I’m sure you did a double-take when you read the title of this post. Africa? Trade? Thriving Economies?  Yes, in fact, 21st century Africa has quickly become home to some of the most bold foreign investments from rising world superpower China.

Paolo Woods, Time

Paolo Woods, Time

Removed from much of the toxic lending and faulty mortgages, African markets have been largely shielded from the momentous economic downturn now engulfing the rest of the world’s economies. A new report released by Time Magazine reveals foreign investment in Africa has reached a whopping 48 million dollars in 2006, topping the amount received in foreign aid for the first time.

Furthermore, China will become Africa’s primary trading partner this year, speeding ahead of the United States. In Kenya, for instance, Chinese investors have begun to build infrastructure, roads, and selling Chinese goods in Chinese stores. Some have even set up schools to teach Kenyans Chinese.

Some academics claim that the Chinese are undercutting African producers and embarking on a new form of colonialism in the process. Chinese good are sold at strikingly lower prices than those of African goods, diverting business from many African merchants and traders.  Others worry about over-investment in extractive industries, which filter little benefit to African communities or workers.

Yet, there is a counter argument.  Some journalists assert  that the Chinese have undertaken infrastructure projects, school-building, and development work in tandem with their business ventures.

Chinese foreign minister Yang Jiechi recently articulated the advantages of new China-Africa partnerships.

“We will continue to have a vigorous aid program here, and Chinese companies will continue to invest as much as possible. It is a win-win solution.”

The full impact will remain to be seen. For now, however, it appears as if Chinese foreign direct investment may have jumpstarted a process of growth in Africa which inefficiently implemented American aid dollars have failed to catalyse for decades.