Africa’s land for China? China’s media for Africa? Should U.S. be concerned? Should anyone be?

There is this conventional wisdom that China sees Africa as “China’s second continent”[1] and is looking for opportunities to send their farmers in Africa to grow food on Africa’s land and send it back to China. Deborah Brautigam, the author of two books[2] examining this conception about China’s intentions in Africa and the partner for China Africa Research Initiative[3] at Johns Hopkins University[4], explains how unjustified these claims are. In her talk with journalist Peter Dörrie, Braudigam reveals that China’s interest in Africa is not a new thing – and it has more to do with China’s agricultural business development rather than political outline on land gain. Moreover, she agrees that China probably is not doing anything that Western investors have not tried to do before China’s agricultural field started expanding:

Podcast: China in Africa with Deborah Brautigam

China’s Ministry of Commerce (MOFCOM) is keeping a track of all direct investment in Africa’s continent, and you can see it bellow. China’s increasing trade sector in Africa is linked with China’s growth in the end of the twentieth century. Total Foreign Direct Investment, however, comes mostly from the Western countries. For comparison, similarly like Western investors China tends to invest in natural resources sectors; however, differently than the Western investors, China does not necessarily favor countries with better property right and rule of law. On the other hand, China favors countries with political stability[5]. In the light of this data, it is very interesting to find out that Africans that Africans see China’s influence on their country as “overwhelmingly positive” – 63% compared to 15% of those who don’t hold the same views[6].

Number of deals registered between China and African countries. Retrieved from

Number of deals registered between China and African countries. Retrieved from

Increasing popularity of China and decreasing popularity of, for example, the U.S. is seen by western media as a threat to national security. For example, although Brooklyn’s study that I described above only points out Chinese indifference regarding whether an African country has defined the property rights and the rule of law for their investment, journalists at The Washington Post suggest that Chinese investment is still very much linked with bonds to certain political leaders rather than most needy areas[7] and that U.S. leader’s warning that China is not necessarily motivated to improve the lives of Africans[8] has a sufficient basis.


How China and U.S. see each other. Retrieved from

RAND Corporation[9], a non-profit research institution, however recommends[10] that U.S. keeps perspective that China’s engagement in Africa might be driven by economic reasons rather than political ones, that China indeed offers great benefits for African countries’ stability, and that the U.S. should not compare the best practices of the U.S. in Africa to the worst of Chinese practices. Instead, it suggests that U.S. “reinvigorate U.S. diplomatic and economic engagement with Africa” (p89). On September the 21st, 2016 the 2nd U.S. Africa Forum[11] was held in New York city.

Andrew J. Nathan and Andrew Scobell explain the troubled relationship between China and the U.S. in their insightful essay[12]. The authors suggest that China might be the only country to threaten the U.S. – however, first China would need to employ its neighbors or countries that are currently being tamed by China, African countries can be such example. Similarly, China is cautious of U.S. political intentions towards China. Although the authors point out that U.S is:


“the most intrusive outside actor in China’s internal affairs, the guarantor of the status quo in Taiwan, the largest naval presence in the East China and South China seas, the formal or informal military ally of many of China’s neighbors, and the primary framer and defender of existing international legal regimes. This omnipresence means that China’s understanding of American motives determines how the Chinese deal with most of their security issues.”


they also remind that U.S. has significantly contributed to China’s development:


“Every U.S. presidential administration says that China’s prosperity and stability are in the interest of the United States. And in practice, the United States has done more than any other power to contribute to China’s modernization. It has drawn China into the global economy; given the Chinese access to markets, capital, and technology; trained Chinese experts in science, technology, and international law; prevented the full remilitarization of Japan; maintained the peace on the Korean Peninsula; and helped avoid a war over Taiwan.”


Basically then, by disproving China’s investment in Africa, U.S. is criticizing China for doing the same thing that U.S. has done in its time!

Although lately there have been more discussions about investment collaboration between the U.S. and China in Africa[13], Africa is reported to develop much more positive views toward Chinese investment[14]. For instance, Congo is welcoming Chinese company even as they know that such companies may extract Congo’s resources for their own good[15]. You can read more about it in Jacob Kushner’s book China’s Congo Plan[16] or by listening to the conversation with the author in the podcast linked below:

Why Congo prefers Chinese investment over Western aid

Opponents of China’s intervention in Africa like to argue that this popularity of China and openness to its overtake of companies in Africa are shaped by Chinese propaganda that has been spread all over the continent. China intensively buys, invests and remakes African media companies[17]. While some are trying to find out whether China is offering propaganda or proper journalism for African people[18], others acknowledge the positive light in which Africa and African people are depicted in Chinese-produced media in Africa[19]. This is quite different from the Western media, which although producing real images of problems to raise funds, never really the solves the roots of problems; Chinese media, in comparison, although too constructive at building positive China’s – Africa’s relationship, proved to be Changing Africa’s media landscape for the better.

