From Foreign Policy Magazine (link):
Beijing’s investment in Africa dates back some six centuries, when explorers set off from Asia across the Indian Ocean. More recently, during the early years of the Cold War, Beijing lined up supporters for its “one China” policy on Taiwan by dangling aid as a carrot. China has often played the empathy card, telling other developing countries that it, too, knows what it’s like to be poor. African leaders have long felt hemmed in by Western donors’ dictates: free trade, open markets, and privatization. With economic growth in much of the continent stagnant at best, and Western aid increasingly tied to human rights and economic reform, African leaders have found it convenient to grasp China’s hand.
Beijing is making it easy. Earlier this year, Chinese oil giant CNOOC purchased a 45 percent stake in an offshore Nigerian oil rig in a deal worth $2.3 billion. Hundreds of Chinese workers descended upon the Takazee River in 2002, just two months after the Ethiopian government had turned to a low-cost Chinese firm to finance a $300 million dam project. In neighboring Uganda, bureaucrats work inside the new Ministry of Foreign Affairs building, a gift from Beijing. All the signs, including directions for how to operate the fire extinguishers, are in Chinese.
China’s reach now extends deep into the continent.