West Africa: The War On Extremism Is Not Yet Won

WOUTER ELSEN (PHOTO) – Ouagadougou

While the world frets over the spread of violent extremism through the Middle East and the Gulf, there is a tendency to turn a blind eye to the menace of ongoing violence in more remote regions such as the Sahel or Lake Chad Basin. In Africa, the January 2016 Burkina Faso terror attack has come to symbolise the “new front” in Islamist militancy. Undoubtedly, the threat of violent extremism is rising on the continent, and not just on its Mediterranean coastline.

The influence of al Qaeda and similar movements has ebbed and flowed over the past two decades. But never has it looked as dangerous and forthcoming as today. Their impact, in terms of violence, of human dislocation, and of undermining the basic foundations of the state is severe and growing, as is their capacity to project violence from long-range, and in turn provoke dramatic response.

The Burkina Faso attack, claimed by militants of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and al Mourabitoune, an AQIM splinter group led by the infamous Mokhtar Belmokhtar, was at least the fifth time in recent weeks that armed militants had ambushed unprotected civilians in cities across three continents, hitting sites in Istanbul, Jakarta, Egypt, and Iraq with deadly assaults that underlined the vulnerabilities of soft targets that are difficult to defend.

Islamic State (IS) has consolidated its control over a large swath of Iraq and Syria, attracting tens of thousands of foreigners, establishing footholds in neighbouring states and perpetrating terrorist attacks across the Middle East and beyond. Since the group emerged on the scene in Syria in 2013, long before they reached Mosul in Iraq, the jihadis saw oil as a crutch for their vision for an Islamic state. Estimates by local traders and engineers put crude production in IS-held territory at about 34,000 – 40,000 bpd.[1]

Recuperation de petrole a la raffinerie d'Al Mansoura, controlee par les djihadistes de l'Etat Islamique
Islamic State (IS) has taken oil fields from Syrian rebels and the government in recent months. Photograph: DAVID ROSE/PANOS-REA/REDUX

However, aerial assaults by the American-led coalition on IS’s Raqqa headquarters in Syria and other strongholds have taken their toll. Last autumn, Russia and Britain joined in. On the ground, IS lost the key Iraqi city of Ramadi after the Iraqi army and Kurdish peshmerga retook the city in a series of offensives late 2015.

Al Qaeda affiliates in Somalia, Syria and Yemen have grown more potent, controlling territory and deepening ties to the local communities. Both al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and IS emerged in Yemeni regions where they had not previously been present before Saudi Arabia entered the conflict and a Saudi-led coalition began bombing the Huthis in March 2015.

Meanwhile, further east in the Horn of Africa, Harakat al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen militants claimed to have killed more than sixty Kenyan soldiers this month in an assault on an African Union (AU) base in remote western Somalia. The assault, confirmed by Kenya’s president Uhuru Kenyatta, came a day after Somali political leaders gathered to plan a road map for parliamentary and presidential elections due later this year. Somalia-based al-Shabaab has increasingly turned its attention to Kenyan targets as it has lost ground in its native Somalia.[2]

© AP

While Boko Haram (BK) attacks may have decreased somewhat in Niger, the Islamist insurgency seem to remain able to target both civilians and soldiers. In neighbouring Nigeria, military command repeatedly state they have diminished the BK threat, preventing the insurgents to launch attacks and seize territory. According to the US Council on Foreign Relations, Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria has killed around 27,000 people in the past six years.

On 12 and 13 December 2015, Nigerian government troops clashed with a relatively new organisation: Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN). Their battle in the city of Zaria, in north central Kaduna state, reportedly killed more than one hundred people, including some senior movement members, and threatened wider violence.[3]

Late January 2016, at least eighty people were killed after fighters from the Islamist group razed the village of Dalori in the northern Nigeria, shooting people and setting fire to homes. The attack took place on Saturday in the village of Dalori, near the northern city of Maiduguri, the birthplace of BK.

While the peace process in Mali has made some progress, violent extremism and inter-communal conflict remain serious threats, as the multiplication of attacks on armed groups and Malian security forces (FAMA) has shown.

Northern Mali fell under control of al Qaeda-linked separatist groups in March-April 2012, which were driven out by a French-led operation in January 2013. A peace process and a deal in June 2015 has stumbled from the beginning, and agreements on ceasefires have been repeatedly broken.[4]

Against this background, some questions need to be answered. How has West Africa, and particularly, Burkina Faso, evolved in the context of the global counter-terror agenda? Is a wave of radicalisation sweeping through the region?

Burkina Faso: The end of the ‘exception burkinabè’?

Despite some political upheaval, Burkina Faso has never experienced mass violence or civil war until mid-Jan 2016, when the poor, landlocked western African nation saw the worst terrorist attack in its history. On 15 January 2016, militants of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and al Mourabitoune, an AQIM splinter group led by the infamous Mokhtar Belmokhtar, attacked the Splendid Hotel in Burkina Faso’s capital Ouagadougou, opened fire on a restaurant and attacked another hotel nearby, killing over thirty people and wounding fifty others.

Burnt cars outside the Splendid Hotel. Photograph: Wouter Elsen

The assault followed a similar raid in November 2015 on a Radisson Blu hotel in Bamako, Mali’s capital, which killed twenty people, including citizens of Russia, China and the US.

About 156 people inside the Splendid were held hostage, including Burkinabè government minister Clément Sawadogo, as a gun battle raged between the militants and the police for more than an hour. The battle moved on to a second hotel, the Yibi, before the hostages, many of them badly injured, were freed in a joint operation between French, local security forces, and according to some, US Special Forces.

Two days later, the prime ministers of Burkina Faso and Mali met and agreed to work together to counter the growing threat of Islamic militants in West Africa by sharing intelligence and conducting joint security patrols.

Ouagadougou Attack-14
The attack in and around Burkina Faso’s Splendid Hotel this week killed at least 28 people from at least seven countries. Photograph: Wouter Elsen

The exact details of the cooperation between Burkina Faso and Mali were not immediately clear, but patrols and intelligence-sharing mark an intent by both countries to prevent the spread of militancy as AQIM and others expand operations in the region beyond their usual reach.[5]

For years, Islamic militants have used northern Mali as a base, but over the past year they have staged a number of attacks in other parts of the country. Burkina Faso’s authorities are now concerned that its long desert border with Mali could become a transit point for militants.[6]

Security forces stand guard outside the Splendid Hotel in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. Photograph: Wouter Elsen

The most recent attacks also reveal that al Mourabitoune has begun selecting different kinds of targets and has adjusted its tactics accordingly. So why did the group of the infamous Mokhtar Belmokhtar undergo a dramatic shift from complex attacks in Northern Africa to simple ones in the Sahel?

According to some, the attack seemed designed to achieve only one thing: to catapult Belmokhtar and his group onto the international stage after three years of inactivity, and signal that he was still allied with al Qaeda, just not with AQIM.[7]

Political transition and fragility

The attack comes at a moment of political fragility for the country, which is coming out of a fragile transition following Blaise Compaoré’s October 2014 downfall. After trying to engineer a constitutional amendment to stay in power, Burkina Faso’s President Blaise Compaoré, after 27 years in office, was ousted in October 2014 by a popular uprising.

A transitional government was put in place, but it did not have the support of Compaore’s elite presidential guard (RSP). The presidential guard staged a coup in September that lasted only a week and caused the election, originally scheduled for October, to be postponed

Late November 2015, millions of Burkinabè people lined up at the polling stations to cast their ballots in the presidential and legislative elections. The vote was considered by some to be the most democratic in Burkina Faso’s history, because no incumbent was on the ballot paper and the presidential guard (RSP) had been dissolved.

Roch Marc Christian Kaboré’s victory in the 29 November presidential election shows that Burkinabès aspire as much to change as to continuity. A former heir apparent to Blaise Compaoré and former banker, Kaboré, symbolises both the stability of the former regime and, given his split from Compaoré, the desire for change.

Despite the peaceful elections, the country, with a population of 18m, is not immune to future trouble as it opens a new chapter of its history, International Crisis Group reported one week before the 15 January terror attacks. The presence of violent extremist groups in neighbouring countries will remain a challenge. The October 2015 attack on a gendarmerie post in the west of the country, the first of its kind in Burkina Faso, is evidence of the worsening security environment.

Ouagadougou Attack-18
Photograph: Wouter Elsen

The government will now have to refrain from triumphalism, recognise the formidable challenges ahead and, most importantly, resist the temptation to recreate a Compaoré-like system of one-party hegemony. Without this, the Burkinabès will massively return to the streets, as in October 2014 and September 2015, which could plunge the country back into crisis.[8]


The January 2015 attacks in Istanbul, Jakarta and Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso’s capital, where over thirty people were killed in a series of assaults, have heightened fears over the rise of violent extremism not only in the world’s largest Muslim majority country but around the world. It underlines the apparent ubiquity of the menace that Islamic State, al Qaida and their affiliated organisations pose today.[9]

The international community is making some military efforts to counter these various factors. However, the emerging pattern of a strongly militarised response to radicalisation and violent extremism and its negative implications for the democratic control of the security forces is likely to spread and intensify. Analysts now fear this approach will undermine civil liberties, democratisation and the tenuous progress made in transforming the security sector.[10]

[1] “Isis Inc: how oil fuels the jihadi terrorists”, Financial Times, 14 October 2015.

[2] “Al-Shabaab attacks Kenyan soldiers in Somalia army base”, Financial Times, 15 January 2016.

[3] Nnamdi Obasi, “New Risks on Nigeria’s Shiite Fault Line”, In Pursuit of Peace, 16 December 2015.

[4] Jean-Hervé Jezequel, “What Could Be Behind the Bamako Attack?”, In Pursuit of Peace, 20 November 2015.

[5] “Mali and Burkina Faso to share counter-terror efforts after Islamist attacks”, Guardian, 17 January 2016.

[6] Christophe Châtelot, “L’attaque d’AQMI à Ouagadougou : la fin de l’exception burkinabé face au terrorisme”, Le Monde, 16 January 2016.

[7] Geoff D. Porter, “The Drone War Goes Awry in Africa”, Foreign Policy, 20 January 2016.

[8] International Crisis Group, “Burkina Faso: transition acte II”, Crisis Group Briefing No. 116, 7 January 2016.

[9] Jason Burke, “Burkina Faso attack signals spread of Islamist menace”, Guardian, 16 January 2016.

[10] [book] James Gow, Funmi Olonisakin and Ernst Dijxhoorn, “Militancy and Violence in West Africa: Religion, Politics and Radicalisation”, Routlegde, 2013.


°Foreign Direct Investment and Good Governance Challenges: The Case of the Democratic Republic of Congo


In recent years, the developing countries have increasingly relied on private capital as a source of funding. Since the early 1990s, private sources of funding have made up over 75% of their external capital flows. The major contributing group to this private capital has consistently been foreign direct investment (FDI), with 2007 having the highest level of FDI ever recorded.[1] Since the early 1980s, it is a widely held view that a relationship exists between foreign direct investment (FDI) and development, and that foreign capital is essential to developing countries in order to finance their economic growth and to improve their access to technologies. During the heyday of the “Washington consensus” [2], conventional wisdom held that FDI was “good” for development (as long as the foreign firms did not engage in flagrant worker abuse or environmental pollution), and the more the better. This consensus view, for instance, is expressed at the Ninth UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) in 1996.[3] Is this uncritical enthusiasm for FDI justified today?

Proponents of economic liberalism point to average per capita incomes in developing countries that have doubled over a fifty-year period, with the GNP of some economies growing more than five times and less developed countries enjoying an ever-increasing share of world exports. Therefore liberal economic thinkers generally agree that economic development and growth cannot be uncoupled from trade. Their detractors, however, contend that the gap between rich and poor is increasing, both between and within countries. Yet at the same time, both acknowledge that the challenge of economic governance is to narrow the gap between rich and poor by stimulating economic growth and development.[4]

When transnational corporations (TNCs) enter markets of developing countries, it is often market failures that attract FDI and give them the advantage in the market. It is when FDI becomes dominant in the developing countries that foreign investors’ objectives may clash with those of the developing countries, and government protection is particularly needed. Thus, important variables for understanding growth and development in developing countries are the autonomy and strength of the state and the development policies and structure of the political processes.[5]

It is thus not surprising that the developing countries have long been critics of economic liberalism and expressed their dissatisfaction through the UN, particularly through UNCTAD. They have criticised the central pieces of economic governance, sought to regulate multinational corporations, and offered reform proposals. Therefore constructivism offers an alternative approach to understanding and examining state policies and actions. Constructivists give more importance to market forces, private enterprise and FDI but at the same time they argue that the state should govern the market through strong regulatory bodies. Their theoretical arguments are backed up by numerous econometric studies that purported to show a positive relationship between improvements in good governance and various measures of economic performance, in particular economic growth.[6]

This essay outlines the role of institutions and the impact of corruption as a determinant of economic performance on FDI inflows in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Literature Review

Numerous studies have analysed the relationship between FDI and economic growth to determine the extent, if any, to which FDI impacts economic development.[7] These studies analyse the overall impact of FDI on economic growth, assuming a perfect positive correlation between economic growth and welfare. Cole et al. note, for instance, that developed economies generally benefit from the presence of foreign companies through the spillover effects of such presence to other companies, or through increased supply of products and increased demand for inputs and employment.[8]

The impact of corruption as a significant determinant of economic performance and FDI in developing countries has also been analysed in academic studies. In contrast to the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, which saw the state as a “helping hand”, it is now common to see the government portrayed as a “grabbing hand”, controlled by politicians who “do not maximise social welfare and instead pursue their own selfish objectives”.[9] The relative importance of the two aspects determines whether the overall impact of corruption on FDI is positive or negative, rendering it an empirical question as to which of the two dominates.

FDI and Economic Growth

From the viewpoint of the neo-classical growth theory, FDI inflows increase the stock of capital in host countries thereby allowing higher rates of growth than would be possible from reliance on domestic savings. For those developing countries with limited industrial bases, increased export earnings facilitate imports of capital goods that can lead to higher levels of economic growth. Some empirical research has also suggested that whether FDI promote economic growth or not depends on the country absorptive capacity, which is determined by factors such as the quality of human capital, the level of development of the financial sector, technological development and the quality of infrastructure.[10]

Major determinants of FDI are economic factors such as market size and trade openness, as measured by exports and imports in relation to the total GDP. However, these determinants may not be equally important all over the world. In Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) increased trade openness did not spur FDI as much as it did in other regions. Nonetheless, FDI became especially important for SSA as a source of funding in the wake of the 2008-2009 debt crisis, given the significant reduction in the official flows and other private capital.

According to existing research, FDI can fill at least three ‘development gaps’: (1) the ‘investment gap’ by providing capital for investment; (2) the ‘foreign exchange gap’ by providing foreign currency through investments and export earnings; and (3) the ‘tax revenue gap’ by generating tax revenues through economic activities.[11]

Recognizing these benefits, developing countries have eased their restrictions on FDI inflows and the activities of transnational corporations (TNCs) such as General Electric (GE) and Exxon Mobil. In 2012, the developing countries received more than half of the global FDI inflows ($703 billion) and as many as 9 of the 20 largest FDI recipients were developing countries (World Bank, 2012). While FDI flows into Northern Africa have declined significantly, those into Sub-Saharan Africa continue to grow – by 4.7% in 2013, and at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 19.5% since 2007.[12]

Overall, there is a broad stream of research, which argues on the one hand that FDI effects can be unpredictable, unintended, and counterproductive or even threatening.[13] [14] Other authors show a very positive and engaged posture with development issues. [15] Much research focuses on economic development, and only a few authors deal with more institutional factors such as good governance and corruption (i.e. constructivist or neo-institutionalist view). However, these issues are often crucial for TNCs strategies and long-term success.[16]

FDI and Corruption

This section explores the impact of corruption on the flow of FDI. Corruption can be anticipated to decrease the expected profitability of investment projects. Investors will therefore take the level of corruption in a host country into account in making decisions to invest abroad. This implies that corruption can affect the impact that FDI has on economic growth. While the effect of FDI on democracy has long attracted attention among economists and the public, the reverse effect of democracy on FDI has been relatively less studied.

There is an ongoing debate about whether corruption greases or sands the wheels of economic growth. As with the literature on economic growth and FDI, the findings from the empirical studies on the impact of corruption on economic growth are mixed. Proponents of the greasing hypothesis are of the opinion that corruption encourages trade that may not have happened otherwise and promotes efficiency by allowing private sector agents to avoid unwieldy regulations.

For instance, Acemoglu and Verdier contend that some degree of corruption may be part of the optimal allocation of resources in the presence of incomplete contracts or on account of market failure.[17] The opposing school of thought contends that corruption exerts adverse effects on or sands the wheels of long-term economic growth and sustainable development.

The papers that are closely linked to the aim of this essay are Resnick (2001), Harms and Ursprung (2002), Jensen (2003) and Resnick and Li (2003). The hypotheses on the impact of institutions on FDI are non-controversial, but empirical studies have to deal with the lack of accurate measures of institutions. Wei shows that FDI is strongly negatively correlated with corruption. [18] The empirical relationship between political instability and FDI flows is unclear. Some studies find a negative relation, while more recent studies find no effect. [19]

Resnick and Li (2003) argue that there are competing effects of democratic institutions on FDI flows. On the one hand, political participation and representation of the common citizen in the legislature ensure credible property rights protection. On the other, the democratic constraints over elected politicians tend to weaken the monopolistic positions of TNCs. Their empirical results suggest that, controlling for property rights protection, democratic institutions reduce FDI inflows. Harms and Ursprung (2001) find the opposite result. They conclude that investors are marginally more likely to invest in countries, which respect political and civil liberties. Jensen (2003) also finds a significant positive effect of democracy on FDI inflows. Egger and Winner also find a negative impact of corruption on FDI, which, in turn, suggests that the helping hand effects of corruption are outweighed by the grabbing hand effects. Their results also indicate that the growth of FDI in non-OECD economies is driven mainly by economic growth and a change in factor endowments and to a lesser degree by corruption.[20]

Mathur & Singh are one of the first to demonstrate that foreign investors care about economic freedoms, rather than political freedoms, in making decisions about where to locate capital. Hence more democratic countries may receive FDI flows if economic freedoms are not guaranteed and vice versa. Secondly, the greater the number of restrictions that governments impose on citizens, the greater the potential for corruption (such as bribe-taking) when administrative decisions determine access to foreign exchange and increase the risk of discouraging legitimate and desirable transactions.[21]

Fostering the conditions for continent-wide economic development has always been on the agendas of all African countries. With the New Partnership for Africa’s Development’s (NEPAD) Action Plan and the African Union’s anticorruption convention, a common view is that corruption hinders development. This is premised on the neoliberal idea that if African states take steps to promote good governance, including curbing corruption, then international aid and investment will follow. Also the World Bank and other institutions have put corruption on their agenda when dealing with developing countries. Although the World Bank is based on a liberal motion that economic stability and development are best achieved when trade and financial flows occur with as few restrictions as possible, when the staff were able to frame in economic terms – that corruption had negative effects on development – they were able to establish their case. Thus the Bank, once apolitical, increasingly addresses political issues, promoting sound governmental management and anticorruption measures.[22] [23]

Case Study: The Democratic Republic of Congo

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is a Sub-Saharan African country with a large population and vast resources. Considered by the UN as the least-developed nation in the world, fewer than 40% of the nearly 70 million inhabitants live in urban areas according to the latest NSI estimates. Congo is in fact near the bottom of the rankings on almost every indicator of development. The DRC is the biggest producer of cobalt globally and the sixth-largest copper miner. With over 80 million hectares of arable land and over 1,100 minerals and precious metals, the DRC has the potential to be one of the richest countries of the African continent and a driver of African growth. However, the Congolese population has been recovering from a decade-long period of instability, violence and state decay since 1996, when the Great African War started, to 2006, when elections formally ended the political transition in the DRC.[24]

The DRC remains a fragile country with enormous needs in terms of reconstruction, economic growth and good governance. During the last quarter of 2008, commodity prices temporarily collapsed. After an economic slump in 2009 that brought the growth rate down to 2.8% due to the global financial crisis, the DRC posted an economic growth rate of 8.7% in 2014, which is well above the average in SSA. Public investments have also helped spur growth.[25] Kinshasa is now looking for international financial support, as it is preparing for provincial elections by December 2015 and a presidential vote in November 2016, which together will cost $1.1 billion, or more than ten per cent of its annual budget.

After nearly a decade of suspended activities due to widespread corruption and growing insecurity, the World Bank re-engaged in the DRC in 2001. Since 2010, Kinshasa has been committed to consolidate the reforms launched under the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Initiative. Also the relationship between Kinshasa and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has improved recently: the IMF is now ready to provide a $1 billion loan to the DRC.[26]

Nonetheless, an uncertain legal framework, conflicts with armed militias, endemic corruption, and a lack of transparency in government policy are long-term problems for the mining sector and the economy as a whole. Also protection of property remains weak and dependent on a dysfunctional public administration and judicial system. Bureaucratic and regulatory barriers impede the free flow of trade and discourage FDI.

From independence to the present day, the DRC has struggled with a legacy of entrenched corruption at all levels of society. According to Transparency International, corruption permeates all sectors of the DRC’s economy, undermining development prospects and compromising the fragile post- conflict equilibrium. However, one year before the 2006 elections, the DRC enacted an anti-corruption law, which brought provisions of the United Nations Convention Against Corruption and African Union Convention on Preventing and Combatting Corruption into the national context, purportedly providing an adequate legal framework to fight corruption.[27]

According to the World Bank, the DRC’s economic outlook seems favourable although its political and security situation remains fragile. The economy is expected to grow steadily in the medium term at over 8%, owing to increased investment and growth in the extractive industries and the contribution of public works and the tertiary sector. Inward FDI flows jumped in 2012 from $1.7 billion to $3.3 billion. Minerals account for the vast majority of the DRC’s exports and represents the single largest source for FDI.

