CHINESE loans to Africa generate frenetic commentary. Some say they prop up dictators; others, that they spur development. The figures quoted are often enormous. Visiting South Africa in December, for example, Xi Jinping, China’s president, pledged $60 billion in funding to Africa, mostly in the form of loans and export credits.

But don’t be dazzled by the headlines, say researchers at the China-Africa Research Initiative (CARI), based at Johns Hopkins University in America. Since 2007 they have been trying to track the African lending of China’s notoriously opaque state-owned banks. Their findings suggest that China lends much less to Africa than is commonly reported.

The researchers doggedly followed up 1,223 reports of Chinese loans, looking for evidence like the start of works or a notice on an official website. They found that only 56% of the loans actually materialised. In 2011 Fitch, a rating agency, reported that over the previous decade the China Export-Import Bank had lent more than the World Bank to sub-Saharan Africa. In fact, say the CARI team, the World Bank has been the bigger lender every year in the past decade…Continue reading