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Snapshot: How Chinese Investment in Africa is Shifting

Data by the China-MENA expert Andrea Ghiselli, showing changing Chinese investment patterns in sub-Saharan Africa. Via @AGhiselliChina

A new set of charts compiled by the China-Mideast researcher Andrea Ghiselli provides an intriguing glimpse of how Chinese investment in Sub-Saharan Africa is evolving. The charts are reportedly based on data from statistical yearbooks and investment bulletins.

Big Trends: Chinese Investment in Africa

  • FOREIGN DIRECT INVESTMENT: Chinese FDI in Africa by stock remained roughly even between 2018 and 2021. However, Africa’s percentage of China’s total global FDI by stock is declining year by year. The two patterns arguably reveal a plateauing of investment in Africa while China’s global investment raced ahead. This should be concerning news for African policymakers.
  • CONTRACTS: The value of contracts won by Chinese companies fluctuated in the late 2010s but crept back up even during the pandemic. The trend contrasts with a sharp decline in financing from Chinese banks for African projects between the mid-2010s and the mid-pandemic. This could indicate that Chinese companies remain popular contractors, even as African countries have been forced to diversify their financing sources.
  • WORKERS: The employment of Chinese workers on African engineering projects continues to decline. This is partly due to rising labor costs in China but also arguably reflects the pressure from African governments responding to popular resistance to the importation of workers.

WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT? While these trend lines are provisional, they provide an interesting counterpoint to oversimplified narratives, especially around the migration of Chinese workers to Africa. More broadly, they also show a possible flattening of engagement that could challenge the relationship in the future.

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