Maintaining a restrictive monetary policy and fiscal discipline is critical to containing inflation below the 5% goal. World Bank estimates confirm that the support strategy for investments in large-scale infrastructure projects, led by the authorities, could significantly support growth, provided that priority is accorded to high-return projects (transport, electricity). These types of investments clearly demonstrate that the World Bank has not yet shifted from an emphasis on economic security of the state to economic security and well-being for the individual.

The Grand Inga Dam

13 inga COL

The African Development Bank (AfDB), the World Bank and other multilateral development banks have recently allocated huge funds to promote in the DRC their specific agenda of large infrastructure development projects. These banks have also been instrumental in the recent efforts to launch the Grand Inga Dam project on the Congo River, arguing that “centralised infrastructure with private participation will lower the costs of services”. Therefore in 2013, a $12 billion proposal for Inga phase III was put forth by the Congolese government, in cooperation with the AfDB and the government of South Africa. The World Bank provided an additional $73 million in technical assistance for the project in 2014.

The emphasis on big projects seems to be back. In part that is because recent research shows energy access can be powerful in addressing extreme poverty, and advocates for infrastructure now include people worried about the poorest of the poor, not just a country’s overall output.

The Grand Inga Dam, which will be jointly constructed by South Africa and the DRC, will have a capacity of 40,000 megawatts (MW). It will be the world’s largest hydropower scheme and become part of a greater neoliberal vision to develop a power grid across Africa with the intention of stimulating FDI flows and the continent’s industrial economic development. If built, it would double the electricity production capacity of Africa in one stroke and resolve what Jim Yong Kim, president of the World Bank, calls Africa’s ‘energy apartheid’. [28]

Sceptics are unconvinced; they argue that the large amount of FDI will force the state’s hand to enter into agreements concerning the final destination and usage of the power generated, which many believe will end up supplying power to energy intensive industries in South Africa, while the majority of the Congolese population will literally be left in the dark.[29]

Both Banks’ focus on infrastructure development is underpinned by their conviction that improvements in infrastructure necessitates regional integration, enables intra-regional trade, connect regions to global market and attracts private sector investment. This can be said to be one of the underlying reasons why the both Banks are in support of the megalomaniac Inga Dam scheme.

The Grand Inga Dam’s massive price tag, coupled with the poor governance record of the DRC, could also be a recipe for serious corruption problems as bribery, collusion and deception are not uncommon in the construction, operation and maintenance phases of large infrastructure development projects. For any large investment, adequate maintenance of the completed asset is critical; maintenance deferred can lead to deterioration of the asset and the need for expensive repairs, according to International Rivers, an organisation opposed to large dams.[30]


The scale of the Inga Dam project in the DRC is certainly astounding. But in one of the world’s most corrupt and politically volatile countries, can today’s planners succeed where so many others have failed? While policymakers place great importance on foreign direct investment (FDI) in advancing development in developing countries, the links between FDI, economic development, and human development remain tenuous. Most academic results indicate that countries such as the DRC that are endowed with natural resources or have large markets will attract more FDI. However, good infrastructure, an educated labour force, macroeconomic stability, openness to FDI, an efficient legal system, less corruption and political stability also promote FDI. In contrast, corruption and political instability have the opposite effect according to most thinkers. These findings are consistent with the reports of multinational companies that operate in the region.

Thomas Thielemans


Acemoglu, D. & Verdier, T. (1998). Property rights, corruption and the allocation of talent: a general equilibrium approach. Economic Journal, Vol. 108.

Albornoz, F., Cole, M., Elliott, R. & Ercolani, M. (2009). In Search of Environmental Spillovers. World Economy 32:1, pp. 136-163.

Bardy, R., Drew, S. & Kennedy, T.F. (2012). Foreign Investment and Ethics: How to Contribute to Social Responsibility by Doing Business in Less-Developed Countries. Journal of Business EthicsVol.106, Issue 3, pp 267-282.

Beith, M. & Richardson, P. (2015). IMF Ready to Lend $1 Billion to Democratic Republic of Congo. Bloomberg.

Bosshard, P. (2012) Infrastructure for Whom? A Critique of the Infrastructure Strategies of the Group of 20 and the World Bank. International Rivers, p.2 ; International Rivers (2013). Grand Inga Dam, DR Congo , available at http://www.internationalrivers.org/campaigns/grand-inga-dam-dr-congo.

Egger, P. & Winner, H. (2004). How Corruption Influences FDI: A Panel Data Study.

EY (2014). EY’s attractiveness survey. Africa 2014. Executing growth. Available at: http://www.ey.com/Publication/vwLUAssets/EY-attractiveness-africa-2014/$FILE/EY-attractiveness-africa-2014.pdf.

Freckleton, M., Wright, A. & Craigwell, R. (2012). Economic growth, foreign direct investment and corruption in developed and developing countries. Journal of Economic Studies, Vol. 39 Iss: 6, pp.639 – 652.

Freedom House (2010) Countries at Crossroad- DRC Country Report, available at http://www.freedomhouse.org/template.cfm?page=140&edition=9&ccrpage=43&ccrcountry=181.

Gray, H. & Khan, M. (2010). Good governance and growth in Africa: what can we learn from Tanzania?, in Padayachee, V., The political economy of Africa. London, UK : Routledge, 2010, pp. 339-356.

Karns, M. & Mingst, K.A. (2010). International Organizations: The Politics and Processes of Global Governance. Lynne Rienner Publishers, Inc., pp. 395-398.

Mathur, A. & Singh, K. (2013) Foreign direct investment, corruption and democracy. Applied Economics, 45:8, 991-1002.

Palitza, K. (2011). $80bn Grand Inga hydropower dam to lock out Africa’s poor. Africa Review, Available at: www.africareview.com/Business—Finance/80-billion-dollar-Grand-Inga-dam-to-lock-out-Africa-poor/-/979184/1274126/-/kkicv7/-/index.html.

Reiter, S.L & Steensma, K. (2010). Human Development and Foreign Direct Investment in Developing Countries: The Influence of FDI Policy and Corruption. World Development, 2010, Vol.38(12), pp. 1678-1691.

Reyntjens, F. (2009). The Great African War. Congo and Regional Geopolitics, 1996–2006. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Shleifer, A. & Vishny, R. (1998). The Grabbing Hand. Government Pathologies and their Cures. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

UNCTAD (2008). World investment report: Transnational corporations and the infrastructure challenge (No. WIR2008). United Nations, New York and Geneva.

Wei, S.J. (2000). How Taxing is Corruption on International Investors? Review of Economic and Statistics. 82: 1-11.

World Bank (2015). Democratic Republic of Congo. Country Overview. Available at: http://www.worldbank.org/en/country/drc.

[1] UNCTAD (2008). World investment report: Transnational corporations and the infrastructure challenge (No. WIR2008). United Nations, New York and Geneva.

[2] The Washington Consensus became the dominant approach to economic prosperity undergirding almost all international development lending and IMF aid to countries experiencing financial and debt crises. Ingredients of the consensus include using public expenditures in a pro-growth, pro-poor way for basic healthcare; fiscal discipline; government deregulation in favour of open competition; foreign direct investment and tax reform.

[3] UN doc. No. TD/378.

[4] Karns, M.P & Mingst, K.A. (2010). International Organizations: The Politics and Processes of Global Governance. Lynne Rienner Publishers, Inc., pp. 395-398.

[5] Reiter, S.L & Steensma, K. (2010). Human Development and Foreign Direct Investment in Developing Countries: The Influence of FDI Policy and Corruption. World Development, 2010, Vol.38(12), pp. 1678-1691.

[6] Gray, H. & Khan, M. (2010). Good governance and growth in Africa: what can we learn from Tanzania?, in Padayachee, Vishnu, The political economy of Africa. London, UK : Routledge, 2010, pp. 339-356.

[7] (e.g., Alfaro, 2003; Alfaro, Chanda, Kalemli-Ozcan, & Sayek, 2010; Apergis, Lyroudia, & Vamvakidis, 2008; Carkovic & Levine, 2005; Chowdhury and Mavrotas; Hansen & Rand, 2006).

[8] Albornoz, F., Cole, M., Elliott, R. & Ercolani, M. (2009). In Search of Environmental Spillovers. World Economy 32:1, pp. 136-163.

[9] Shleifer, A. & Vishny, R. (1998). The Grabbing Hand. Government Pathologies and their Cures. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

[10] Freckleton, M., Wright, A. & Craigwell, R. (2012). Economic growth, foreign direct investment and corruption in developed and developing countries. Journal of Economic Studies, Vol. 39 Iss: 6, pp.639 – 652.

[11] According to UNCTAD the components of FDI are: equity capital, reinvested earnings and other capital (mainly intra-company loans). As countries do not always collect data for each of those components, reported data on FDI are not fully comparable across countries. In particular, data on reinvested earnings, the collection of which depends on company surveys, are often unreported by many countries.

[12] EY (2014). EY’s attractiveness survey. Africa 2014. Executing growth. Available at: http://www.ey.com/Publication/vwLUAssets/EY-attractiveness-africa-2014/$FILE/EY-attractiveness-africa-2014.pdf.

[13] Nunnenkamp 2001; Yamin and Sinkovics 2009.

[14] Dixon et al. 1986; Mengistu 2009.

[15] Meyer 2004; Ramamurti 2004.

[16] Bardy, R., Drew, S. & Kennedy, T.F. (2012). Foreign Investment and Ethics: How to Contribute to Social Responsibility by Doing Business in Less-Developed Countries. Journal of Business EthicsVol.106, Issue 3, pp 267-282.

[17] Acemoglu, D. & Verdier, T. (1998). Property rights, corruption and the allocation of talent: a general equilibrium approach. Economic Journal, Vol. 108.

[18] Wei, S.J. (2000). How Taxing is Corruption on International Investors? Review of Economic and Statistics. 82: 1-11.

[19] Schneider & Frey (1995), op crit.; Jaspersen, F.Z., Aylward, A.H. & Knox, A.D. (2000). The Effects of Risk on Private Investment: Africa Compared with Other Developing Areas, in Collier, P. and Patillo, C. (eds), Investment and Risk in Africa. New York: St Martin’s Press, pp. 71-95.

[20] Egger, P. & Winner, H. (2004). How Corruption Influences FDI: A Panel Data Study.

[21] Mathur, A. & Singh, K. (2013) Foreign direct investment, corruption and democracy. Applied Economics, 45:8, 991-1002.

[22] Ibidem.

[23] There has been increased discussion about the role of multilateral organisations in promoting good institutions in developing countries (Asiedu and Villamil, 2003; Frankel, 2003; and Hakura and Nsouli, 2003).

