The Columbia Global Centers I Nairobi in partnership with Mind Speak Business Club with Aly-Khan Satchu hosted Prof. Howard French to the highly anticipated public lecture on 'Africa-China' relations. Prof. French, the author of "China: Second Continent: How a Million Migrants Are Building a New Empire in Africa" and professor at the Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, expounded on China’s dynamic history of China and how it first developed its relations with Africa. Prof. French vividly illustrated the sequence of events that maps the geopolitical and economic impact of both China’s engagement in Africa through the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and the subsequent growth of other economic activities across the Continent.
The highly engaging lecture and emerging discussions provided insights around Africa's opportunities around their engagement with China and how African countries should embrace bloc negotiations to increase their leveraging power, particularly for smaller economies. Another growing concern around the world, and indeed, Africa is the challenge of an increasing debt portfolio with China that has unveiled highly punitive measures. "This is not in China's business interest" was Prof French response. This is not part of the business model, and it certainly erodes the soft power China is trying to build in regards to China's market for other goods and services.
China is also facing its challenges that include its rapidly changing demographics that include a large aging workforce, steadily increasing the demand for pension services and healthcare. Similarly, China’s model of engagement with most Africa countries where do not readily engage in their social and political challenges or solutions is praised and frowned upon in equal measure as on the one hand seems non-intrusive and on the other comes across as indifferent to the prevailing problems and norms to the region.
The public lecture held in a Nairobi hotel was attended by over sixty people, including students, professionals, and the media. The conversation continues more so as China's interests continue to grow and economic dominance in the Belt and Road Initiative takes root in the region.