China occupies a prominent role in the economy of most African countries. In less than two decades, China became one of the most important trading partners and largest financier of infrastructure projects in Africa. From its early diplomatic efforts during the Cold War to derail any influence Taiwan and the Soviet Union could have on the continent, China shifted gears at the beginning of this century to focus on trade and economic development. Today, China’s investments in Africa are spread through a range of sectors, taking on the most grandiose infrastructure projects that were put aside since Africa’s colonial times. For all this, China’s influence on the continent is unrivalled and only seems to grow.
Following the end of the Korean War in 1953, South Korea prioritised its alliance with the United States in pursuit of economic growth and military security. It took more than a decade since the end of the war until South Korea essentially inaugurated diplomatic relations with African states. The early years of its diplomacy in Africa focused on securing formal support from African nations for South Korea’s entry to the United Nations.
However, Korea’s interest in Africa remained low during the Cold War. North Korea was years ahead forging diplomatic links with Soviet-supported African countries when South Korea began to intensify its approach on the continent. South Korea had maintained a one-Korea policy, which prevented African countries from having simultaneous diplomatic relations with the two Koreas. In face of the limitations this policy imposed, South Korea abandoned the strategy in 1973.
In modern times, Japanese and African relations can be traced back to the 1960s when Japan started its Official Development Assistance (ODA) program to Sub-Saharan Africa with the aim of promoting economic development and welfare. The oil crisis in the 1970s made Japan shift its strategy in Africa by developing stronger links with a wider range of nations but keeping a focus on oil exporter countries such as Nigeria.
With the end of the Cold War and collapse of Soviet-sponsored states in Africa, Japan’s interest in locating strategic partners in the continent only grew. Its strategy remained fairly unchanged though, as Japan continued to use foreign aid and loans as a driver of foreign policy in Africa. From 1991 to 1997, Japan had ranked top amongst the OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC) peers and became a leading donor for several states in Africa.
The centrepiece of the evolution of any city is access to electricity. However, this basic element of modern life, and what most of the people take for granted, does not reach a large proportion of the population living in Sub-Saharan Africa. Only 40% of the people in that region have access to electricity. This number gets even smaller in the rural areas, where less than 25% of the population can turn on a lamp at night (Figure 1). This is the third article of the “Urbanization in Sub-Saharan Africa” series, following “City Master Plans” and “Affordable Housing.”
The growing urban population in Sub-Saharan Africa is rapidly driving up the demand for affordable housing in urban areas. On the one hand, there is the opportunity to build a more inclusive future, where every citizen has a decent house to call home. With the right policies and focused implementation, cities can concentrate businesses and services such as schools, hospitals and police, which allow more people to enjoy them. On the other hand, there is the difficulty of building infrastructure at a faster pace than that of the growth of the urban population, and of revamping slums and poorly planned areas. This is the second article on the “Urbanization in Sub-Saharan Africa” series, following the “City Master Plans” article.