China’s 21st-century Silk Road, a giant circle of influence that spreads from Asia across the Middle East through Africa and Europe back to China, may be the most ambitious global investment drive in history. It may also be the best thing that has happened to Africa, or the worst. Also known as One Belt, One Road or the Belt and Road Initiative, this $1.6 trillion endeavour forms a core part of President Xi Jinping’s grand plan for China to be a "leading global power" by 2050. This colossal spending spree, which is slated to include an $8bn high-speed railway through Nigeria and a $50bn canal across Nicaragua, would dwarf the Marshall Plan that reconstructed Europe after World War 2. But whether it is an imperialist plot to reshape the world or just a mercantilist endeavour to feed an economy of 1.3bn people, from Africa’s perspective it is hardly new. Belt and Road gives a name to the latest leg of China’s investment strategy on the continent, which has been evolving steadily for t...

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