[24] Reyntjens, F. (2009). The Great African War. Congo and Regional Geopolitics, 1996–2006. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

[25] World Bank (2015). Democratic Republic of Congo. Country Overview. Available at: http://www.worldbank.org/en/country/drc.

[26] Beith, M. & Richardson, P. (2015). IMF Ready to Lend $1 Billion to Democratic Republic of Congo. Bloomberg.

[27] Freedom House (2010) Countries at Crossroad- DRC Country Report, available at http://www.freedomhouse.org/template.cfm?page=140&edition=9&ccrpage=43&ccrcountry=181.

[28] Bosshard, P. (2012) Infrastructure for Whom? A Critique of the Infrastructure Strategies of the Group of 20 and the World Bank. International Rivers, p.2 ; International Rivers (2013). Grand Inga Dam, DR Congo , available at http://www.internationalrivers.org/campaigns/grand-inga-dam-dr-congo.

[29] Palitza, K. (2011). $80bn Grand Inga hydropower dam to lock out Africa’s poor. Africa Review, Available at: www.africareview.com/Business—Finance/80-billion-dollar-Grand-Inga-dam-to-lock-out-Africa-poor/-/979184/1274126/-/kkicv7/-/index.html.

[30] More information concerning the Inga Dam, see: http://www.internationalrivers.org/resources/grand-inga-hydroelectric-project-an-overview-3356.

African Ownership Over Conflicts And Elections: The Beginning of a New Era?

As elections approach in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Congo-Brazzaville, Uganda and Rwanda, the entire Great Lakes Region is bracing itself for a potential of election-related violence. At a time when Western policies towards Africa are largely preoccupied with halting the expansion of Islamist terror groups, fighting piracy off the coast of Somalia and combatting against North African people-smugglers, there is a feeling of déjà vu and perhaps intervention-fatigue. In Burundi, the EU already has suspended its observer mission due to the crackdown on the opposition and the media, after violence broke out late in April 2015, after President Pierre Nkurunziza announced he would seek a third term. As the Great Lakes Region and its electoral processes reach the agendas of the international community, many observers argue that international engagement is essential to monitor – and possibly tame – any outbreak of violence. This article critically evaluates the state of the current democratisation processes in Africa and in particular the Great Lakes Region.


In any democracy, elections are a ‘viable means of ensuring the orderly process of leadership succession and change and an instrument of political authority and legitimation’. Yet elections are also and more importantly an institutionalised attempt to actualise the essence of democracy: rule of the people by the people. However, in contexts where the power of a state is viewed as a prize to be won, and a vehicle for the primitive accumulation of national wealth and resources for private gain, elections become a means to legitimise political governance by ‘political entrepreneurs’. Accordingly, elections may not necessarily democratise the polity but legitimise autocratic regimes.

Political transitions, including electoral processes, present a major source of instability, particularly in the Great Lakes Region. Elections are necessary for democracies to function, yet political leaders and parties too often will manage them via corruption and violence, in a context often marked by decisive electoral contests and polarised politics. As a result, the role of elections in the democratisation process has been the subject of debate in recent years. A growing number of scholars have argued against the importance of elections and have criticised the current international emphasis on electoral practices.

Despite the growing amount of debates and published articles, the number of literature on contemporary elections and democratisation in Africa is still relatively thin compared to that of southern Europe and Latin America. Some efforts to understand issues like party systems have suffered from methodological problems undermining findings (e.g. Mozaffar and Scarritt 2005) but that is to be expected when new ground is being broken. Nonetheless, we are in a very dynamic period of academic research on Africa and as always scholars differ in their conclusions on where countries are heading, if things are getting better or worse, and to what extent the developments they see fits various theories.

© Thomas Thielemans
© Thomas Thielemans

Africa is a large continent, not only geographically but in numbers too. About a quarter of all the world’s states are found on the continent and it accordingly has produced a wide variety in terms of political institutions and outcomes. Africa had its first wave of democratisation in the late 1950s as countries engaged in struggles for national independence. But the history of elections and political participation in Africa started even before that. Already from 1848, a few “assimilated” Africans in Senegal were able to vote for a député. From 1946, Africans in the French colonies voted, both in elections to assemblies in France and to local government councils. Interestingly, these initial elections were generally carried out in a peaceful manner; they were fairly free and fair; and the outcomes were never generally disputed.

The first wave of electoral democracy in sub-Saharan Africa was short-lived, however. Once in power, the political leaders of the new nation-states approached the double tasks of national development and national integration by insisting on national uniformity, which set in motion a reversal towards autocracy across the continent that lasted for almost three decades. Between independence from colonial rule in the early 1960s and the end of the Cold War in 1991, not a single African ruler was peacefully ousted at the ballot box, except in the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius.

The Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF), for instance, like many other ruling parties in Africa, became virtually synonymous with the state, such that it views its political survival as that of the state and any opposition to it as a threat to the national security. The more competitive the political struggle for power in Zimbabwe, the more unfair and violent means President Mugabe and his regime applied. In general, only a few African countries continued multiparty elections from independence: Botswana, Mauritius and Senegal. [1]

In the short term at least, autocracy does not always seem to curb economic growth. Some anti-democrats – Ethiopia’s late ruler, the authoritarian Meles Zenawi, is a favourite example – have seen their economies increase faster than those of their more democratic neighbours. The increasingly ruthless Paul Kagame has made Rwandans a lot better off. Thanks to oil, Equatorial Guinea and Angola are among the fastest-growing countries in the world.[2]

Today we see that free and fair elections are becoming increasingly common. The 2015 election vote in Ethiopia, Africa’s second-most-populous nation, has been described by African Union observers as ‘calm, peaceful and credible’ and that ‘it provided an opportunity for the Ethiopian people to express their choices at the polls’. According to official results, Ethiopia’s ruling party, the EPRDF, and its allies have won every single parliamentary seat. The EPRDF has been in power since the overthrow of the military government in 1991.[3]

In late April 2015, Togo returned President Gnassingbé yet again for a third term, thanks to his own amendment to the constitution that in the past had restricted a president’s tenure to two terms. Yet stability and the absence of electoral violence in this country can be chalked up as positive signs. In neighbouring Benin, parliamentary elections took place largely without incident, but deficiencies in the distribution of electoral cards and other technical difficulties triggered violent clashes.

According to Lindberg’s findings in Democracy and Elections in Africa, more countries are holding elections with an increasing share of elections achieving a minimum standard of democratic fairness. South Africa, Mozambique, Tanzania, and Namibia for example, all have stable one-party dominant systems even if they are (at least electoral) democracies. To a more pessimistic observer, a legitimate question mark still remains as to whether ruling elites in countries like Tanzania, Mozambique, Guinea Bissau, Lesotho, Niger and Zambia will actually accept to step down if and when it becomes reality.[4]

Whereas several African countries have made steady progress in terms of infrastructural development, there still are obvious gaps to be filled. Worse still, many elections in Africa have been characterised by various forms and degrees of fraud, gross human rights violations and mass violence. Nigeria’s politics is so corrupt that it gives the D-word a bad name. Other examples are Kenya, Cameroon, Zimbabwe and Côte d’Ivoire, inter alia.

These countries all epitomise the effects of flawed electoral systems that, far from expressing the popular will, engendering political changes and the legitimation of political regimes have become a means of legitimising authoritarian governments while delimiting political space for the incumbent.[5]

Although this article focuses on election violence in Africa, the problem is not limited to this continent. It is not uncommon in some Asian countries such as India, Pakistan, Philippines and Malaysia. In the Philippines, 75 people were killed prior to the May 2007 elections, while 80 others were wounded in election-related violence.

The resultant upsurge of electoral violence in these and other sub-Saharan countries but also the intensity of political polarisation have raised concerns over the militarisation of politics and the role of regional multinational organisations in guaranteeing a political transition to democracy and safeguarding the integrity of electoral processes.

Power politics

For decades the sight of gunmen arriving on motorcycles and in pick-up trucks at the gates of an African presidential palace spelled disaster. From mass pro-democracy revolts in North Africa to post-electoral disputes in the Sahel and in sub-Saharan Africa, the dominant role of the security sector has become increasingly visible both as ‘enablers’ and ‘spoilers’ of democratic political transition, illuminating the weakening role of elections as a legitimate basis for change of government. In most cases, regional and multinational institutions have been unable to resolve electoral disputes and ensure a democratic change of government, leaving African multinational institutions on the sidelines of resolving governance crises on the African continent.

To deter popular revolts and organised opposition, many African leaders such as President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe have intensified the militarisation of the police force and intelligence service, and have politicised the military, leaving the real powers to change government with the security sector rather than with electoral processes. The same could be said of Egypt, where the security forces initially sided with the Hosni Mubarak regime against pro-democracy protesters before defecting and supporting the revolution that eventually ousted Mubarak.

However, recent coups in Burundi and Burkina Faso have, if not upended, at least complicated attitudes to military coups. In Burundi, a group of generals declared the President, Pierre Nkurunziza, dismissed while he was out of the country on May 13th. They acted in support of groups protesting against an attempt by the president to stand for a third term and ignoring constitutional term limits by doing so. Loyalist forces regained control after two days and the president returned. Hopes of a negotiated end to the protests were dampened after an opposition leader was killed.

A coup in Burkina Faso in October 2014 is another example of a potentially useful political intervention by the military – even if far from ideal in a democracy. There President Blaise Compaoré, was chased from power by his own guards when the Burkinabé politician, who held the country together for 27 years, tried to ignore term limits. New elections are scheduled for October 2015.[6]

Old crocodiles

At the end of the 20th century, many African countries adopted presidential term limits as part of a broader set of constitutional rules that accompanied the transition from personal and authoritarian rule to pluralistic modes of governance. While term limits were widely embraced by the larger African public, these rules have in recent years come under increasing attack from incumbent presidents seeking to extend their tenures. In the first six months of 2015 alone, the presidents of Burundi, Benin, the DRC, and Rwanda have either personally or through their supporters expressed the intention to dispense with or circumvent term limits in order to seek additional terms of office.

An attempt by West African leaders in May 2015 to adopt a common position in favour of a maximum of two terms for all presidents in the region failed following disputations from the presidents of Togo (which abolished term limits in 2002) and Gambia.

Whether these incumbents will be able to successfully pursue constitutional change to stand for a third term will depend on interaction between international and local politics, as Dr Omar Shahabudin McDoom of the London School of Economics (LSE) points out. “An international norm for external actors to act to prevent these third terms is crystallising but whether it is enforceable will depend on the leverage donors possess and the extend they are willing to use it.”

