Part 2: Africa and China on the threshold of a new and exciting era of deepened friendship and co-operation
by Ambassador Gert Grobler
During the talks between President Mokgweetsi Masisi of Botswana and China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Gaborone, a co-operation agreement was signed on the “Belt and Road Initiative” between the two countries and China further undertook to actively assist Botswana with the industrialization and diversification of its economy.
Following talks between Tanzanian President John Magufuli and Minister Wang Yi in Dar es Salaam, the Tanzanian government confirmed that contracts worth $1.31 billion (nearly R20bn) have been awarded to Chinese companies for the construction of the strategically important Mwanza / Isaka railway line. China already has a strong established economic presence in Tanzania due in part to its initial involvement with the renowned Tazara railway line. China has also undertaken to actively support Tanzania with the establishment of the country as a logistics and transportation hub in Africa.
China is eager to strengthen relations with the Seychelles who traditionally maintained sound ties with India as part of the Indian Ocean region. During the visit to the island, China announced a $155 million grant to the government of the Seychelles for the construction of renewable energy power stations and the promotion of tourism. Furthermore, China will immediately supply Sinopharm, China's Covid-19 vaccine, to the Seychelles.
Africa faces significant economic and development challenges due to Covid-19. The continent is currently in the process of implementing the strategic AU “Agenda 2063” in order to “create a prosperous and stable Africa”. To achieve this goal as well as the UN’s Agenda 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, Africa needs the co-operation of all its international partners. It is, however, unfortunate that there are increasing challenges facing an uncertain world, compounded by the virus, such as flawed leadership, flagging economic growth, protectionism, attacks on multilateralism and threats of climate change which do not augur well for Africa’s well-being and its international cooperation. In fact, it is inevitable that Africa will not feature prominently among the priorities of the USA and EU, at least in the foreseeable future, due to internal preoccupations and distractions.
It is against this background that the growing co-operation and solidarity between Africa and China, as embodied by the successful Wang visit, is to be welcomed. China’s economy is showing a remarkable recovery and according to the World Bank, China will grow by between 7 and 8% in 2021.
In fact, during Minister Wang’s visit, China gave its unequivocal support to Africa in achieving the continent's immediate priorities within the AU Agenda 2063 framework, namely:
* Continued assistance to Africa on Covid-19, the improvement of health services and access to vaccine for Africa.
* W`ith China already by far Africa's largest trading partner in the world, the country has offered targeted support to Africa as regards economic recovery by way of the ongoing “transformation” of the continent’s economy. Increased Chinese investment was pledged as well as strong support for the game-changing African Continental Free Trade Agreement which entered into force on January1 this year.
* Continued assistance was also promised to Africa in implementing the “Silencing of the Guns” initiative on the continent.
It is, however, critical for Africa to have the ability to take its own decisions and to promote its own preferred home-grown development course. Africa must ultimately take responsibility for its own destiny and would want to co-operate with China in a manner that enhances Africa’s key priorities. Projects on the continent, based on Chinese financing and support, need to be increasingly linked to concrete benefits for Africans with a focus on economic industrialisation and diversification, sustainable and responsible financial co-operation, local job creation and procurement, as well as a stronger environmental awareness. China would accept this approach because it “listens to Africa’s voice”.
Africa and China are therefore actively busy charting the way forward on co-operation in the post-pandemic era. The next Forum on China-Africa Co-operation meeting to be held in Senegal later this year comes at a critically important juncture for China and Africa and represents the next important building block in the increasingly vital strategic cooperation.
In fact, Africa and China find themselves on the threshold of a new and exciting era of deepened co-operation with many new areas and opportunities on offer for future collaboration.
* Grobler is a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of African Studies at the Zhejiang Normal University, Jinhua, China.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL.