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confidentially speaking

The Africa Confidential Blog

  • 30th August 2018

The world courts Africa

Blue Lines

For a few weeks Africa is shrugging off its marginal role in international affairs.

After the tours of Africa by China's President Xi Jinping and India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi in mid-year, Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May and German Chancellor Angela Merkel criss-crossed the continent in the week ending 2 September. The May and Merkel sojourns will be followed by a raft of Africa meetings at the United Nations General Assembly, a Group of 20 meeting in October in which Germany will push ahead with its Africa compact plan, and an Africa Union-European Union summit in November. But the main event for most African leaders will be the Focus on China-Africa Cooperation in Beijing on 3-5 September.

Of course, trade volumes are not the sole determinant of the diplomatic pecking order – particularly as criticism mounts of the growing debt owed to China – but they are a critical pointer, and China's US$200 billion of trade with Africa compares to the United States' $50 bn. and Britain's $35 bn. Apart from business, Beijing tends the relationships with relentless visits to Africa by presidents and prime ministers. By contrast, May's trip to Kenya is the first by a British prime minister for over 30 years. If President Xi is leading the African tour medals table, France's Emmanuel Macron is running a close second. Britain is still near the back of the pack after India, Japan, Korea, Turkey and Germany.