Nevertheless, development agencies and/or ministries do not always pursue the same policies as their foreign ministries who are often more willing to act against illiberal practices. Local politics are more unpredictable and much depends on the constellation of forces who would serve to act as counterweights to challenge the incumbent.These forces do not only consist of opposition political parties, but also of the Church and influential civil society organisations such as human rights organisations, trade unions, and student and professional organisations.[7]

Congo’s conundrum

In Kinshasa, the incumbent, President Joseph Kabila, appears to be entrenching himself and his regime in order to cling to power despite a constitutional limit, which should see him leave office by December 2016. Ever since the controversial 2011 elections, large segments of the population have mobilised against government attempts to maintain power. In January 2015, protest against a new electoral law descended into street protests and riots: as many as 36 people died in the violence.


In the DRC the political landscape is fragmented, as there are only a few large majority and opposition formations and a plethora of small, “one-man” parties, most often with a strong regional or ethnic affiliation. The political opposition has been very fluid and nearly invisible since the 2011 elections. The main challenger then, Etienne Tshisekedi, isolated himself from the political debate by maintaining his position as self-declared elected president and legitimate head of state. Tshisekedi has been the primary Congolese opposition leader for decades. Although he served in the government of dictator Mobutu Sese in various positions, he also led the campaign against Mobutu, and was one of only a few politicians who challenged that dictator. Since the disputed 2011 elections, the Congolese population seems to have lost its belief in elections as an instrument for change or a way to improve their living conditions.

According to the Constitution, the Congolese state has to organise elections before the end of 2016 and President Kabila cannot stand for a third term. Prior to these elections, President Kabila has several options. The three main options are: (A) if Kabila decides to respect the Constitution and step down as president, the regime will have to appoint a successor; (B) Kabila decides for a new mandate as president of the DRC and (C) he opts to remain in power by slowing down the electoral process.

Meanwhile, because of election-related tensions and resurging conflict in the eastern provinces after the appearance of the M23 rebel group in March 2012, the planned provincial, senatorial and local elections were postponed. The takeover of Goma was in fact a major humiliation for President Kabila.[8]

In the Great Lakes Region, however, it is not only the DRC’s domestic troubles, which are spilling across the borders. In Rwanda, for instance, people talk of a “Putin-Medvedev scenario” that would let Paul Kagame, Rwanda’s dynamic but authoritarian ruler stay in charge, perhaps a prime minister, when he supposedly final term as president ends in 2017. Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni has now served 29 years in total. Denis Sassou-Nguesso has ruled Congo-Brazzavlle for most of the past 31 years. Elsewhere, the Republic of Congo recently expelled thousands of DRC citizens from Brazzaville, igniting social, economic and political tensions. Recent conflicts in the Central African Republic had led to thousands of refugees fleeing into the northern parts of the DRC. Also South Sudan and Uganda both have porous borders with the DRC.[9]

African Ownership Over Conflicts And Elections

The violent conflicts that have ravaged the Great Lakes Region since the early 1990s can be seen as domestic wars, such as in Rwanda (1990-94, 1997-99), Burundi (1993-2003) and the DRC (1996-today). However, they were also regional and even continental, with considerable inputs and outputs across national borders. The main reason for this extension is the nature of the Congolese state, which does not empirically perform essential state functions, chief among them the exercise of territorial control.[10]

René Lemarchand, a retired French-American political scientist who is known for his research on ethnic conflict and genocide in Rwanda, Burundi and Darfur has summarised the complex dynamics of the Great Lakes Region in his 2000 occasional paper. He believes that the marginal ranking of Africa in the scale of international priorities is just one explanation for this generalised lack of interest in the Great Lakes crisis. Another is the sheer complexity of the forces involved. When one considers the multiplicity of political actors, domestic and foreign, the fluidity of factional alliances, the spill-over of ethnic violence across boundaries, the extreme fragmentation of political arenas, it is easy to see why the international community should have second thoughts about the wisdom of a concerted peace initiative.

According to Lemarchand the key concept around which much of this discussion revolves is that of exclusion. “Political, economic and social exclusion are seen as the principal dimensions that need to be explored if we are to grasp the dynamics of domestic and inter-state violence in the Great Lakes. Briefly stated, the central pattern that recurs time and again is one in which ethnic polarization paves the way for political exclusion, exclusion eventually leading to insurrection, insurrection to repression, and repression to massive flows of refugees and internally displaced persons, which in turn become the vectors of further instability. The involvement of external actors, is inseparable from the perceived threats posed by mobilized refugee diasporas to their countries of origin as well as to specific communities within the host country.”[11] Lemarchand’s assertion is one that in 2015 still corresponds to reality.

African solutions for African problems?

An interesting new development is that African countries and multilateral institutions recently have been quite eager to play a role in the process of solving their own, internal conflicts; or at least preventing it from developing into an open regional war. For instance, the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) countries tried to get actively involved by sending troops for the MONUSCO’s Force Intervention Brigade and the African Union (AU) sought to promote its own visibility and leadership.

Also, in November 2014 ten East African nations have launched a joint military force aimed at improving security in the region and supporting the AU’s missions. The African Standby Force (ASF) was launched in the central Ethiopian city of Adama after almost a decade of planning and preparation. The force consists of up to 5,200 troops from the African countries of Burundi, Comoros, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Seychelles, Somalia, Sudan and Uganda.

Yet, at the same time, the African coalition partners seem to struggle to engage effectively with uprising conflicts. In most African elections the international community has been an observer rather than an actor. In more powerful countries, such as Nigeria and Sudan, the international community plays a marginal role. Both were dominated by internal dynamics and politics, and little or no influence was exerted from abroad.

In this year of African elections, it is, as Christa Barrios of EUISS points out, not the West’s principles and policies that should be the focus. “Rather, it is African opposition parties and civil society who will use the polls to open up windows of opportunity that can be used to contest domestic policies and attract international attention”.[12]

Enforcement has proved to be a challenge for the AU, as for most regional organisations, since intervening in the affairs of another African state is still controversial. The Economic Community of Great Lakes Countries (Burundi, Rwanda and the DRC) cannot be easily used to deal with security issues. The SADC is considered a promising trans-regional endeavour, but some countries such as the DRC, remain peripheral in its structures.

Since its official inauguration on 9 July 2002, the African Union (has made the promotion of democracy and good political governance for the development and stability of Africa one of its main priorities. Despite the AU’s interventions, elections in Africa remain one of the weakest links in the democratisation process, turning out to be democratic liabilities, instead of assets.[13]

For the AU to be truly effective in conflict-resolution, it must be able to make the member states comply with AU’s decisions. In 2009, the AU took the unprecedented step of calling for UN sanctions of one of its members – Eritrea – for aiding jihadist fighters in Somalia and causing the deaths of AU peacekeepers. Although the AU has a built-in ability to become an efficient player in conflict resolution in Africa, it faces extensive challenges, which can only be overcome with extensive external support.

The AU’s election-monitoring reports are known, in several instances, to have contradicted those of sister organisations, both international and domestic. While the international and domestic observer groups condemned the 2011 Republic of Congo election as lacking in integrity, citing various irregularities, the AU observers described it as ‘successful’.

Another major challenge confronting the AU’s election observation missions is the fact that their reports, like those of other monitoring groups, be they domestic or international, do not have the force of law. Consequently, no matter how damning the reports might be, the AU is largely powerless to intervene in the internal affairs of the host country, except in exceptional cases where electoral irregularities degenerate into acute post-election violence beyond what can be handled internally. In fact, the greatest challenge of the AU in conflict resolution in Africa, is to prove that Africans are capable of resolving African problems.

Towards the 2016 elections

As was always the case, the security and future of the countries in the Great Lakes Region is a regional affair. Congo’s allies (Angola, South Africa, Tanzania, Congo-Brazzaville) are very interested in the elections. Their main concern is not the democratic quality (most of them face similar problems of searching for a balance between credible elections and their dedication to remain in power) but stability at their borders related to their economic interests.[14]

Therefore the next electoral cycle in the DRC is of historic importance. In October 2015 the Congolese will elect their local representatives (représentants locaux). Presidential elections are currently slated for 2016. As earlier mentioned, under the current constitutional dispensation, it will mark the end of President Kabila’s second and final mandate. According to Chatham House, the central questions, therefore, are whether these elections will happen on time, and whether Kabila will seek to stand for a third term. A full electoral cycle will include polls at multiple levels, across a vast country with limited infrastructure – their organisation will demand enormous resources.[15]

A peaceful transition of power through electoral democracy would be a remarkable step forward for the DRC. Professor of Law and Politics Filip Reyntjens of the University of Antwerp believes that the elections definitely will lead to situations of local instability. However, as it is a strong ‘diluted’ process, Reyntjens does not except any major outbreaks of violence on macro-level.[16]

The central lesson from electoral uncertainty in Kinshasa and in other major African cities is that – for a short moment – the international community could have a disproportionate influence on long-term outcomes. The Congolese political system is adept at drawing in and subverting possible opponents. The population is deeply cynical about politics and politicians, and the country lacks a significantly developed urban middle class. Pressure for political change – let alone the ‘Arab Spring’ type of uprising that some have foreseen – is unlikely to arise spontaneously. In fact, the country seems close to reverting to the resignation of the Mobutu era.


The DRC, still emerging from decades of war and generations of pervasive misrule, may be in a position to break loose from a seemingly eternal repetition of violence and mismanagement, and move towards both a democratic transition of power and genuine post-conflict stabilisation. The financial, political and technical support offered by the wider international community will remain extremely significant, but is unlikely to be formative. Secondly, it is important to note that the twin imperatives of political legitimacy and internal security are also interrelated. As noted, it is extremely difficult to conduct elections amid the chaos of conflict – and elections themselves could generate unrest, particularly at the local level. Also, and more fundamentally, it has long been argued that one of the key obstacles to achieving an effective security sector in the DRC has been a lack of political will at the centre. This generates a self-fulfilling cycle. Instability prevents the growth of a mature political culture, based on the competition of ideas and policy rather than power and patronage. Successive regimes lack the firm foundation of a legitimate mandate, and thus feel compelled to subvert the coercive functions of the state – most importantly the military – for fear that they will turn against them.

Twenty years after the Rwandan genocide, it seems that the need to respond rapidly to conflicts has never been more important. It also gives an impression that the Africans definitely want to take measures into their own hands and becoming less independent of the international community. Addressing election-related violence is therefore the combined responsibility of all citizens of Africa, including the regional and continental organisations.

© Thomas Thielemans 2015

[1] Lindberg, S. (2006). Democracy and Elections in Africa. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

[2] The Economist (12.10.2013). Too many dinosaurs. Available at: http://www.economist.com/news/leaders/21587787-too-many-dinosaurs.

[3] BBC (22.06.2015). Ethiopia election: EPRDF wins every seat in parliament. Available at: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-33228207.

[4] Lindberg, S. (2007). The Power of Elections Revisited, at the conference Popular Identities and Elections in Africa, Yale University, 26-28 April 2007.

[5] Adejumobi, S. (2000). Elections in Africa: a fading shadow of democracy? International Political Review 21, 59-73, 60.

[6] The Economist (23.05.2015). Burundi. Good coup, bad coup. Vol. 415, n°8939, p.32.

[7] Email correspondence with Dr Omar Shahabudin McDoom, 12 May 2015.

