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PLOT DEVELOPMENT

The Covid-19 pandemic is changing China’s playbook in Africa

Pedestrians pass by a construction site of Lagos Rail Mass Transit system in Lagos in 2013.
Reuters/Joe Penney
Terms under construction.
  • Jackie Bischof
By Jackie Bischof

Deputy membership editor

At the beginning of April this year, as Nigeria was scrambling to track coronavirus cases and dealing with tanking oil prices, a rare spot of good economic news made headlines: A deep sea port project under construction in Lagos, financed by the China Development Bank and African Development Bank, was to receive a $221 million equity investment injection from the China Harbour Engineering Company. The company is one of several shareholders in the project, along with the Nigerian Ports Authority.

For Yunnan Chen, a senior researcher in development and public finance at the Overseas Development Institute who specializes in China-Africa relations, the port is illustrative of the ways in which Africa’s relationship with China was changing prior to the coronavirus pandemic.

“The monolithic idea of the China-Africa relationship that arose in the 2000s is becoming more nuanced these days,” Chen says. “We’re seeing more long-term participation of Chinese companies in these infrastructure projects, rather than the previously more ‘turn-key, build it, turn it over to the government model’ that much of African infrastructure was previously constructed through.”

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