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Nigerian visas vs US visas, Africa’s most lucrative flights, China-Africa recap

This story was published on our Quartz Africa Weekly newsletter, News and culture from around the continent.
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In mid-July, a Chinese man approached me while I enjoyed a bowl of beef noodle soup in a restaurant in Nairobi. It was good, he said, that many more Kenyans were eating and enjoying Chinese food, positing that much more interactions between the two sides should happen over food. Smiling, and pointing towards both him and I, he added: “This is the future. We are the future.”

As we detailed in the first Quartz Africa field guide this week, China’s presence across Africa has grown dramatically over the past 20 years. Yet from the get-go, it was a relationship tainted by suspicion and wariness, with former Zambian president Michal Sata once even accusing Beijing of using Africa as a “dumping ground for their human beings.” As China erected infrastructure on a sweeping scale and more Chinese companies set shop here, allegations of racial discrimination, harassment, and poor treatment of workers surfaced. This was exacerbated by the mounting concerns that Africa was becoming entangled in a Beijing-devised debt trap, and that China was becoming the continent’s new imperial force.

But as African and Chinese cities become a magnet for each other’s workers, traders, and students, many say hardscrabble, ordinary people—not politicians behind closed rooms—will be central to their joint future. Private Chinese entrepreneurs are already reshaping entire industries, bringing along their culture and food, and creating some semblance of Chinatown in cities like Nairobi. Flights between China and African cities are growing—thanks largely to Ethiopian Airlines. African students are heading to China in droves too, while small-scale African merchants are revolutionizing trade in big metropolises like Guangzhou. There’s also a push to deeply understand each other, with the two sides getting fluent in each other’s languages, besides translating novels and poetry.

The confluence of China and Africa is crucial not the least because it involves almost a third of the world’s population. But it’s also about the ascendant and lofty ambitions of both sides each seeking to define its place in a changing world. And as the two parties seek understanding, food—particularly bowls of fresh, aromatic noodle—could be a place to begin.

Abdi Latif Dahir, Quartz Nairobi correspondent

China’s Africa project

The two decades that shaped China-Africa relations. China’s presence across Africa—politically, financially and culturally is ubiquitous today. In this deep dive, we lay out the big picture to explain ($) how Beijing’s “Go Out” policy at the turn of the century helped launch and deepen its place and influence in the continent. 

The myths—and realities—of Africa’s Chinese debt. Beijing now accounts for the largest amount of bilateral lending to some of Africa’s biggest economies including Nigeria and Kenya. Globally, this has raised critical concerns—some true, others not so much ($)—about the intentions of these loans and what happens when governments incur too much debt. 

Kenya grapples with making commercial sense of its China-built railway. In 2017, president Uhuru Kenyatta launched the $3.2 billion standard-gauge railway  from Mombasa to Nairobi with Chinese backing. Labeled an ambitious project that would connect neighboring landlocked states, the SGR faces serious questions about its viability.($)

These satellite images show China’s unmatched footprint in Africa. In 2018, China became the most visible single-country financier and builder of infrastructure projects in Africa. Using satellite images, Youyou Zhou shows ($) the airports, dams, bridges, railways, and highways that Beijing has built across the continent.

How China and Africa will shape each other in the 21st century.  We asked four China-Africa experts ($)—namely Cheng Cheng, W. Gyude Moore, Hannah Ryder, and Cobus van Staden—about where the future of the China-Africa relationship is headed, how the question of debt will unfold, and what role soft power will play in the coming years.

The ultimate toolkit to help you stay up to date with China-Africa relations. The renewed engagement between Chinese and African governments and people in the 21st century has drawn the attention of analysts and journalists. Here’s a list of books, experts, research institutions ($) and media including Quartz that you should read and follow.

Stories from this week

Africa’s biggest bank is bringing the continent’s informal businesses into its fold. In a deal with fintech firm Nomanini, Standard Bank Group will provide credit and savings to merchants in 14 African countries. The deal is indicative of how African banks are coming to terms with the transformative power of mobile money and its potential as a source of revenue and deposits.

