Is it Africa’s Turn?

Miguel Edward Miguel in The Boston Review:

While rising demand for commodities is one way that Asia’s economic boom helps to raise African living standards, China’s economic involvement in Africa now goes far beyond arms-length imports and exports. Chinese firms have begun investing directly in African oil and mineral producers and in roads, dams, and telecommunications infrastructure. It is estimated that annual Chinese foreign direct investment in Africa surpassed the one billion dollar mark in 2005 and has continued to rise since. Shuttered factories and mines have been brought back to life and severed roads restored. The spread of cell phone technology has allowed rural African grain markets to function more efficiently, probably improving the lives of consumers, farmers, and traders alike.

No one knows the exact figures, but hundreds of thousands of Chinese workers and entrepreneurs have also migrated to Africa in search of their fortunes. This new Afro-Chinese community—from telecom engineers to owners of small Asian restaurants and medicine shops—has been a striking new presence in my own recent travels in both West and East Africa.

Why have Chinese individuals and firms dived in when European and U.S. investors have largely shied away?