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China and the African Union : A constructive partnership towards the realisation of the continent’s dream

Published Jun 24, 2022

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Gert Grobler

The historical process of the decolonization of Africa that commenced in the 1950s witnessed the birth of many new states. Inspired in part by the philosophy of Pan-Africanism, the states of Africa sought to collectively preserve and consolidate their independence and pursue the ideals of African unity . Pan-Africanism can be said to have its origins in the struggles of the African people against enslavement and colonization .

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This historic “ freedom struggle “ by Africa led to the establishment of the Organization of Africa Unity (OAU ) on 25 May 1963 whose origin dates back to the First Congress of Independent African States, held in Accra ,Ghana from 15 to 22 April 1958. The OAU which was based on the “sovereign equality of all Member States “ provided for the promotion of the unity and solidarity of African states; defence of their sovereignty, territorial integrity, and independence; and the eradication of all forms of colonialism from Africa.

In order to further accelerate the process of integration on the continent to enable Africa to play its rightful role in the global economy while addressing multifaceted development , social, economic and political challenges , the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) issued the Sirte Declaration in 1999 calling for the establishment of an African Union ( AU ) .

The decision to launch the AU in Durban in July 2000 was the outcome of a consensus by African leaders that, in order to realise Africa’s potential, there was a need to refocus attention from decolonization towards increased cooperation and integration of African states to drive Africa’s growth and economic development.

The AU was guided from the outset by its vision of the promotion of unity and solidarity of African states towards “An Integrated, Prosperous and Peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens and representing a dynamic force in the global arena.”

The contact between Africa and China has evolved over several thousand years .But it was only after the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949 , with the CPC at the helm , and after Africa had begun to rid itself of the burden of colonialism in the 50 ‘s and 60’s, that contact between China and Africa was actively resumed ,with cooperation gaining significant momentum in the ensuing decades .

China and Africa supported each other in the fight against colonialism as both countries were victims of imperialism and China strongly assisted Africa to win independence and in its pursuit of development.

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In the wake of the historic Bandung Asian - Africa conference in April 1955 ,China and Africa embarked on” a new type “ of partnership , characterized by political equality , mutual trust , mutually beneficial economic cooperation and cultural exchanges.

Throughout this period in which Africa had begun to rid itself of the burden of colonialism in the 50 ‘s and 60’s , the CPC Increasingly reached out to Africa displaying a strong sense of friendship and solidarity towards the continent . From the 1950s onwards an increasing number of exchanges between the CPC and African political parties also began. Many African national liberation movements sent delegations to visit China to seek political, moral and material support .

China continued to express its strong commitment to support Pan African institutions such as the OAU and its successor, the AU .

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To ensure the realisation of its objectives and the attainment of the Pan African Vision of an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, “Agenda 2063 “ , a strategic framework for Africa’s long term socio-economic and integrative transformation was adopted by the AU Heads of State and Government in January 2015 . It called for greater collaboration and support for African led initiatives to ensure the achievement of the aspirations of African people.

The spread of Covid 19 as well as the negative implications of the current conflict in Ukraine , not only put health systems in African countries increasingly under pressure , but also contributed to the slowing down of the commendable political , economic and social progress that Africa has made over the last few decades.

It is against this background that the AU proposed the topic “ Building resilience in nutrition and food security on the African continent: strengthen agriculture, accelerate the human capital, and social and economic development” as its official theme for 2022 .Member States will use the theme to highlight the importance of nutrition and food security on the continent which is further threatened by the conflict in Ukraine .

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As Africa witnessed the profound changes and progress China had made under the CPC over the past 70 years, it developed a deep respect for and drew inspiration from China’s development model .

The AU knows from its experience that China would be prepared to share its knowledge and expertise of its development with Africa towards realizing the continent’s dream of implementing the AU’s Agenda 2063 , which spells out the continent’s priorities in the areas of infrastructure development, agriculture, industrialisation, energy and health, education, climate change, peace and security.

On February 5, 2022, President Xi Jinping sent a message to the 35th African Union Summit to extend his warm congratulations to the African countries on the 20th anniversary of the founding of the African Union (AU). President XI reiterated that China , as in the past , stood ready to work with the African side to actively implement the AU’s Agenda 2063 inter alia the promotion of the vital African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA ) and the outcomes of FOCAC meetings . President XI also added that China would seek enhanced cooperation on the Belt and Road initiative and the Global Development Initiative , in order to elevate China-Africa cooperation to a higher and more strategic level and in so doing “write a new chapter on China-Africa friendship”.

The outcome of the FOCAC Dakar Meeting was highly praised by the African side. The Senegalese President Macky Sall , the Chairperson of the AU stated that Senegal highly appreciated China's selfless help to Africa, which “fully reflects the solidarity, mutual assistance and brotherhood between Africa and China.”

President Cyril Ramaphosa from South Africa also commended the Dakar Action plan in his speech at the Forum and added: “ 0ver the next three years the Dakar Action Plan will be implemented and this will require that we recalibrate Sino - Africa relations with a greater emphasis on sustainable development for the benefit of all. We must see the FOCAC partnership as a vital support for Africa’s industrialization and for the realization of the benefit of the AfCFTA . We call on China to continue its work of being supportive of the African continent . A support we do not take for granted , a support that is extended to us in Africa ,underpinnned by mutual respect and a mutual intention to develop one another “. He also emphasized that “For us to fully reap its benefits, FOCAC must be strengthened and enhanced.”.

The new AU headquarters in Addis Ababa which was opened in 2012 , represents a symbolic gesture and gift from China to its African friends , further solidifying Sino-Africa relations. In addition , the close cooperation between China and the AU on the current construction of the Headquarters of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) also in Addis Ababa is highly appreciated by Africa .The smooth progress with the implementation of this project amply illustrates the friendly and cooperative spirit of friendship between China and Africa which will contribute significantly to strengthening pandemic prevention and control in Africa.

Also of particular significance is that the African heads of state and government approved the opening up of an AU Permanent Mission to China at their Summit in February 2022. In taking this step, which was welcomed by Beijing , the AU has signalled its strong desire to elevate Africa-China cooperation to a higher strategic and comprehensive level. Equally , Beijing’s decision to open its own Permanent Mission to the AU in Addis Ababa , demonstrated that Beijing wishes to increasingly work with Africa in a coordinated and focused manner .

These momentous China and AU developments auger extremely well for the longstanding and growing friendship between China and Africa , based on mutual respect , equality, mutual benefit and a win -win situation which continues to bring tangible and lasting benefits to both the continent and China .

Gert Grobler is the former Ambassador and Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Africa Studies at the Zhejiang Normal university, Jinhua, China.

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