As China’s “Belt and Road Initiative” continues to expand the Eastern power’s leverage over sub-Saharan Africa, the European Union is in the midst of realizing its own Western alternative: the “Global Gateway.” Introduced back in 2021, the Global Gateway, according to the European Commission, “aims to boost public and private investment to create sustainable growth and jobs for Africa’s growing population,” purportedly investing not only in infrastructure projects as China particularly has but also “health, education and skills, as well as climate change and environment.” Such a laundry list of avenues for aid has been backed up by plans for over $330 billion in investment by 2027 from EU-member states, as well as a line of up to 70 planned projects utilizing such investment from a new optical fiber cable connecting North Africa to Europe to a new hydroelectric dam to be built in Cameroon.
Sub-Saharan Africa's GDP
Source: World Bank
While the Global Gateway does indeed intend to be a global project stemming beyond just Africa, over half of its planned funds are to be channeled towards the continent, and for seemingly good reason. Sub-Saharan Africa, particularly, is a region rich in natural resources yet is home to almost half of the world’s uncultivated land. The continent’s median age is 19, with the 10 countries with the lowest median ages all being situated in Africa. In the process, its population is expected to double by 2050, far outpacing other developing regions such as Latin America and South Asia. Young, growing populations and vast supplies of resource-abundant land translate into a large abundance of physical, natural, and potentially human capital necessary for long-term economic development, yet we may already be witnessing the long-awaited catchup growth emanating from sub-Saharan Africa, whose GDP has grown by over 356 % between 2000 and 2021, almost double that of the world GDP’s 185 % growth. In the years ahead, the African Development Bank now expects African economic growth to beat the world average over the short-term.
In light of the considerable progress found in the African continent, and the prospects for even more, China’s expanding influence over the region may be deemed all the more problematic. China has invested more into Africa than the United States every year since 2013, when the Belt and Road Initiative was first established, and is projected to replace Europe as Africa’s largest trading partner by 2030. In the process, according to Foreign Policy’s Theophile Pouget-Abadie, “African countries have reciprocated,” as “African nations have voted with China more often than with the West, on subjects ranging from the South China Sea to Hong Kong to the treatment of Uyghur minorities in China’s Xinjiang province.” As prospects of a US-China cold war develop, the latter’s growing presence in Africa simply can no longer be ignored. Although the planned Global Gateway initiative may serve to be one of the West’s most notable responses to China’s rising tide, it’s not been without criticisms of a lack of ambition and concise planning from commentators.
On the one hand, a South China Morning Post report concludes that there are very few concrete details and steps pertaining to the Global Gateway’s many prospective projects, even as some of the projects have already been appropriated funds and commitment before Global Gateway was announced. In fact, policy fellow W. Gyude Moore with the Center for Global Development finds that Global Gateway “draws heavily on existing programmes and initiatives that would have moved forward even if Global Gateway did not exist.” In other words, the devil may be in the details for European officials, who may have marketed the new initiative as a more newfound and audacious plan than it actually was. Nonetheless, growing Western investment in the African continent may prove to be the simple fix needed to at least combat Chinese influence in the region. As the power struggle between East and West seemingly grows, and as Africa continues to develop economically and demographically, the global bid for pole position may inevitably spill further into the African continent over time.