China has built 10,000 km of railways, hundreds of facilities in Africa

Foreign Minister Wang Yi reiterated China’s support for Africa’s “economic autonomy and sustainable development” while on an official visit to Addis Ababa, the capital city of Eastern African country Ethiopia.

Chinese people treated more than 200 million local patients, helped Africa build more than 10,000 km of highways, 6,000 km of railways and hundreds of airports, ports and power stations over the last decades, Wang stressed.

Rejecting “rumors” according to which the growing economic ties between China and Africa resulted in a growing debt burden for the latter, the Chinese official implied that other countries might be attempting in discrediting China’s support that he depicted as “a model not only for South-South cooperation but also for international cooperation with Africa”.

According to official statistics, China became Africa’s largest trade partner in 2009, rising from less than $20 billion in 2002 to a staggering $215 billion in 2014.

Latest available annual figures showed a relative slowdown in bilateral trade with $170 billion in 2017, however up 14.1 percent year-on-year. China’s exports to Africa reached US$94.74 billion, up 2.7%; China’s imports from Africa reached $75.26 billion, up 32.8%; the trade surplus was $19.48 billion, down 45.2% year-on-year.

Jihadists in Burkina Faso renew fears of instability in West Africa

France remains the main stabilizer and military force in West Africa thanks to its seasoned Special Forces, experimented soldiers and colonial history.

Despite a decade-long unabated engagement against terrorism – currently Operation Barkhane – in an area (the Sahel) that’s seven times larger than France, military officials noticed lately a scattered resurgence of the jihadist offensive especially aimed at destabilizing local governments and spreading fear among the population.

On December 17, 2018, President Emmanuel Macron and his Burkina Faso counterpart Roch Marc Christian Kaboré, while meeting in Paris, stressed on the fact that no additional French troops would be deployed in the country which is a member of the antiterrorist G5 Sahel group with Chad, Mauritania, Mali and Niger.

In the meantime however, Defense Minister Florence Parly and her Burkinabe counterpart Jean-Claude Bouda signed an intergovernmental agreement with a view to strengthening bilateral cooperation, including the delivery of 34 military vehicles by June 2019.

13 days before that, France had shown its willingness for more involvement after conducting an air strike against jihadist operatives who were attacking gendarmes at Inata, north of Burkina Faso. On December 28, 2018, a similar attack took place near the Malian border in Loroni, 250 kilometers north-east of Ouagadougou that left 10 gendarmes dead in an ambush, raising fears of increased jihadists’ operational capabilities and therefore greater potential of instability for West Africa as a whole.

“Average GDP growth in West Africa stalled in 2016, after several strong years, to 0.5 percent. It rebounded in 2017 to 2.5 percent, and was projected to rise to 3.8 percent in 2018 and 3.9 percent in 2019,” wrote the African Development Bank Group (AFDB) in its West Africa Economic Outlook 2018.

Such a growth dynamic could be at risk since the jihadist threat is increasingly developing outside the Sahel and spilling over into nearby countries, especially Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso.

Senegal-based researcher Bakary Sambe recently cited by the Washington Post pointed out “there are worries that West Africans are underestimating the threat” and the killing of ten gendarmes has come as a reminder of the growing challenge posed by jihadists to the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

In the Horn of Africa, the UAE asserts its strategic ambitions

Saudi Energy Minister Khalid Al Falih, also Chairman of Saudi Aramco, estimates that about USD 1 trillion worth of investments have been canceled or postponed since oil prices dropped in mid-2014 when the barrel was still trading higher than USD 100.

While downward pressure on oil prices could persist according to Saudi sources, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) announced its commitment to build an oil pipeline linking the port of Assab (Eritrea) to the capital Addis Ababa (Ethiopia).

This information was made public in that same city during a meeting on August 10, 2018 between Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and Emirati Minister for International Cooperation Reem Al Hashimy. This meeting followed Ahmed’s state visit in July 2018, during which he met again with Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince and Minister of Defense of Abu Dhabi.

Like the extension of their diplomatic mission in Astana (Kazakhstan), the UAE thus confirms their willingness to play an increased diplomatic role, not only economic, while maximizing their opportunities for international cooperation in Africa in a context of increased competition with Iran and Qatar.

Indeed, Abu Dhabi uses a military base in Assab to conduct operations in Yemen, across the Red Sea. Also, this pipeline linking Eritrea and Ethiopia is part of the dynamic of an agreement signed by the two African nations on July 7, 2018 that “ended the state of war” that lasted since the border conflict (1998-2000).

In this context, it is for Abu Dhabi to help stabilize the Horn of Africa sustainably so as not to favor the settlement of other competitors and to catch profitable opportunities through, for example, the joint exploitation of oil resources located in south-west Ethiopia, a landlocked country of 102.4 million inhabitants with growth potential deemed significant by the Emirati and Saudi business communities.