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Obama in Africa: Can US rival China's new clout?

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During George W. Bush's presidency, trade between Africa and China jumped tenfold from $10 billion in 2001 to $107 billion in 2008. That commerce has provided a lifeline for internationally ostracized regimes like Sudan's or Zimbabwe's.

China's Exim Bank rises as alternative to World Bank

For many African governments, China's state-operated Exim Bank, now the world's third largest credit agency, has become a compelling alternative to the World Bank, one that doesn't dwell on humanitarian concerns.

The World Bank, US presidential administrations, and other Western powers have long used foreign assistance as a means to prod governments into political reforms.

Across Africa, they are discovering that their soft, conditional loans aren't as coveted as they once were. African governments are increasingly going to Exim Bank instead.

"We spoke to senior aid figures in Accra who said that the World Bank is very worried now because Exim has the resources to outgun the World Bank on major infrastructure projects," said Giles Mohan, a China-Africa relations researcher for Britain's Economic and Social Research Council.

Exim Bank's loans typically come with gentle 1 to 2 percent interest rates and only one major catch: that the governments contract China's state-owned companies to complete the project.

This works well for reform-reluctant leaders, and for China's government, which in many cases directly pays state-owned contractors from state-owned banks, bypassing the host nation altogether. A token amount of the loan reaches the local workforce, or is used to purchase local materials.

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