For those that haven’t heard of FOCAC, it is fast becoming the new buzz word in international relations.
Numerous African Heads of State are making their way to Beijing this weekend to attend the third Forum on China-Africa Relations which starts on Monday, and will be co-chaired by Chinese President Xi Jinping and President Cyril Ramaphosa.
South Africa hosted the last FOCAC summit in Sandton in 2015, attracting huge international media attention as China had pledged US$60 billion in development financing to the African continent.
Even the Americans and the British admitted they couldn’t compete with that type of development financing, and some diplomats were aghast at the type of commitments that the Chinese made.
The pundits claimed that China would never deliver on its commitments, and that it was all part of a grand propaganda exercise, but as it turns out, a large number of Africa’s priority FOCAC projects have either been completed or are underway.
The most well known examples are the Mombasa to Nairobi Standard Gauge Railway in Kenya, and the Addis Ababa to Djibouti railway.
At the end of the day, Africa will never be able to increase levels of intra-African trade, and develop economies of scale without the necessary infrastructure development that at a minimum links African capitals.
In 2015 China and its African partners had agreed on ten major China-Africa cooperation plans proposed by President Xi Jinping, all of which are progressing smoothly.
The plans go far beyond merely infrastructure development, but include industry, agriculture, infrastructure, poverty reduction, public health, trade promotion, and green development.
One of the important aspects of the upcoming FOCAC summit is to assess progress made on these ten cooperation plans and to strategise on the priority plans for the next three years.
The summit will ultimately agree on a Beijing Action Plan for 2019-2021.
What South Africa hopes to see as a key deliverable out of this FOCAC Summit is the establishment of skills development centres in the AU regional economic communities, as it recognises that China as significant technological skills that could be transferred to the continent.
China has a wealth of experience in the use of ICT’s by small and medium enterprises for example, and could provide them to African enterprises.
Cooperation in telecommunications in order to support regional connectivity is also an area that Africa countries could work together with their Chinese counterparts to achieve.
Plans are afoot to strengthen tripartite collaboration between the International Telecommunication Union, China and Africa.
One of China’s big priorities in this summit is to write a new chapter for the alignment of the Belt and Road Initiative and the development of Africa.
It hopes to align the Belt and Road Initiative with Agenda 2063 of the African Union on sustainable development.
The initiative was proposed by China in 2013, and refers to the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, which aim at building a trade and infrastructure network connecting Asia with Europe and Africa along the ancient trade routes of the Silk Road.
At a time when US Foreign Policy is premised on the “America First” slogan, China is emphasising its win-win approach with African countries.
There certainly is good reason for African countries to buy into China’s development cooperation grand strategies.
China and Africa represent different stages on the same development path, with Africa remaining in a primary stage of development with huge potential yet to be unleashed.
This is similar to China’s development trajectory decades ago. China has largely managed to alleviate poverty in its country, and has emerged increasingly stronger with the adoption of groundbreaking measures since the launch of its reform and opening-up policy, with a rich history of experience to share with African countries.
According to the World Bank, China has lifted more than 800 million people out of poverty since its economic opening up in 1990. World Bank President Jim Yong Kim has called it a “great story in human history.”
The World Bank President goes even further saying that most of the progress that’s been made in going from 40% of the world living in extreme poverty to now less than 10% – most of that progress has happened in China.
That is why the World Bank is looking for the lessons from China’s experience which can be replicated in the rest of the developing world.
If the largely western centric World Bank can acknowledge China’s huge accomplishments, then there is all the more reason for African countries to embrace the Chinese model of development, taking from it the most relevant and appropriate elements.
The FOCAC summit is a major opportunity for African countries to capitalise on the opportunity to set the development financing agenda for the next three years, and articulate what their development priorities are.
* Shannon Ebrahim is the Group Foreign Editor