Stories by Janet Eom

Expert Voices

Despite U.S. concerns, Djibouti may see gains from Chinese finance

Djibouti's President Ismail Omar Guelleh shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping during the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation on September 3, 2018 in Beijing, China.
Djibouti's President Ismail Omar Guelleh with Chinese President Xi Jinping during the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, in Beijing, on Sept. 3, 2018. Photo: Andy Wong / Pool via Getty Images

In unveiling the Trump administration’s new Africa strategy last month, national security adviser John Bolton cast Chinese financial and military activity in Djibouti as a threat to U.S. interests in the Horn of Africa. He cited concerns about Djibouti's mounting debt burden to China and China's potential to take over a strategically located port, along with its establishment of a military base near U.S. base Camp Lemonnier.

The big picture: Djibouti has enjoyed a four-decade relationship with China, and in the past few years, this relationship has become more instrumental in Djibouti's development. China holds 77% of Djibouti’s debt, largely because of Vision Djibouti 2035, the country's agenda to become a logistics and commercial hub for continental trade and spur medium-term growth of 10% per year.

Expert Voices

Sierra Leone only the latest African country to rethink a Chinese loan

Sierra Leone President Julius Maada Bio shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping during the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation on September 3, 2018 in Beijing, China.
Sierra Leonean President Julius Maada Bio with Chinese President Xi Jinping on September 3, 2018, in Beijing. Photo: Andy Wong via Getty Images

Last month, Sierra Leone canceled a Chinese loan to build the $318 million Mamamah International Airport in Freetown, a legacy project of the country's previous government. The World Bank and IMF raised concerns about Sierra Leone's debt, and the new government concluded the project was "uneconomical."

Why it matters: U.S. politicians regularly accuse China of debt-trap diplomacy, portraying African countries as victims of bad Chinese deals. But this cancellation is the latest example of African governments' wielding agency in their relations with China: African countries do have a say, and they have room to avoid the pitfalls of unsound projects both before and after they’ve signed.

Expert Voices

Xi's Africa tour an opportunity to fortify Chinese economic ties

Chinese President Xi Jinping shakes hands with Senegalese President Macky Sall at the G20 Summit.
President Xi Jinping with Senegalese President Macky Sall at the G20 Summit on September 4, 2016, in Hangzhou, China. Photo: Lintao Zhang via Getty Images

Xi Jinping is heading to Africa this week, with stops in Senegal, Rwanda, South Africa and Mauritius. In South Africa, Xi will also attend the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) summit with Michel Temer, Vladimir Putin, Narendra Modi and Cyril Ramaphosa.

Why it matters: China’s emphasis on Africa as a cornerstone of its diplomacy remains strong. Chinese financing has supported a great deal of new African transportation infrastructure, including high-profile projects such as Kenya’s Standard Gauge Railway and the Addis–Djibouti Railway. Similar commitments will likely emerge during Xi’s visit.

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