[8] International Crisis Group (2015). Congo: Is Democratic Change Possible? Africa Report N°225, 5 May 2015.

[9] Barrios, C. (2015). Congolese lessons for the Great Lakes. European Union Institute for Security Studies: Brief Issue; 3.2015, pp. 1-4.

[10] Reyntjens, F. (2009). The Great African War. Congo and Regional Geopolitics, 1996-2006. New York: Cambridge University Press; Prunier, G. (2009). Africa’s World War. Congo, the Rwandan Genocide, and the Making of a Continental Catastrophe. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

[11] Lemarchand, R. (2000). Exclusion, Marginalization and Political Mobilization: The Road to Hell in the Great Lakes. Occasional Paper, Centre of African Studies University of Copenhagen, p. 2.

[12] Barrios, C. (2015). Elections in Africa: half-full, half-empty? EUISS: Alert Issue 29. Available at: http://www.iss.europa.eu/uploads/media/Alert_29_Africa_elections.pdf.

[13] Omotola, J.S. (2014). The African Union and the Promotion of Democratic Values in Africa: An Electoral Perspective. Occasional Paper n°185, South African Institute of International Affairs.

[14] Riche, M. & Berwouts, K. (24.06.2014). DRC Elections: Will Kabila stay or go? And many other questions on the road to 2016. African Arguments, available at: http://africanarguments.org/2014/06/24/drc-elections-will-kabila-stay-or-go-and-many-other-questions-on-the-road-to-2016-by-manya-riche-and-kris-berwouts/.

[15] Shepherd, B. (2014). Beyond Crisis in the DRC The Dilemmas of International Engagement and Sustainable Change. Chatham House: Africa Programme. Available at: http://www.chathamhouse.org/sites/files/chathamhouse/field/field_document/20141222DRC_Research_Paper.pdf.

[16] Email correspondence with Professor Filip Reyntjens, 14 August 2014.

°China and Africa: more than metals, minerals and machinery

In recent years, China has been expanding its economic power through overseas investment in order to secure the supply of raw materials, energy, and other commodities for its economic development. In this regard, China has become a major economic business partner of Africa, with trade exceeding US$166 billion. By 2020 Beijing is even committed to double bilateral trade with African countries to US$400 billion. The economic presence in Africa has led to a heated debate, about the nature of Chinese involvement and its implications for the continent. The debate is partially motivated by the rapid growth of China’s economic presence in Africa. This aid to Africa has also raised many questions, such as the composition, the goal and nature. Chinese construction workers are coming to Africa in ever-greater numbers: an estimated one million are now residing in Africa. The main focus of this article is to determine whether China’s engagement has contributed to economic growth in Africa or not.

MDG :  China in Africa : Xi Jinping Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC)


For the first time in decades, the African continent has been attracting the positive attention of the rest of the world. Despite the optimism, sustainable development and long-term investments still pose momentous challenges for most of Africa. China’s increased trade and investment with Africa particularly presents a significant opportunity for growth and integration of the sub-Saharan continent into the world economy. The rise of Chinese investments in Africa also marks a new trend in South-South economic relations and transforming traditional patterns of economic development, as China’s approach is said to be different in character.[1] A 2010 UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) report described this difference in the following terms: “(…) the big Southern partners (mainly China) generally use official flows to promote trade and investment activities in Africa.”[2]

For instance, in contrast to European entrepreneurs, who had relatively longer commercial ties with Africa and tend to initiate investments in the African market through acquisition of existing businesses, the vast majority of Chinese firms have entered Africa through so called ‘greenfield investments’[3] (also called ‘mortar and brick investments’).

Many African economies have grown by five per cent a year or more over the past decade. This rapid economic growth underlies the rising dynamism of African firms on the continent, in terms of both trade and foreign investment. According to EY’s 2014 Africa Attractiveness Survey, Africa moved from seventh in 2011, to become the most attractive investment destination in the world for UK companies in 2014. The latest data shows that the UK topped the global table with total of 104 projects worth US$4.6bn.[4]

The most striking observation from the 2014 survey is how far Africa’s perceived attractiveness has improved. In less than five years, Africa has risen to become the second most attractive investment destination in the world, tied with Asia. Overall, the US and the UK remain the top two sources of investment into Africa, while the number of FDI projects from Asian countries, particularly India and China, is on a rise.

Even so, African countries are desperately short of investment, both from locals and international investors. According to the World Bank an extra US$90 billion a year is needed for infrastructure, not to mention other businesses. African countries especially need longer-term investors to pay for railways, power lines etc. Across the continent improved infrastructure of all sorts may increase economic growth by two percentage points a year, says the World Bank. Sub-Saharan Africa spends some US$6.8 billion a year paving roads, but it ought to spend closer to US$10 billion.[5] Buys, Deichmann and Wheeler (2006) concluded that regional trade within the West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU) would increase threefold if all intrastate roads linking WAEMU countries were paved.

Thus, greater investment in technology should make many African workers more efficient over the next two decades, while a larger proportion of the population is likely to enter the formal economy.

In addition, the African continent has also the fastest-growing middle class in the world: according to the African Development Bank, the continent’s middle class numbers about 120 million now and will grow to 1.1 billion by 2060. These demographic trends and stable macroeconomic policies are likely to positively impact investment inflows. Rapid urbanization, a growing consumer class and investments in infrastructure are now laying foundations for the development of urban clusters and corridors. In the future these factors will be key drivers of economic activity on the African continent.

Substantial shift towards consumer related sectors

Although foreign investors in Africa have typically favoured natural resource assets, there has been a substantial shift away from the extractive industries and the continent is seeing growing investment in other sectors. For the first time ever in 2013, mining and metals exited the top 10 sectors when measured by FDI project numbers. An IMF study in 2011 also found that less than thirty per cent of Chinese foreign direct investment in Africa was in the mining sector.

However, new data on Chinese activity in Africa suggests, that it still appears to be resource motivated. Having operated in Africa for the past twenty years, Sinopec, the second largest Chinese oil company, for instance, plans to invest another US$20 billion in Africa in the next five years.[6] Yet, compared to OECD countries, China remains a relatively small player in Africa’s oil sector.

Reflecting this substantial shift, foreign direct investment (FDI) is starting to diversify into consumer-market oriented industries, including consumer products such as food, information technology, tourism, finance and retail. In 2013 the top three sectors were technology, media and telecommunication, accounting for over fifty per cent of FDI projects.

Therefore many new private-equity investors are now scouring the continent for opportunities. Record amounts are being raised to invest in business there. In 2014 private equity raised a record US$4 billion for Africa, financing entrepreneurs from small soap factories to Internet providers.

In the eyes of many international companies, the African continent is thus nowadays above all seen as a place to do business other than digging natural resources out of the ground.

Intra-African investments

Another interesting trend is the increasing amount of intra-African investments, led by South African, Kenyan, and Nigerian transnational corporations (TNCs). Between 2009 and 2013, the share of announced cross-border greenfield investment projects originating from within Africa increased to eighteen per cent, from less than ten per cent in the preceding period. For many smaller, often landlocked or non-oil-exporting countries in Africa, intraregional FDI is a significant source of foreign capital. These intra-African projects are mainly concentrated in manufacturing and services. Only three per cent of the value of announced intraregional greenfield projects is in the extractive industries.[7]

African investors nearly tripled their share of FDI projects over the last decade, from 8% in 2003 to 22.8% in 2013. This growth is fuelled by the need for improved regional value chains and strengthening regional integration. Another driver of growth is the African investors’ understanding of the market and of the potential opportunities and challenges.

Source-China Statistical Yearbook--Centre for Chinese StudiesSino-African relations

As earlier mentioned, Sino-African relations have increased in importance in the past decade. Recent trends point to Chinese involvement in three areas of interest: economic policy, diplomacy, and military cooperation. Beijing’s policies with reference to sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) reflect clear goals: expanding export markets, gaining access to the continent’s mineral resources, and increasing China’s international influence.

Sino-African economic relations have only intensified since the beginning of the new millennium. The political relationship between Beijing and Africa, however, dates back many decades. China has long viewed itself as the leader of the developing world, and was involved in Africa as far back as the late 1960s and early 1970s, providing development
aid to African socialist regimes, and supporting anti-colonial insurgencies.

In the late 1990s China’s policy makers realized that in order to sustain high-level growth it needed to ensure its future supply of natural resources (copper, diamond, oils…). As China changed from being an energy exporter to an energy importer, its economic relationship with Africa gained strategic significance in China’s external relations. In China’s Africa policy, emphasis had switched from paying scant attention to economic cost to emphasizing economic benefits. In other words, China adjusted itself from being Africa’s friend to being Africa’s partner.[8]


Eventually in 2000 the importance of the African continent in China’s foreign policy led to the establishment of the Forum on China-African Cooperation (FOCAC). In 2002, Chinese authorities started pushing the “going global” or “stepping out” strategy as part of the economic reform process and to promote global industry champions in the wake of its accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2001. Although this policy was not primarily targeted at Africa, it provided Chinese enterprises with easy access to loans, foreign exchange and preferential policies for taxation, imports and exports.

China’s great investment outflow

China’s rapid economic growth raises its confidence in looking outside its boundaries for investment opportunities. China’s overseas direct investment projects concentrate mainly in the developing countries, especially in Africa.

In addition, in January 2015 the Chinese government signed a contract with the African Union (AU) that envisions a network of high-speed railways to link all countries on the African continent in the next few decades.

Meyersson et al. have studied the impact of African resource exports to China on African economic and political development. According to the authors, exporting natural resources to China as compared to the rest of the world has a large positive effect on economic growth and investment in Africa.[9] Also, the results of Whalley and Weisbrod suggest that a significant portion of the accelerated growth in some African countries in the years immediately before and after the financial crisis can be attributed to Chinese FDI inflows.

Other academic studies show, however, that seeking markets and resources are not the only motives driving China’s investment overseas. Other crucial motives include cost of production, agglomeration or herding behaviour, and pressure to seek higher investment returns for the huge US$2.8 trillion (and growing) foreign exchange reserves. [10]

Political motives54ef283047b65029d1adf4466581c6da

The financial and economic value of China’s aid is considerably enhanced by political considerations. The Chinese government and its African counterparts frequently stress that Beijing’s aid comes with few political strings attached. Contrary to Western donors, China’s cooperation with or support of African governments does not hinge on conditionalities pertaining to specific political objectives or standards (i.e. human rights, democracy).

Another important appeal, according to Tull, stems from the fact that China stubbornly sticks to the dogma of national sovereignty. It fiercely repudiates the increasingly powerful notion that outside interference into the domestic affairs of a state can be legitimate.

Furthermore, Chinese aid tends to benefit the governments of receiving countries more directly than the policies of Western donors, who are preoccupied, with the reduction of poverty and corruption. The Chinese, unlike Western countries, finance grandiose and prestigious buildings (presidential palaces, football stadiums) that African leaders highly appreciate for their own political reasons. In return, Beijing can count on valuable diplomatic support from African governments to defend its interests at the international level, particularly in multilateral organisations with ‘one country – one vote’ arrangements. In return, China promises to raise the status of African voices on the international level.

