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Why BRICs love Africa

While much of the Western world is disengaging from risky emerging markets, the BRICs — Brazil, Russia, India, and China — are swooping in to take shares in mineral operations, build up diplomatic ties, and feed the growing African commercial market. It’s a move guaranteed to win favor for the BRICs from African leaders — ...

By , International Crisis Group’s senior analyst for Colombia.
584232_090630_medvedafrica2.jpg
Russian President, Dmitry Medvedev shakes hands with Nigerian President Usman Musa Yar'Adua after a joint press briefing at the Aso Villa in Abuja Wednesday, June 24, 2009. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev arrived in Nigeria to sign a raft of pacts including key energy deals as part of a tour aimed at challenging Chinese and Western interests in Africa. AFP PHOTO/PIUS UTOMI EKPEI (Photo credit should read PIUS UTOMI EKPEI/AFP/Getty Images)

While much of the Western world is disengaging from risky emerging markets, the BRICs -- Brazil, Russia, India, and China -- are swooping in to take shares in mineral operations, build up diplomatic ties, and feed the growing African commercial market. It's a move guaranteed to win favor for the BRICs from African leaders -- a relationship that will surely outlast recession.

Of greatest scope and interest is, of course, China's interest in Africa. This is nothing new, but what is unexpected is that recession hasn't changed a thing. A report released today by South Africa's Standard Bank (download pdf here) elaborates on some of the reasons that Sino-African relations are going strong: China's decline in growth is nowhere near that of the Western world, the country's "stimulus package" includes massive infrastructure spending that will keep African raw materials in high demand, and China is keen to keep the investment and aid flowing in the run-up to a November 2009 Forum on China Africa Cooperation.

While much of the Western world is disengaging from risky emerging markets, the BRICs — Brazil, Russia, India, and China — are swooping in to take shares in mineral operations, build up diplomatic ties, and feed the growing African commercial market. It’s a move guaranteed to win favor for the BRICs from African leaders — a relationship that will surely outlast recession.

Of greatest scope and interest is, of course, China’s interest in Africa. This is nothing new, but what is unexpected is that recession hasn’t changed a thing. A report released today by South Africa’s Standard Bank (download pdf here) elaborates on some of the reasons that Sino-African relations are going strong: China’s decline in growth is nowhere near that of the Western world, the country’s “stimulus package” includes massive infrastructure spending that will keep African raw materials in high demand, and China is keen to keep the investment and aid flowing in the run-up to a November 2009 Forum on China Africa Cooperation.

No wonder President Hu Jintao’s visit to the continent was so fruitful in February — including loans to Senegal, aid to Tanzania, infrastructure funding to Mali, cash injection for the transitional government in Zimbabwe, and a number of mining and extraction deals. 

China’s not alone. Russia’s President Dmitry Medvedev just concluded a trip to the continent, its interest pretty explicit: commodities. Egypt, Nigeria, Angola, and Namibia were the spots he hit. “[Russia was] almost too late in engaging with Africa,” Russia Today quoted him saying. “Work with our African partners should have been started earlier…Africa is waiting for our support.”

Medvedev’s assesment might sound a bit over the top, but I think he has a point. With aid and investment drying up from Europe and the West, it’s wise of the BRICs to fill the void. More than good business, it’s proof of the BRICs claim that they’re in Africa for the long haul. Guess who wins that game?

Update: Case and point — China offers Zimbabwe a loan of $950m. That kind of kindness will surely be remembered if and when the country (and its rich mines) start booming like they used to…

Elizabeth Dickinson is International Crisis Group’s senior analyst for Colombia.

Tag: Africa

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