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What does China’s involvement in Africa mean for Europe?

Guest lecture by Africa expert Simon Züfle at Flensburg University of Applied Sciences

By Simon Züfle and Katrin Reil

Chinese companies are present everywhere in Africa - and China is still expanding its involvement on the continent. What myths are there about China's role in Africa, what does it really look like, and what does this mean for Europe? Simon Züfle, Research Associate in the project "Doing Business in Africa" at ESB Business School, brought transparency and academic insights to the discussion in a guest lecture at Flensburg University of Applied Sciences.

The seminar was for students from the fields of business administration, energy and environmental management, and renewable energy technology. Its focus was on China's economic engagement in Africa and its implications for the African and European private sectors. Since the establishment of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) in 2000, Sino-African relations have intensified and have been further strengthened since 2013 by the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Today, China is a key trading partner, investor, and lender to many African countries.

“Even though you can find many studies on China's economic involvement in Africa in the academic debate, it is clear that the role of the private sector in China's engagement in Africa has been understudied so far," Züfle said. Together with the students, he traced Chinese involvement in Africa and looked at the institutional channels FOCAC and BRI.

Züfle also sees great potential in this area of research in the future. “Using case studies, it is possible to examine central investment projects by China in Africa and to check what business potential there is for the local African as well as the European private sector,” he said.

The ESB Business School is part of the Wirtschaftswissenschaftliche Afrikaforschung cluster, which is funded by the Bundestag and supported by the German Ministries of Economics and Finance. The research project "Doing Business in Africa" (DBA), led by Professor Dr. Philipp von Carlowitz, focuses on private sector engagement in sub-Saharan African markets. The basic understanding is that private sector activities have the potential to advance development in African countries.

The DBA research interest is to identify success factors for market entry, market development and individual operational activities. The aim of the academic work is to develop profitable business models for African markets that also have positive social and ecological consequences. The research project follows a go-to-market approach along the entire value chain (including production, logistics, marketing and distribution) and sheds light on individual elements of a business model such as revenue models, partner selection and cooperations. A particular focus is on small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

In addition to generating academic findings, DBA aims to transfer knowledge and practice from studies to the private sector, politics, civil society and university teaching. This is intended to fuel the academic and public debate in Germany about private-sector involvement in Africa.