China and Russia Compete for African Riches

by Roman Kupchinsky

On June 30, 2009 China agreed to extend Zimbabwe a loan of $950 million to help the country weather the global economic crisis, Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai told the press.

The recently formed Tsvangirai government is a makeshift coalition between two bitter enemies, President Robert Mugabe and Tsvangirai, which is seeking $8.3 billion (5.9 billion euros) to revive the country’s once thriving economy, battered by years of political turmoil and deepening economic crisis under the leadership of Mugabe.

Explaining the nature of the loan, Chinese official Zhou Yongkang told state news agency Xinhua. “We will encourage and facilitate more Chinese companies to seek development in Zimbabwe.”

The Chinese loan to Zimbabwe comes on the heels of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s tour of African countries, a visit geared to promote Russian energy companies projects in Africa deemed vital to Russian energy strategy.

In Nigeria, where Russia’s powerful gas giant Gazprom, wants to secure contracts to build new gas pipelines, Medvedev threw his support behind the Trans-Saharan pipeline project which can potentially deliver some 30 billion cubic meters of Nigerian gas to Europe.

While Russia concentrates on the African energy business, China aims to lay claim to vast reserves of minerals found on the continent.

Zimbabwe has huge reserves of chrome and according to a study by the Strategic Studies Institute of the U.S. Army War College by Kent Hughes Butts:

“The strategic mineral reserves and production capabilities of the world are concentrated in the former Soviet Union and Southern Africa. Of the foremost important strategic minerals, chromium, cobalt, manganese and platinum, these two regions account for 88 percent, 63 percent, 91 percent, and 99 percent of the known world reserves, respectively. With the exception of small quantities of platinum produced domestically and scrap, the United States is 100 percent dependent upon foreign imports for its supplies of these four strategic minerals.”