Foreign PolicyForeign Policy

Are China and Russia bad for Africa? That’s the wrong question

By Howard W. French

01 May 2023 · 5 min read

Editor's Note

Howard W. French investigates for FP how the West's shortcomings in Africa have pushed the continent towards China and Russia, examining the implications of these relationships for global geopolitics.

A question that was crude in its simplicity trailed me for years in the wake of a book that I wrote about Chinese migration to Africa. In the place of nuance, Western reporters and the curious readers I encountered in many audiences demanded that I boil everything I knew down to an insistent binary: Was China’s involvement on the continent good or bad for Africa?

In recent weeks, as I have spoken to European journalists about a new book of mine now being published in translation on that continent, this kind of stark and insistent question has been brought up to date with another Western rival in mind. Although this book has little to do with contemporary geopolitics, one interviewer after another has asked me: Is Russia’s growing presence in Africa good or bad for the continent?

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