There is a tendency to over-emphasise China at the expense of a full appreciation of the activities of other foreign actors, including entities from the European Union.
Investment inflows over the past 20 years introduced a steep change in the stock of foreign direct investment (FDI) in West Africa from an estimated US$33b in 2000 to US$200b in 2019, according to United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) estimates. China has played its part in this transformation. However, in the conversation about economics and geopolitical influence in the region, there is a tendency to over-emphasise China at the expense of a full appreciation of three things: a) the full cast and activities of other foreign actors, including entities from the European Union member states, b) local interests and agency, and c) the relationship between these two.
The full cast of characters
Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) countries received FDI inflows of approximately US$10b in 2019 (down from a high of USD$18b in 2011 – the drop off in Guinea, Nigeria has significant explanatory power), compared to only US$2b in 2001. Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and Senegal have been standout beneficiaries – they accounted for around 20% of total regional FDI inflow at the start of the 2000s. But that figure is more like 45% today. Signature projects underpinning these activity streams include gold mining in Burkina Faso, hydrocarbons and other extractives in Ghana and Senegal, and in Côte d’Ivoire, a broad schema of financial services, extractives and construction industry projects, and to a lesser extent manufacturing.