Since most infrastructure projects are public sector works, China conceives its investments as goodwill projects to woo the sympathies of African state leaders. This enables Beijing to gain political influence, which often opens the doors to commercially or strategically more attractive businesses in other sectors, e.g. to win tenders for oil and mining concessions.[11]

Chinese Diaspora

From the beginning of the 1990s, Chinese companies started to increase their investments in Africa. Consequently the number of construction workers in Africa has increased rapidly: 350,000 in South Africa (2009), 259,000 in Angola (2012), 100,000 in Zambia (2013), 20,000 in Nigeria (2012), and 7,000 in Kenya (2013). [12]

With the growing Chinese population in Africa, violent actions against these people have also increased in countries such as South Africa, Madagascar and Nigeria. The Chinese government has therefore started to strengthen its management of the social responsibility of Chinese companies on the African continent.

As China is sucked more deeply into the affairs of distant lands through its global expansion policy, its ability to stay out of trouble is declining. During the Middle East-North Africa troubles, for instance, Beijing scrambled to evacuate its 35,000 Chinese workers in the Libyan oil, rail, telecommunications, and construction industries in late February 2011.[13]

China Inc.

Busse, Erdogan and Mühlen have analysed Sino-African economic relations on the basis of three factors of economic interaction, namely trade, FDI and aid (economic cooperation). [14]China Customs, World Trade Atlas


Bilateral trade has increased significantly in the last decade and reached some US$166 billion in 2012. Until recently Sino-African trade largely concentrated on a few big resource-rich countries and product groups. The major resource exporters to China are South-Africa, Angola, the Republic of Congo, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Zambia. When one looks at African imports from China, the trade pattern is different, i.e., African countries import mainly non-resource products from China.

As such, Africa’s heavy concentration on resource exports and non-resource imports reflects a traditional Heckscher-Ohlin-type trade pattern. This means that African countries concentrate on the export of natural resources where they have a comparative advantage, and in return import labour-intensive manufactured goods from China, which is labour-abundant.

For example, Chinese companies like Geely, SAIC Motor Corporation Limited and Great Wall Motor Co. are increasingly exporting automobiles made in the home country to African countries, rather than to other Asian nations. In 2009, the Forum On China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), the Chinese government’s business liaison between Africa and China said that “Chinese auto exports to Africa reached a total of 102,000 vehicles and US$1.74 billion in sales, surpassing those with Asia and making Africa the largest destination continent for Chinese auto exports”.

© Thomas Thielemans
© Thomas Thielemans

To be successful in Africa, however, foreign companies must be prepared to face a certain amount of challenges, including the risk of unsteady economic prospects and, perhaps most worrisome, the potential for political and social unrest that could disrupt imports, factory output and consumer confidence. Many foreign investors have not forgotten the rash of nationalisations across the African continent in the 1960s and 1970s.

Foreign direct investment

Foreign direct investment (FDI) has become an increasingly significant catalyst for trade in developing countries, especially in Africa. FDI delivers a number of important contributions to economic development in terms of investment, employment and foreign exchange. However, it is FDI’s spill-over potential – the productivity gain resulting from the diffusion of knowledge and technology from foreign investors to local firms and workers – that is perhaps its most valuable input to long-run growth and development.[15] Foreign direct investment are the net inflows of investment to acquire a lasting management interest (10 per cent or more of voting stock) in an enterprise operating in an economy other than that of the investor.

Chinese FDI is both diversified (oil, copper, cobalt, iron, platinum, timber, textiles, railways and retail developments) and geographically spread across all regions of the continent. The total merchandise trade between China and Africa increased from $9 billion in the year 2000 to US$166 billion in 2012, making China Africa’s largest market partner.[16] In terms of foreign direct investment (FDI), Chinese FDI flows to Africa increased from US$200 million in 2000 to US$2.9 million in 2011, turning China into the largest developing country investor in Africa.[17]. At the same time Africa’s GDP per capita grew by an annual average of 2.4 per cent in 2000-2009, while the growth rate in 2010-2012 amounted to 1.8 per cent.[18]

According to the World Investment Report 2013, China is currently the biggest developing country investor in Africa. [19] When looking at the average share of Chinese FDI in total FDI flows in 2000-2011, Chinese FDI accounted for 52 per cent of the FDI inflows in Zimbabwe and 13 per cent in Zambia.


In 2006, China announced its intention to establish three to five economic and trade co-operation zones (ETCZs) in Africa as an instrument to promote economic development within the framework of the Forum on China–Africa Cooperation. In Zambia, where the state-owned China Nonferrous Metal Mining has considerable investment in the copper industry, a special economic zone was established called Zambia-China Economic and Trade Cooperation Zone (ZCCZ). Officially inaugurated in February 2007, the ZCCZ became the first Chinese overseas economic & trade cooperation zone established in Africa. Secrecy surrounding the negotiations, has resulted in strong criticism of the agreement and a widespread belief that the land was given free of charge.[20]

Economic Cooperation

The highest turnover of Chinese economic cooperation projects occur mostly in Angola, Sudan and Nigeria. Areas of economic cooperation where China is most active in Africa include infrastructure (railways, roads, telecommunication) and facility construction projects (government buildings, stadiums, hospitals and schools). For instance, in 2012, the African Union (AU) inaugurated its newly Chinese-built HQ in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Abeba. The entire US$200 million project was funded by China as a gift to the AU. Most of the materials used were imported from China and even the furnishings were paid for by Beijing.[21] Another notable example is the rehabilitated 1350-km Benguela railway line, which now connects Angola’s Atlantic coast with Democratic Republic of Congo and Zambia as well as the much-famed Thika road super highway in Kenya.

“The Angola Model”

Angola has been one of the four biggest recipients of Chinese investment for infrastructure projects. Indeed, the China and Angola’s partnership has come to be known as the “Angola model”. Under this model, the recipient country receives a loan from the China EximBank; the government then awards a contract for infrastructure projects to a Chinese firm, while also giving rights for the extraction of its natural resource to a Chinese company as repayment for the loan. In 2004, Beijing gave Angola a US$2 billion credit line for the development of its infrastructure. In return, Angola agreed to provide China with 10.000 barrels of crude oil a day.[22]

In 2008, the China Railway Group used the same model to secure the mining rights to the Democratic Republic of Congo’s copper and cobalt mines under the slogan “(Infrastructure) projects for resources”.

In addition, the China Africa Development Fund, launched by the China Development Bank, provides equity investment capital for Chinese companies to invest in African countries. Established in June 2007, the CAD Fund has a target size of US$5 billion to be reached in phases, with first-phase funding of $1 billion provided by China Development Bank. The CAD Fund was one of eight measures announced by Chinese President Hu Jintao at the Beijing Summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation in November 2006. The fund has already (co-) financed more than sixty projects across thirty African countries.

Chinese boots and arms

In recent years, China’s military presence on the continent has also increased considerably. From January 2000 to February 2015, the number of Chinese personnel deployed worldwide to UN peacekeeping operations increased from only 52 to 2,370. Accordingly, China has provided more troops, police, and observer teams to UN peacekeeping missions than Great Britain, Russia and the United States. However, these Chinese troops perform primarily non-military operations.

Sceptics of China’s intentions in Africa frequently point to Chinese presence in resource-rich countries and claim that gaining access to resources is the primary motivation for Chinese involvement in UN peacekeeping efforts.

When it comes to military sales, China considers it as just one more element of its trade with African countries, and it has proactively pursued African markets.[23] It moved up the ranks of Africa’s arms suppliers from #4 (with a six per cent share by volume) in 1996-2000, to #1 in 2006-2010 (with a 25 per cent share).[24]

Whereas the US and other Western countries have imposed arms embargoes on several African countries due to their records of human rights abuses or political repression, China has been willing to sell weapons to such countries, arguing that refusing to engage in trade with recognized government constitutes unacceptable interference in that country’s internal affairs. China has historically played a role as a supplier of low-cost, militarily useful weaponry without political conditions to Southern states and liberation movements. But this pattern is coming under the twin pressures of the demand for stricter regulation of transfers to African states.

For instance, in September 2014, Beijing decided to halt weapons sales to South Sudan after it discovered the state arms manufacturer sold millions of dollars worth of equipment to the war-torn nation, according to Bloomberg.[25]

Competition or Cooperation?

China’s establishment as one of Africa’s main strategic partners has not suited everyone. The EU and its member states’ initial reactions to China’s growing appeal in Africa were disdainful at best. This was in part due to the realization in Brussels that China could offer an alternative to EU policies on different fronts, which could potentially put European interests at risk (in terms of investments, political affiliations, development objectives and value systems). Even more, the emergence of Chinese actors on the African continent would make much of the EU’s policy on good governance and the rule of law largely irrelevant. However, despite all the brouhaha about China’s sudden rise in Africa, the EU remains the key influence in virtually all countries in Africa.

Nonetheless, in 2008, the European Commission put forward the idea of trilateral cooperation between Africa, China and the EU, focusing on four areas: peace and security, infrastructure, sustainable management of the environment and natural resources, as well as agriculture and food security. This has not been materialised, mainly due to conflicting perceptions of the principles underlying trilateral cooperation, and different approaches to development such as non-interference and conditionality.

China is like all other actors on the African continent – it needs stability and security in order for its investments to flourish. Thus, whilst in the current period there sometimes appears to be divergence, there can ultimately only be growing convergence with EU policy aims – maybe not with regard to democracy, but certainly with regard to governance and security.[26]


China’s growing stature in a wide range of different sectors in Africa (business, investment, foreign aid, security, development, infrastructure, regional integration) has led to its establishment as one of Africa’s major external actor.

By offering their African counterparts a mix of political and economic incentives, the Chinese government is successfully driving home the message that increased Sino-African cooperation will inevitably result in a ‘win-win situation’ for both sides, as Tull points out.

Sino-African trade has clearly an impact: African imports from China, particularly non- resource imports, have a negative impact on economic growth in Africa. African exports to the world (excluding China), however, are positively associated with growth in Africa.

The main challenge is to escape the resource curse that arises too often in African countries with weak institutions. Also known as the “paradox of plenty”, the resource curse is a paradoxical situation in which countries with an abundance of non-renewable resources experience stagnant growth or even economic contraction.[27] Partly due to China’s strong demand for raw materials, African exports are more and more concentrated in the primary sector, thus enhancing the risk of the resource curse.[28] Secondly, Chinese manufactured firms could displace their African competitors in case they produce similar goods. This applies in particular to textiles, furniture or footwear.[29]

So, is China good for Africa? Undoubtedly, its rising demand for continent’s natural resources has helped re-establish Africa as a source of valuable commodities for the growing global market. At all events, this booming relationship seems to hold both positives and negatives for Africa. To quote Tull once more: “China’s economic impact may prove to be a mixed blessing, whereas the political consequences of its return are likely to prove deleterious.”