Nigeria’s swift response to Trump’s latest visa clampdown measure on Nigerians. One of the lesser known impacts of 2017’s US “Muslim ban” finally came to bear for Nigerians when the US introduced a reciprocity visa fee for Nigerians to close the gap with the fees Nigeria charges visa applicants from the US. Nigeria’s government reacted swiftly.

African universities are struggling to attract post-doctoral researchers. A combination of factors including a lack of resources at home universities, a lack of training for grant writing and poor pay often mean for many African post-doctoral researchers their first thought is to go abroad. But here’s how to change that trend.

Don’t compare Amazon’s rainforest fires to burning grasslands in Africa, say scientists. After the catastrophic Amazon rainforest fires caught the world’s attention, NASA images from space revealed there were even larger fires burning in Africa which were being ignored. But rather than being some sort of double standard, ecologist Colin Beale explains why some of the coverage and reaction was misleading.

Chart of the Week

International airlines still dominate Africa’s most profitable air routes. Despite the rise and rise of Ethiopian Airlines and its hub in Addis Ababa, African airlines still lag international rivals on the continent. Africa’s most lucrative routes are dominated by European and Middle Eastern airlines. 

The Dealmaker

BBOXX, the UK-headquartered off-grid electricity company operating in twelve African countries, raised $50 million in a Series D round lead by Mitsubishi Corp. The big ticket round reaffirms global investor interest in off-grid tech companies—which received the third highest share of African startup investment per sector in 2018—as they seek to  plug the significant electrification gaps across the continent…Global consultancy Palladium has launched a $40 million impact investment fund targeting agriculture and off-grid energy in Sub-Saharan Africa…Senegal is launching its first private equity fund with €100 million ($110 million) using initial capital and technical assistance from development finance institutions.

Other Things We Liked

For Africa, going green is not a luxury. Can Africa secure its much needed economic progress without contributing further to climate change, asks Carlos Lopes in Project Syndicate. The former head of the UN Economic Commission for Africa writes that the solution lies in a kind of Green New Deal for Africa that would involve making large-scale investments in renewable-energy deployment.

It’s time the Pentagon finds an alternative to Djibouti. The United States need not leave Djibouti, writes Michael Rubin for The National Interest but suggests it is time to consider a Plan B. He warns that otherwise a single whisper from Beijing to Djibouti’s president could cripple America’s ability to defend itself and its allies.


Doctoral scholarship in the UK. The Center of African Studies at SOAS in London is offering two PhD scholarships to African nationals as part of the Governance for Development in Africa Initiative funded by the Mo Ibrahim Foundation. (Mar. 31, 2020)

Commonwealth professional fellowships. Mid-career professionals from low and middle-income Commonwealth nations are invited to spend between six weeks and three months at a UK Host organization working in sectors including health, science, technology, and crisis response. (Sep. 20)

Quartz member events

World Economic Forum on Africa (Sep. 4-6). Taking place in Cape Town, WEF Africa will tackle issues including innovation, growth, and stability. On Wednesday Sep. 4, Quartz Africa will be hosting a WEF session on the diversifying and increasingly key role of Africa’s innovators in development and economic advancement across the continent. Contact to attend.

Platforms do more than just creating gig work in Africa (Sep. 5) . On the sidelines of WEF Africa in Cape Town, BFA and partners Quartz Africa and insight2impact will discuss with fintech entrepreneurs and others about how digital platforms are being used to improve lives in Africa’s gig economy and beyond. Request invitation.

Keep Your Eye On

Ethiopia’s prime minister visits Israel (Sep. 1). Abiy Ahmed will meet his Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu to discuss strengthening bilateral cooperation in the fields of security, agriculture, and technology.

*This brief was produced while listening to this take on Pombe Sigara by Nviiri the Storyteller (Kenya). [Spotify]

Our best wishes for a productive and ideas-filled week ahead. Please send any news, comments, suggestions, Chinese noodles and affordable, wahala-free Nigerian visas to You can follow us on Twitter at @qzafrica for updates throughout the day.

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