Washington: China may be accused of placing business above human rights in Africa but the World Bank says in a new report that the Asian giant is spearheading a massive infrastructure revolution in the continent critical to reducing poverty.
China, India, and a few Middle Eastern Gulf nations are financing an unprecedented number of infrastructure projects across Sub-Saharan Africa -- both in scale and the focus on large infrastructure projects, said the report by the Washington-based bank.
Investment commitments in Africa by these emerging financiers jumped from less than $1 billion per year before 2004 to $8 billion in 2006 and $5 billion last year, signaling a growing trend in cooperation among developing economies, the report said.
“Today, China’s growing infrastructure commitments in Africa are helping to address the huge infrastructure deficit of the continent,” said Obiageli Katryn Ezekwesili, the World Bank’s vice president for the Africa region as he launched the report Thursday.
Entitled “Building bridges: China’s growing role as infrastructure financier for Sub-Saharan Africa,” the report said new infrastructure partnerships in the region were being driven by strong economic growth, improved business-friendly climate and rising demand for commodities from growth drivers China and India.
“The growing South-South cooperation is driven by strong economic complementarities between China and Africa,” said Vivien Foster, a World Bank lead economist and co-author of the report.
“China’s growing demand for natural resources is matched by Africa’s significant and often under-developed oil and mineral reserves,” he said. “Africa’s urgent need for infrastructure is matched by China’s globally competitive construction industry.”
Some Western critics have said that China, which imports about 30% of its oil needs from Africa, is willing to overlook environmental degradation, corruption and human rights abuses in the continent in its quest for resources.
The main buyer of Sudan’s oil and a key investor in the economy, China has repeatedly been accused of not doing enough to make Khartoum stop a brutal campaign in Darfur that has -- according to the UN -- left about 300,000 dead.
Africa faces daunting challenges in improving its infrastructure. Development experts agree that creaking infrastructure is cutting the growth rate of African economies by as much as one percentage point every year, the report said.
One in four Africans does not have access to electricity. Travel times on African roads and export routes are two to three times higher than in Asia, increasing the prices of traded goods. Power generation capacity is around half the levels achieved in South Asia.
India has also become an emerging financier in Africa’s infrastructure development, committing $2.6 billion since 2003, the report said. Oil-rich Gulf states and Arab donors committed on average $500 million every year over the past seven years, it said.