Thomas Thielemans
MA Comparative and International Politics KU Leuven

[This article has also been published on the website of KIB (Association for International Affairs) on March 20, 2015]

[1] Won, K. & Weidong, Z. (2014). China-Africa Investment Treaties: Old Rules, New Challenges. Fordham International Law Journal. Vol.37(4), p.1035-1085.

[2] UNCTAD (2010). Economic Development in Africa Report, supra note 3, at 24.

[3] Greenfield FDI refers to investments that create new production facilities in the host countries (e.g. starting a new plant)

[4] Ernest & Young (2014). Africa is the top investment destination for UK businesses. Available at: http://www.ey.com/UK/en/Newsroom/News-releases/14-06-27—Africa-is-the-top-investment-destination-for-UK-businesses.

[5] The Economist (2015). African roads and rails. All Aboard. Vol.414, N. 8927.

[6] China Daily (2013). Sinopec drills deep into Africa. Available at: http://www.ecns.cn/business/2013/12-10/91954.shtml.

[7] UNCTAD (2014). World Investment Report 2014. Investing in the SDGs: An Action Plan.

[8] Meng, J. & Burton, B. (2013). China and the European Union in Africa: Partners or Competitors?. Ashgate Publishing, p. 7.

[9] Meyersson, E., Miquel, G.P. & Qian, N. (2008). The Rise of China and the Natural Resource Curse in Africa. London School of Economics and Political Science, Economic Organisation and Public Policy Programme.

[10] Lo, C. (2011). Going Global. The risks and rewards of China’s new international expansion. The International Economy.

[11] Tull, D. (2006). China’s engagement in Africa : scope, significance and consequences. Cambridge University Press , Journal of Modern African Studies, 44, 3, pp. 459–479; Taylor, I., Kopinski, D. & Polus, A. (2014). China’s Rise in Africa: Perspectives on a Developing Connection. Oxon: Routledge.

[12] Namasaka, M. (2015). The China-Africa relationship and what Africa can do to profit.


[13] Chee-Beng, T. (2013). Routledge Handbook of the Chinese Diaspora. Oxon: Routledge.

[14] Busse, M., Erdogan, C. & Mühlen, H. (2014). China’s Impact on Africa – The Role of Trade and FDI.

[15] Farole, T. & Winkler, D. (2014). Making Foreign Direct Investment Work for Sub-Saharan Africa: Local Spillovers and Competitiveness in Global Value Chains. World Bank Publications.

[16] UN Comtrade (2014). United Nations Commodity Trade Statistics Database, SITC Rev. 3. (comtrade.un.org).

[17] UNCTAD (2013). World Investment Report 2013. New York and Geneva: United Nations.

[18] World Bank (2014). World Development Indicators.

[19] UNCTAD (2013).

[20] Alves, C.A. (2011). The Zambia–China Cooperation Zone at a Crossroads: What Now? Policy Briefing 41. China in Africa Project. SAIIA.

[21] BBC (28.01.2012). African Union opens Chinese-funded HQ in Ethiopia. (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-16770932).

[22] World Bank/PPIAF (2008). Building Bridges: China’s Growing Role as Infrastructure Financier for Africa. PPIAF Gridlines Note 42.

[23] China was among the 22 states that abstained on the vote of the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) on 2 April 2013.

[24] Wezeman, P., Wezeman, S. & Béraud-Sudreau, L. (2011). Arms Flows to Sub-Saharan Africa. SIPRI Policy Paper 30. Stockholm: Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, p.10.

[25] Gridneff, I. (2014). China Halts Arms Sales to South Sudan After Norinco Shipment. Bloomberg. Available at: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2014-09-29/china-halts-weapons-sales-to-south-sudan-after-norinco-shipment.

[26] Chafer, T. & Cumming, G. (2013). From Rivalry to Partnership? New Approaches to the Challenges of Africa. Farnham: Ashgate Publishing Ltd., p. 202.

[27] Ibidem.

[28] Carmignani, F. & Chowdhury, A. (2012). The Geographical Dimension of the Development Effects of Natural Resources. , Environmental and Resource Economics, 52 (4): 479– 498.

[29] Morrissey, O. & Zgovu, E. (2011) The Impact of China and India on Sub-Saharan Africa: Opportunities, Challenges and Policies. London: Commonwealth Secretariat.

°Gastgezin Mulaka

Mijn gastgezin in Luena bestaat uit elf familieleden. Papa Cornelis Mulaka (50) is getrouwd met Julie (39) en samen hebben ze negen kinderen waarvan er twee al de deur uit zijn.

Aangeboren oogafwijkingen is duidelijk een familietrekje. De demente schoonvader is half blind door een mislukte oogoperatie. Papa Cornelis lijdt aan katarakt en zijn jongste kind heeft een ferm dwaaloog.

Overdag spelen de kinderen met buurkinderen op het perceeltje van papa Cornelis, tussen de scharrelende hanen en kippen. Af en toe passeert er een vet zwijntje.

Cornelis Mulaka © TT

‘s Morgens krijgen we als ontbijt thee en met boter gesmeerde broodjes. Rond één uur maakt maman Julie buiten het eten klaar op een metalen vuurtje.

De maaltijd bestaat uit pastaslierten, rijst, sombé, vleessaus, kool en stukjes kuku (=kip) of geit. Drinkbaar water is schaars. Eén keer krijgen we een sucré (=frisdrank).

Normaal eet de familie ook veel samaki (=vis), maar omwille van mijn allergie wordt dit niet geserveerd.

Mijn gastgezin doet hard hun best om ons zo goed mogelijk te ontvangen, ondanks hun klein budget. De familie moet het gemiddeld stellen met 150 dollar in de maand.

Papa Cornelis is leerkracht in een school van de Gécamines. Diezelfde werkgever biedt hem en zijn familie ook huisvesting.

Onlangs heeft papa Cornelis een lap grond gekocht, maar door geldgebrek kan hij geen bakstenen en bouwmateriaal kopen. Hierdoor heeft hij schulden bij familie en vrienden, maar die schulden laat hij nooit stijgen tot boven het familiebudget.

Aksanti sana pour tout, famille d’acceuil

°Clubbin` in Lubumbashi

Wanneer je in Lubumbashi vertoeft, moet je zeker ook het bruisende nachtleven verkennen. In de stad vind je zowel trendy lounges als drukke dansbars. Net zoals in België begint de ambiance rond een uur of elf.

© TT

Met een groepje van zeven beginnen we in Ngesemene. Een compacte tent waar vooral Zuid-Afrikaanse en Nigeriaanse muziek gedraaid wordt.

De dj praat continu door de plaatjes heen en bij elke overgang laat hij een irritant geluid door de boxen knallen. Spontaan denk ik aan een of ander foute discotheek langs de Belgische kust.

Wie niet danst, wordt manu militari naar de dansvloer geleid. Van slows zijn ze hier ook niet vies. Wat opvalt zijn de tv-schermen en de talrijke spiegels. Ijdele fuifgangers zijn dan ook niet weg te slaan van hun swingende spiegelbeeld.

Die avond zijn het de UNILU-studenten die de dansvloer bezetten.

Fancy footwork

We eindigen al dansend de nacht in Pelisa Ngwasuma Nightclub waar de entree voor vrouwen gratis is. Dresscode: casual chic.

Ook in deze boîte zijn er en masse spiegels en reuze voetbalschermen. Alweer sta ik versteld hoe bedreven de Congolezen kunnen dansen: de rumba, de salsa; elke danspas komt haast vanzelf. Zelfs de kakkerlakken in de toiletten kruipen rond op de ritme van de beats…

Congo makes yo` booty bounce!

°Takubamba photo? (*)

Dinsdag 19 juli rijden we met de jeeps vanuit Luena naar Kintobongo, een afstand van ongeveer 110 kilometer.

Onderweg stoppen we in Maya Moto (letterlijk warm water), een salpeterbron, waar het stinkt naar rotte eieren.

Het wordt hier ook wel la fin du monde genoemd. Door de hitte en de walgelijke geur houden we het niet lang vol en rijden we door naar Kintobongo.

Meer Upemba

‘s Anderendaags gaan we naar de megamarkt van Misa, waar het zwart ziet van het volk (flauw). Hier verkoopt men alles, zelfs Obama-onderbroeken. Helaas ook en masse vissen die te klein gevangen zijn.

Rond de middag varen we over het Upemba-meer in houten pirogues. Peddelen en water lozen is de boodschap.

Lokale vissers doen hier aan pêcher battage. De vissen worden opgejaagd met stokken die eruit zien als enorme gootonstoppers. Vervolgens duiken de mannen in het water om de visjes met blote hand te vangen.

De gemiddelde levensverwachting van de meerbewoners is amper 35 jaar.

Terug in ons verblijfplaats volg ik de repetities van een volwassenenkoor. Hun liederen doen me opnieuw dagdromen.

Meer Upemba © TT


In Luena wordt ik opgewacht door fotograaf Fidèle. Hij houdt van sport- en portretfotografie.

Om zijn foto’s te laten ontwikkelen moet hij vanuit Luena naar Kisangani of Lubumbashi. Vervolgens moet hij twee weken wachten.

Zijn toestel, een populaire Yashica met 32mm lens, kostte 90 dollar. Voor Fidèle een hele investering.

De Yashica lijdt duidelijk aan stof, een probleem die ik overigens bij alle fototoestellen zie die ik onderweg tegenkom. Het permanente stof op de lens geeft zijn foto’s een verouderingseffect.

Tot voor kort was er in Luena welgeteld een man in staat een fototoestel te repareren. Helaas is die man onlangs met de noorderzon en expertise vertrokken…

Van Fidèle leer ik de uitdrukking ‘twende’ om straatkinderen weg te jagen. Telkens ik op stap ga met mijn fototoestel lopen tientallen straatkinderen in mijn kielzog.

© TT


Het is zondag. We rijden naar Bukama, een stadje langs de Congostroom. Hier is volgens mij de uitdrukking ‘vergane glorie’ ontstaan.

Rivierbootjes met ronkende namen als ‘Diamant De Luxe’ en ‘Le Cinquantenaire’ liggen aangemeerd, wachtend op betere tijden. De felle kleuren verdoezelen roestplekken en slijtage.

Tussen de boten wassen vrouwen zichzelf en hun schaarse kleren.

Bukama © TT

Naast de ineengestorte havenloods kwijnt een tandloze man langzaam weg. Het gehele haven- en spoorinfrastructuur ligt in puin en is bezaaid met vuiligheid.

We bereiken de lange spoorbrug over de Congostroom. De brug van Belgische makelij verzamelt roest, ongenoegen bij de bevolking en mijn medelijden. Meteen ook het einde van de rondleiding van de chef de tourisme -geboren in het jaar onzes Heeren 1960. The irony of it…

(*) Mag ik een foto trekken?