity and bolstering economic growth. These projects have not only contributed to Ethiopia’s development but have also provided China with strategic access to transportation routes and markets within the region.

It is important to note that China’s land ownership in Africa is not limited to vast agricultural tracts or infrastructure projects only. China has also acquired land for mining operations, particularly in countries rich in mineral resources, such as the Democratic Republic of Congo and Zimbabwe. These mining ventures provide China with access to valuable resources, such as copper and cobalt, which are essential for its burgeoning industries back home.

Furthermore, it is worth mentioning that China’s land ownership in Africa extends beyond physical land parcels. Through long-term leases and other agreements, China has gained control and influence over significant portions of Africa’s natural resources, such as oil fields and mineral deposits. These agreements often come with economic and political considerations, cementing China’s position as a major player in Africa’s development trajectory.

So, How did China get involved in Africa?

How much land does China own in Africa?
How much land does China own in Africa?

China’s involvement in Africa has dramatically increased in recent years, challenging the long-standing dominance of European nations in the continent. The rise in Chinese trade with Africa can be attributed to various reasons. One significant factor is the tighter Chinese regulation of transportation and insurance industries, which has resulted in lower costs and made trade with Africa more accessible. Furthermore, the improvement and expansion of trade routes, including roads, rail, and shipping networks, have facilitated faster and more efficient trade between China and Africa. These developments have paved the way for large-scale investments by Chinese companies in Africa.

Africa’s appeal to China lies in its enormous market potential and its young and rapidly growing population. China’s economic growth has predominantly been concentrated in urban areas, and its per capita income still lags behind that of many other countries. Therefore, Africa plays a crucial role as a market for Chinese products, providing new consumers and contributing to China’s economic growth and development.

Yet, the relationship between China and Africa extends beyond trade. Africa serves as a critical source of raw materials essential for China’s economic development. With China being the world’s largest producer and consumer of copper, Africa’s significant mineral deposits, including oil and gas, have spurred massive investments by Chinese companies in the African mining sector.

The scramble for Africa

The scramble for Africa, which began in the late 19th century, continues to shape the continent’s history. European powers were the first to explore and colonize Africa, but they were soon joined by Asian and other European nations who sought to stake their claim on the vast resources and potential opportunities that Africa offered. This scramble was often seen as a zero-sum game, where one country’s gain could only come at the expense of another. However, it is important to recognize that the benefits of increased trade and investment in Africa far outweigh any potential losses.

Unfortunately, the scramble for Africa also had a darker side. After the end of colonialism, many African nations fell victim to brutal dictatorships and civil wars, causing the loss of millions of lives. Poverty and income inequality have also plagued many African nations, with poor governance exacerbating these issues further. The scars left by the scramble for Africa are still visible today, as African countries struggle to overcome these challenges and build a brighter future for their people.

Another significant player in Africa’s development is China, whose growing presence in the continent has sparked both opportunities and concerns. While China’s investment and trade have undoubtedly brought economic benefits to some regions, there is also growing resentment among some Africans. In certain countries, Chinese workers are viewed as direct competitors for jobs, resources, and investment opportunities, leading to tensions and concerns among the local population. There are also worries that China’s engagement with African nations is primarily driven by economic motives, disregarding important political, social, and human rights issues.

In recent years, some African countries have sought to increase their diplomatic leverage by forming strategic partnerships with both China and other major powers. This approach aims to balance the interests of various actors and maximize the benefits for Africa. In a landmark move, the majority of African nations voted in 2015 to formally recognize China’s sovereignty over the African Continental Association (ACA), despite strong objections from the United States and other Western nations. This decision reflects the complex dynamics at play in Africa’s relationships with major powers, as African nations navigate their own interests and seek to secure the best outcomes for their people.

The China-Africa cooperation

How much land does China own in Africa?
How much land does China own in Africa?

Despite the challenges and issues that exist, there is a significant level of cooperation between China and various African nations. A notable example of this cooperation is seen in the joint military exercise conducted by the Chinese and Kenyan armies in southern Ethiopia, known as Gemobile. This exercise involved a massive participation of over 12,000 troops and aimed at promoting stability and economic development in the region, showcasing the commitment of both countries to work together.

Beyond this specific instance, China and Africa share a number of interests that drive their cooperation. One such shared concern is the growing income inequality and social unrest faced by both China and African nations. Recognizing the potential negative impacts of these issues on domestic stability and economic growth, there is a common understanding of the need to address them collectively.

Moreover, China and Africa confront similar challenges that contribute to their mutual cooperation. The pressure exerted by the United States and other Western nations is felt by both China and African countries, prompting a desire to collaborate in facing this external pressure. Additionally, the shared impact of climate change resulting from global warming and the energy crisis arising from a scarcity of hydrocarbon fuels further deepen the common ground between these two regions.

To tackle these shared interests and challenges, China and African nations have focused on building partnerships that promote mutual benefits. In 2014, the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative was received enthusiastically by many African nations as a potential means to enhance trade and investment along traditional routes, while also fostering economic development and cultivating enduring peace.

Ericson Mangoli
Ericson Mangoli is the founder and Managing Editor of Who Owns Africa, a platform for African journalism that focuses on politics, governance, and business. Mangoli is passionate about African stories and believes that media has a crucial role to play in driving the continent's development. In his work, he strives to promote accuracy and objective reporting on Africa.

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