By far, and undoubtedly, China has become the biggest trading partner with Africa. The presence of China on the continent is felt with a heavy presence, and the history that the country shares with the continent even dates back to the days of fighting white colonialism.
China has done a great deal investing in Africa, and their exploits have reaped some benefits for the countries hosting them, although at times this comes at a very huge price. It also seems that the Chinese model for economic development is looking alluring to African leaders such that the latter may be keen on emulating that. Such a rhetoric is already being felt in other African countries. Minimal political rights, but rapid economic and infrastructural development.
The recent convening of the central committee of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) resulted in a big move, but one that was likely to have been anticipated by people. The development was a proposal to remove presidential term limits, among other constitutional amendments. This would mean that the current president of China, Xi Jinping, will have a lengthy stay in power.
Deng Xiaoping had instituted the two-term limits in 1982 after noticing the worrying levels of the chaos that followed the post-Mao era. China's economic development was not to be disturbed by succession dramas and political uncertainty. This ensured smooth political transition in the country, and China rose to become a confident, developed and assertive global force no longer subservient to the whims of the West.
African leaders have a bad record for having lengthy presidential terms, shredding constitutions, atrocious human rights abuses among other problems. China's policy when dealing with Africa in business is one of non-interference in the internal politics of the host country. It means China can do business with anyone in Africa regardless of their political affiliations and beliefs. in countries like Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi, Congo, and Gabon, just to mention a few, the rhetoric for a system where there is economic development but minimal political rights is already prevalent.
But given the long history that China and Africa share, there are African leaders who seek to copy what the Chinese do - without regard for whether it is compatible with their own systems. The removal of presidential limits in China will be used by some African leaders as a justification for their continued stay in power. China is a model for some African leaders, whether it professes a policy of non-interference or not.
According to the Council on Foreign Relations, an American think-tank, by last year China had contributed more than 2,500 troops, police and military experts to six UN peacekeeping missions in Africa. In Africa, anyone who invests in security and counter-terrorism invariably makes the State stronger. And anyone that makes a partially-legitimate State strong eventually undermines democracy.
It is always tricky for the Africans, some who have always yearned and fought for democracy to prevail in their countries. As long as China remains Africa's biggest trading partner, its influence will be palpable, directly or indirectly. And mostly indirectly.