West African countries have recently started to come to the fore with frequent coups. This wind, which started with Mali and Guinea in 2021, continued with Niger and Gabon in 2023. The coup in Niger had a wider impact in the world than those in other countries.
Although these coups seem to be political moves on paper, I think they contain major commercial moves on their invisible face. Of course, first of all, we need to take a look at the historical past of the countries of West Africa with France. In the 1960s, these countries, especially the Central West African countries of the Sahel (Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso, Chad, Mauritania, and so on), are falling far behind their Western neighbours, Senegal and the Ivory Coast, in industrial and economic terms. They also have significant differences in terms of economic development with Southern and East African countries.
With the end of the Cold War, the world’s eyes turned to the Middle East towards the 2000s. First Afghanistan, then Iraq, finally Syria, and then with the Arab Spring, there were significant regime changes in many Muslim countries. In the final analysis, while some countries seem to have achieved stability with these changes, some countries are still faced with political and economic crises.
When we move away from these countries and go down the route, we see that the Central West African countries have been in a new political and economic search in recent years. The last coup we witnessed took place in Gabon, one of the developed countries of the Central African geography. On 30 August 2023, the military took over, putting an end to the 56-year-old Bongo family dynasty. An interim government has already been established in Gabon, which changed the administration in the country under more diplomatic conditions compared to other coups, and the commercial and industrial functioning in the country continues smoothly.
In the table below, you can see the coups in the world since 1950. The African continent continues to lead in this regard :
In my personal opinion, after every coup and every regime change, there are significant swaps in commercial conjunctures. West Africa has had close relations with France for over 100 years. If we need to elaborate these groups of relations a little more, we can include not only commercial and cultural influences, but also military, energy resources, educational, infrastructure and superstructure services. However, it seems that the footprints of the current trend are that the West African countries have shifted their compass from the West, that is, Europe, to the East, that is, China.
Personally, as a businessman who trades with the African continent, I can see that many Chinese investments have had a say in the sub-Saharan region recently. Especially in deteriorating economies, it is not difficult to see that people are now turning to more affordable products. Commercial minds are trying to get two pieces, not one piece, for $1. This has elevated China to an important ally for Africa.
Considering the deteriorating economic situation and the relations with Europe, which are coming to an end, we can think that China will have a significantly greater footstep in Africa in the near future. Let’s support this not only with expressions but also with mathematical data. When we look at China’s export figures to the African continent, we can see that the relevant dominance is directly reflected.
Trade between China and African nations recorded a double-digit increase in 2022. Again trade between China and Africa comes to a record $282 billion in 2022, up 11 percent from 2021, according to data released by the General Administration of Chinese Customs. China’s sends out to African nations expanded by 11.2 percent over the past year to $164.49 billion. During the same period, Chinese imports from Africa totalled $117.51 billion.
Another important reason for this is that China has renewed customs agreements with many African countries and is seeking mutual tax exemptions or reductions with many countries. This directly affects China’s trading with these countries very positively. Last year, Beijing lifted tariffs on some African countries: Benin, Burkina Faso, Guinea-Bissau, Lesotho, Malawi, Uganda, Sao Tome and Principe, Tanzania and Zambia. With these customs tariff updates, African countries’ perspectives and closeness to China automatically increase. While China was an important supplier only for a few African countries (Sudan, Gambia, Benin, Djibouti) in the early 2000s, today it has come to dominate almost the entire continent. In short, China is taking firm steps towards becoming the big brother country in Africa where France is experiencing serious blood loss.
In addition to being just an ordinary trading partner, China has also become one of the most important investors on the African continent. Today, more than 50 percent of infrastructure projects in Africa are undertaken by Chinese companies. The most direct impact of this is the employment opportunities it creates for local people. In many Chinese companies operating in Africa, more than 80 percent of staff are local employees. Chinese companies have given back to local communities by infrastructural construction businesses. At the same time, they have increased technology transfer, local procurement and personnel training in Africa, and helped modernise the continent’s agriculture, manufacturing and service sectors, improving operations. Production and processing create greater added value, thereby contributing significantly to stability.
We can clearly read that the subtext of the African agenda, shaken by coups, is actually a rebellion against the current system. Many countries that have been under French hegemony for many years now want to change their partners. In this process of change, the partnership arrow now points to China. Many Africans with whom I work as business partners appreciate and admire China’s innovations and work in the sub-Saharan region. Rather than being a commercial partner for Africa, they see China as a brother country that will take them forward in many areas.