This question has been the subject for concerned American Blacks at least a million times. Whenever one of us travels to the African Continent the subject of questionable activity by the nation of China comes into play. After a dozen or so trips to any part of the continent (Ghana to Botswana to Kenya to Equatorial Guinea and so on and on) the shock of seeing Chinese workers and construction sites with Chinese writing on the billboards can turn a Black person’s face into a mean scowl. Much of this blame is the fault of American policy versus that of China. The United States provides much more aid to Africa than China. China regards aid differently than the United States. China’s aid to Africa is usually part of a total package of commercial investments and construction projects while the US package is purely philanthropic.

Frankly, I prefer the Chinese Model. Why can’t the United States mix commercial interaction with their philanthropic endeavors? As we help fund the International Monetary Fund and/or the World Bank we should also bring to the table some of our major design/construction firms for capitalistic participation (business and employment). China does it and we should too.

Something very significant may change the way international business is done. Let’s look at the nation of Djibouti, which faces the Suez Canal, a major waterway for international shipping. We have had a military base there for decades along with France, Japan, and a few other nations. Recently, it was announced that the Navy of China will establish a navy base just a few miles away from our military installation. It was fine for Japan, France, etc. but now that the “Asian Tiger” known as China is coming in, the usual paranoia has instantly taken form. There must be something bad about this because it is China.

Keep in mind that the nation of Djibouti has very limited resources. Most of its land cannot be farmed and is volcanic. Using the limited waterways for seaports produces serious revenue from fees and taxes and increases the number of jobs. So, if France, Germany, the U.S. etc. can lease military bases why can’t China or any other nation be allowed.

It was recently announced that our U.S. House Intelligence Committee will be holding hearings to probe the “Rising China Military Footprint in Africa”. As US Marine General Thomas Waldhauser, chief of US Africa Command states: “You would have to characterize it as a military base. It’s a first for them. They’ve never had an overseas base.” We are all over the world with military bases. When China begins to build one, we better “investigate”. China has escorted more than 6,000 of their commercial freighters through the Suez Canal due to piracy activity in recent years. Having a naval base in the area makes a lot of sense from a safety aspect.

Perhaps we, the United States, need to look at this commercial/enterprising activity with a little more of a capitalistic point of view. That is what China is doing in Africa and it appears to be just fine with our African nations. Let us take our larger corporations and partner them with our promising and growing minority owned companies and finance (not give away) major projects in Africa and elsewhere.

Let’s begin to empower our own Export/Import Bank with more funding (investment resulting in returns) and promote our great tax paying, job creating American businesses. It would not take long before we would start seeing American Brands occupying commercial sites throughout Africa with a blaze of U.S. glory. The millions of new jobs for African citizens would be pretty cool also.

Recently, there has been a break through. US based Bechtel Corporation has just signed a deal to build a $4 billion railway project in Kenya. Thus, it can be done with more focus towards capitalistic alternatives. Let’s try to emulate this “game changer”.

Harry C. Alford is co-founder, president/CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce®. Contact him at or email: