A Mission to visit

December 7, 2015 OPINION/NEWS


Adisa Amanor Wilks

Who visits Africa the most, China or the US?

It is no secret that China is emerging as an influential player in Africa. In the last decade, China has risen to become by far Africa’s biggest trading partner, more than one million Chinese nationals, most of them labourers and traders, having moved to the continent.

According to the Chinese General Chamber of Commerce in Africa, there are approximately one million Chinese living in Africa. London-based BMI Research estimates that China’s investments in Africa amounted to $32.4 billion in 2014.

It is also estimated that the volume of trade between Africa and China was at $220 billion in 2014, meaning that China has overtaken the United Kingdom, France and the United States in terms of trade in Africa.

Largely, China has focused on debt cancellation and offered aid without political conditions and by that has gained valuable support from African governments.

China has been readily welcomed because of different political and economic incentives, which seemingly presents a win-win partnership rather than a patriarchy, which over time many Africans have come to believe of the West.

In 2009, the year Obama was inaugurated as president, China became Africa’s largest trading partner, surpassing the United States. In July, President Obama was at the AU Headquarters (a building constructed by China) in Addis Ababa. Last week, China’s President Xi Jinping was in Zimbabwe, visiting president Robert Mugabe, foe of the West but friend of Xi.

Xi Jinping was also later in South Africa for the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) summit, China’s own signature summit with Africa, just like the African Growth and Opportunity Act AGOA, a US-Africa trade summit.

The new found “Sino-Africa love” seems to be sparking some competition with western powers, especially the US. It is true that the main competition borders on trade and investment on the continent.

However, I have also found that the competition is even more about the frequency of visits to the continent. There is enough evidence that leaders of these two super powers have embarked on a mission, trying to out-visit each other.

So exactly how much have Chinese and US leaders visited Africa?


Here is a brief outlook:

  • Between 2001 and 2013 both Presidents George Bush and Hu Jintao made 46 visits to Africa. Bush made 16 while Hu 30.

  • US President Obama made his first visit to Africa just five months into his presidency. His Chinese counterpart, Xi, made his two weeks after assuming office.

  • Obama spent 10 days in total in Africa, Hu spent seven.

  • While both Obama and Bush made short stops, neither Hu nor Xi had one or two day stopovers – all their visits were tours, with Hu visiting a whopping 8 countries in 11 days at one point.

  • While Chinese diplomats have preferred formal and red carpet events, Obama has charmed with his personal identity as the ‘first black president’ of the United States.


If a continent’s economic revival depended solely on diplomatic visits, Africa would have risen a long time ago. By all means diplomatic visits go a long way to trigger and boost trade and investment relations of the countries involved. However, we need to look beyond the visits and interrogate what concrete benefits people gain.






Adisa Amanor Wilks

Adisa is an experienced international journalist and charity communications professional. I dream of when the African narrative will change to reflect the hope and beauty of the people.


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