Yesterday, Reuters reported that Niger had “succeeded in renegotiating the terms of a $980 million loan from China’s Export-Import Bank that covered the cost of building an oil refinery in the east of the West African nation.” In contrast to the standard image of China as predator and Africa as prey, the article suggests some give-and-take:
The government called for an audit of the cost of the 20,000 barrel-per-day Soraz plant just days before it opened in November after the price tag rose to $980 million from the $600 million agreed at signing.
Niger signed a $5 billion joint venture deal with Chinese oil company CNPC in 2008 to build the refinery and develop crude oil from the Agadem field a further 700 km east.
China’s Exim Bank initially made the loan at an interest rate of 3.5 percent reimbursable over 10 year, but lowered the rate to 3.1 during negotiations last year.
Now the interest rate on the loan will be capped at 2%.
It is also noteworthy that China’s investments in Niger are starting to go beyond oil and uranium. In March, China’s Sinolight announced plans to build a sugar refinery there. President Mahamadou Issoufou has stated his desire for China to invest in Nigerien agriculture and infrastructure.
This is not to say that China’s presence in Niger is problem-free or benevolent. The 2008 oil deal drew protest from trade unions and civil society groups, who said the deal-making had lacked transparency, and who voiced concerns about whether the oil wealth would reach ordinary citizens. China has been accused of backing President Mamadou Tandja (who was overthrown in a coup in 2010), even when Tandja was attempting to consolidate power extra-constitutionally. In 2010, workers in northern Niger decried conditions at a Chinese mining site, describing it as a “colony” and nicknaming it “Guantanamo.”
The relationship, then, is not simple. As the renegotiation of the loan reminds us, though, neither is it unidirectional.
For more, see Jamestown’s valuable, although dated (2007) piece on Niger-China relations.