Issue Brief

Understanding the Emerging Relationship Between China and Africa: The Case of Nigeria

in Program

China currently has one of the fastest-growing foreign aid programs in the world and is considered to be one of the top donor countries in the foreseeable future. To date, Sino-African relations have focused on economic recovery and assistance. The African continent is not a priority for China’s foreign policy per se. However, China has expanded its economic investment and has sought to have greater influence based on the market potential in Africa to support China’s own economic needs. Some analysts round out this economic argument by claiming that China’s emerging interest in Africa is also about extending China’s geopolitical reach. Etyang and Panyako argue that, “China seeks to position itself as a hegemon in the international arena….” and “to position itself as an alternative powerhouse to America that has largely dominated international relations for decades.”5 The South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA) identifies China’s emerging role in Africa as much broader than economic investment, one that reflects wider changes globally as China is attempting to be a major player in international policies in the 21st century in terms of not only economic
investment, but also military expenditure and peacebuilding across the numerous post-conflict environments in Africa.

As a 2011 Saferworld report points out, “Since the end of the Cold War, China’s bilateral relations with African states have been largely determined by the principles of non-interference and respect for state sovereignty.”6 However, through a number of steps including diplomacy with African leaders, investment in domestic economies to boost growth and livelihood opportunities, and military cooperation more broadly, China’s policies and approach to relations with Africa have shifted from its traditional non-interference posture to one of engaging with the political context in the country in order to protect and greater expand its investment.

Therefore, it can be said that we are embarking on a new chapter in international relations more broadly and development assistance specifically, with China playing a new role in Africa’s security challenges. In the case of Nigeria, China is an emerging donor with policy areas
overlapping with those of more-traditional donors such as the European Union, United Kingdom Department for International Development (DIFD), United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and the World Bank. Chinese development assistance in Nigeria has focused on economic investment and reconstruction with specific projects for infrastructure and economic livelihood recovery in post-conflict areas such as the Niger Delta. Chinese investment also focuses on the electric power and energy sector in Nigeria, but
investment in this area comes with great risk of violence and instability undermining development investment. Given Nigeria’s open and violent conflict in the Niger Delta region specifically, it is not surprising to see that China has been acknowledging the need to support more military and peacebuilding efforts in order to protect its investment and interests.Therefore, as in other countries in Africa, such as Angola and Liberia, it is likely that China will continue investing in more military and peacebuilding-related efforts in Nigeria, acknowledging that the domestic peace and security needs to be supported when attempting to maximize economic investment in development.

This policy brief will discuss the rationale for China providing assistance in Africa, with a specific focus on Nigeria as a post-conflict country. It will attempt to answer two main areas of inquiry: What is driving the growing involvement of emerging powers such as China in post-conflict reconstruction assistance in Nigeria; and what are the consequences of these changing assistance patterns for reconstruction and peacebuilding dynamics? Through these lines of inquiry, the policy brief will accomplish two goals: It will provide additional information to support the new research agenda in post-conflict studies focused on the presence and role of new donor nations; and it will contribute to policy debates on post-conflict reconstruction policies, especially for those who are working at the nexus between security and development.

Click here for the full series “Changing Landscape of Assistance to Conflict-Affected States: Emerging and Traditional Donors and Opportunities for Collaboration.

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