Made in China: Africa's ICT infrastructure backbone

Chinese technology is the foundation for Africa's networking infrastructure and increasingly, Chinese tech giants are moving into enterprise software and services. Is the continent too dependent on China, and will U.S. and European enterprise lose out on a burgeoning market?

Some are calling it the next wave of colonisation. Others are praising China's canny foresight. Whichever way you look at it, China is playing a significant role in ICT development across Africa and there is no end in sight.

Companies like Huawei, ZTE and China Telecom are driving much of the core IT infrastructure across the continent. China's foreign direct investment in Africa grew 40 percent annually over the past decade, according to Mckinsey and Co. The China Investment Global Tracker calculated the value of Chinese investment in sub-Saharan Africa between 2005 and 2018 at US$299 billion. In 2018, Chinese president Xi Jinping pledged a further $60 billion in investment to African nations.

In the past, big tech vendors didn't really see Africa as a place to make money, whereas Chinese companies were more willing to take the perceived risk, according to Gyude Moore, visiting fellow at the Centre for Global Development (CGD) and former public works minister of Liberia. This resulted in investment in a range of areas.

Network backbones in most African countries were paid for by loans from China and so usually use a Chinese provider. Moore cites the example of cellular communications: 50 percent  of 3G systems used by African telcos were built by Huawei and another 20 percent to 30 percent were built by ZTE, while Huawei has built up 70 percent of 4G networks and is likely to build all 5G networks.

Chinese vendors have an African track record

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