Nigerian president and China's president shake hands at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing in April, 2016. Retriewed from CNN

Nigerian president and China’s president shake hands at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing in April, 2016. Retrieved from CNN

But Beijing’s so called “soft power” is being implemented not only through media, but also through foreign aid, business links, scholarships, training programs and academic institutes.  For example, China’s HUAWEI opened its initiative for developing local talent in information communications and technologies in Africa[20]. Nigeria’s manufacturing sector, for instance, is supported by direct Chinese foreign investment and technology transfer[21]. China is providing the locals with possibilities to learn how to use certain technologies right on-hand. And differently than “aid money” that has been reaching Africa from the West, Chinese direct investment in agriculture and manufacturing as well as in building skills and education directly related to these sectors therefore should not be that surprising to appeal to Africans.

However, there are obvious issues with this situation regarding communication for development. The first one: we are witnessing how African continent becomes a field of battle for the two super powers. Although seeking diplomatic stability, the two countries are threaten by each other’s intentions and we can just wonder what impact such relationship has to the representations of them in each of the country, moreover how it affects the representation of those countries in African Media.

The second concern is China’s views on Africa. It is more than obvious that China is motivated by more than just by a good will to assist Africa with development. Similarly like in China’s mainland, the Chinese companies aim at winning markets. It is not a bad thing in itself, since completion among companies for the investment can benefit locals. I discussed one such example in my previous post about Ant Financial. Ant Financial implements ICT to support business in rural areas of china and connect farmers with bigger enterprises. Introducing and educating locals to technology needed for their business growth in Africa Chinese inventors do the same thing with African Markets what Ant Financial did with rural development. But an important difference here, that Ant Financial is a Chinese enterprise in China. The African case for Chinese investment raise questions how African cultures can be represented in such enterprises.


Chinese media’s arrival in Kenya. Retrieved from

Thirdly and finally, there is an issue with China’s “overtake” of African media. Is Chinese censorship going to be transferred to African continent? Clay Shirky has acknowledged[22] networked populations are “gaining greater access to information, more opportunities to engage in public speech, and an enhanced ability to undertake collective action” (p1). Would technological advancement, once brought to Africa by China, allow the users to critically access China’s role in African economies? What would happen if this role was defined rather negatively? Shirkey (p4) also reminds how the shift of power between civil society and the state led to the collapse of communist control and, similarly, how the printing press helped to create the public sphere and democratize Europe. But these are rather cases and not a rule. We know countries where neither of the two happened. Social Media Skepticism seems to be better suited to China’s reality. Shirkey (p6) discusses two arguments against social media’ positive role towards national politics: “The first is that the tools are themselves ineffective, and the second is that they produce as much harm to democratization as good, because repressive governments are becoming better at using these tools to suppress dissent”. Are you wondering who are better at using social media: African people or China’s investors – African leaders’ “coalition”? Christina Archetti[23] takes a different perspective to media, and addressed the potential for changes brought to diplomatic practices by New Media. Archetti researched London as an information space and how it is experienced by diplomats and different embassy actors (p181). She concluded that communication of diplomatic practices as well as presentation of structural factors and social initiatives, let alone of the societal expectations are very much limited through New Media (p205). Moreover, the communication is constrained in a way that every single actor uses the new technology to pursue the goals in their particular scope of operation (p206). Although Archetti is humble in applying the study conclusions to different nations, I can imagine that a contact of public needs and diplomatic performance might get almost impossible, if China’s diplomats are rather concerned with implementation of a discourse conducive to strengthening China’s role in African growth. This applies without even mentioning any of hypothetical motivations attributed to China by media around the world.


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[10] Thrall, L. (2015). China’s Expanding African Relations; Implications for U.S. National security. RAND Corporation. Retrieved from: .

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[20] Tsui, B. (2016) DO HUAWEI’S TRAINING PROGRAMS AND CENTERS TRANSFER SKILLS TO AFRICA? China Africa Research Initiative. No.14. retrieved from: .

[21] Chen, Y., Sun, I.Y.,Ukaejiofo, R.,Xiaoyang, T. & D. Brautigam (2016). LEARNING FROM CHINA? MANUFACTURING, INVESTMENT, AND TECHNOLOGY TRANSFER IN NIGERIA. China Africa Research Initiative. Working paper 2. Retrieved from: .

[22] Skirky, C. (2010). The political power of social media technology, the public sphere, and political change. Foreign Affairs, 90(28[1]).

[23] Archetti, C. (2012). The Impact of New Media on Diplomatic Practice: An Evolutionary Model of Change. The Hague Journal of Diplomacy, 7, 181-206.

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