AT the two-day meeting of the fifth ministerial conference of the Forum on China-Africa Co-operation, FOCAC, held in Beijing last month, the issue of infrastructure as the key link in enabling functional integration in Africa received attention at the highest echelon of Chinese leadership.
Announcing a five point priority areas, in which China would assist Africa, the Chinese president, Mr. Hu Jintao specifically promised that “China would establish a partnership with Africa on transnational and trans-regional infrastructural development, support related project planning and feasibility studies and encourage established Chinese companies and financial institutions to take part in transnational and trans-regional infrastructural development in Africa”.
Through this measure, according to the Chinese leader, ‘we will support the African integration process and help Africa enhance capacity for overall development.
There is very few issue that has held Africa’s integration by the jugular as the dearth of infrastructural linkages across the continent. While efforts have been made by the several sub-regional groups on the continent to enhance free movement of people and goods, the lack of trans-national road networks have ensured that such crucial steps in integration remain pitiably only on official documents.
This is more so, in the era, when governments across the continent are been de-invested of serious commitment to provide public facilities.
And the much glamorized private sector has yet to find its valve to undertake such capital intensive project as transnational infrastructural linkages. For years, these crucibles in any meaningful integration process of the continent have hardly been affected by the robust rhetoric of pan-Africanism at the political level.
Given Beijing decisive and firm commitment, the appalling scenario of Africans living too near but unable to have effective exchange might become a thing of the past. In fact, China is not completely a stranger to this type of challenge. In the early 1970s, when the racist regime in South Africa was actively destabilizing the states in the region for backing and providing sanctuaries to the anti-apartheid activists, China came to the rescue and constructed the longest railway from the Zambian copper mines to the Dares Salam port in Tanzania.
The railway, Tanzam, dubbed the freedom road, enabled the land-locked Zambia to export its copper, the mainstay of its economy, without the apartheid South Africa’s route.
The feat of Tanzam railways completed on schedule became the early embodiment of the solidarity between China and Africa in practical co-operation. Building on the traditional solidarity and sense of mutual empathy that have existed between China and Africa, since the early 1950s, when the two sides had their formal contact at the Bandung Afro-Asia conference in Indonesia, the founding of the Forum for China-Africa co-operation 2000 has accelerated co-operation moving up to “strategic partnership and now to a new type of partnership as defined by the fifth ministerial conference of the forum in Beijing last month.
This point was effectively recognised and brought home by the Chinese leader when he noted that “facts have shown that the new type of China-Africa strategic partnership is the result of continuous growth of traditional friendship between the two sides”, and added that “the forging of this partnership has inaugurated a new historical process in growing China/African relations and added a new momentum to China-Africa exchanges and co-operation”.
Stating categorically, China’s unwavering stance to her co-operation with Africa “as equals and with sincerity and friendship”, President Hu Jintao maintained that: “No matter how the international landscape may change, China will remain unchanged in its commitment to supporting Africa’s peace, stability, development and unity and will give genuine support to African countries independent choice of development paths and genuinely help African countries strengthen capacity for self-development”.
While Africa’s challenge for development and its many obstacles have never lacked generous words of empathy and concern from partner governments, international organisations and even non-governmental organisations, NGOs, what is however unique to China’s co-operation with Africa is that words and commitments are always and promptly matched with actions and thankfully, this trend has been the defining hallmark of Sino-African relations encapsulated in the FOCAC process, since its founding in 2000.
Giving insight to more creative endeavours to enhancing Sino-Africa co-operation beyond the traditional trade pattern, the Chinese Minister of Commerce and honourary Co-chair of China’s follow-up committee of the FOCAC, Mr. Chen Deming has suggested that to “reinvent ways of co-operation and to enhance the role of Chinese and African economies in the global value and industrial Chain” China would “continue to expand investment co-operation with Africa and migrate to Africa, industrial chains with which China enjoys a comparative edge, so as to extend the value added chain for “made in Africa” products and more job opportunities for African people”.
He further underscored that China “deep co-operation with Africa on infrastructure development would cover pre-and post- construction stages from planning and design to operation and management”, and according to him, “with these efforts, China “seeks to upgrade bilateral co-operation in quality and efficiency, turn Africa’s potential into development strengths and share the benefit of the relocation of the global industrial chain.
However, while huge turning-points have been recorded in Sino-Africa relations and co-operation and even more still anticipated in the coming years, the evident lacuna has been in the media coverage which has been dominated by sceptical reporting or no reporting at all by the dominant Western media outlets. This trend seemed to have captured the attention of the Chinese top leadership.
Mr CHARLES ONUNAIJU, a journalist, wrote from Abuja