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Clara Ferreira Marques

China in Africa Is More Than a Land Grab

Beijing is after political influence, and its coronavirus aid will count for much.

It’s about more than business, even if that’s also important.

It’s about more than business, even if that’s also important.

Photographer: Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg

China has plenty to gain from lending a hand to its friends battling the coronavirus in Africa. Contrary to some perceptions, that won't mean opportunistic grabs in oil, copper or arable land. The biggest prize for Beijing is political capital.

Sub-Saharan Africa faces its first recession in 25 years, and the continent as a whole is also grappling with the oil price crash and weakened currencies that have devastated state budgets. As a result of the Ebola outbreak that began in 2014, nations are better prepared than before. Still, health services are sorely inadequate, built around global financing and donor interests rather than coherent domestic policy, says Osman Dar, medical consultant and project director with Chatham House’s Global Health Programme. Barely a fifth of countries in Africa have free, universal care. The Central African Republic had three ventilators for a population of 5 million before the crisis; a handful of nations had none.