September 17, 2018

Beijing Summit and the new era for China-Africa Cooperation

Beijing Summit and the new era for China-Africa Cooperation

China’s President Xi Jinping (front C) walks with South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa (front L), Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (middle row 2nd L), Togo’s President Faure Gnassingbe (middle row L) and other African leaders after a group photo session during the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation in Beijing on September 3, 2018. President Xi Jinping told African leaders on September 3 that China’s investments on the continent have “no political strings attached”, pledging $60 billion in new development financing, even as Beijing is increasingly criticised over its debt-heavy projects abroad. / AFP PHOTO / POOL / HOW HWEE YOUNG

By Charles Onunaiju

IN the first week of September, African leaders and their Chinese counterpart gathered in Chinese capital, Beijing, for the third summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, ostensibly to build on the epochal strides it has achieved since it held its second historic summit in Johannesburg, South Africa in December, 2015.

The Forum on China Africa Cooperation, FOCAC in less than two decades of its founding has unarguably become a top notch international organisation with track record of solid results delivery. China-Africa traditional friendship and cooperation have had long trajectories before the founding of FOCAC in 2000 but FOCAC not only re-engineered it in a more result-oriented fashion but created and sustained the mechanism of regular contacts and consultations with consequence of pragmatic outcomes in the relationships. China’s own exponential burst of growth in the period since the founding of FOCAC and Africa’s break with Western-centric global exposure during the same period, provided a sound opportunity on which Africa and China grew their enigmatic cooperation under the framework of the FOCAC mechanism. The usual suspicions of ideological infractions and sabotages replete with the cold war periods of international relations was out of its way, at the time of FOCAC founding and therefore, thankfully was saved the framework of the poisonous weed of ideological contestations that virulently infected many international organisations in the period of the intense cold war.

While  still a work  in progress, FOCAC whose leaders  gathered in Beijing this September for the 3rd summit of the heads of state and governments, offered a milestone in the life of the organisation.

As its pedigree is reassuring to its future prospects, FOCAC has brought unique opportunities to its members. Africa, since the historic second summit of FOCAC in Johannesburg, South Africa in 2015 has made some significant giant leaps, as the 10 cooperation plans outlined at the summit by President Xi Jinping with a whopping sum of US$60 billion funding support, has substantially  materialised since then.

The nearly 1000 km first electrified railway in Africa, connecting the emerging regional industrial hub but landlocked Ethiopia, to the port of Djibouti, has become fully operational, and has cut travel time from some few days to some few hours. With a thaw in relations between former adversaries, Ethiopia and Eritrea, access to the Red sea through the Assab port would further fuel industrialisation of Ethiopia, with Chinese companies making enormous contributions to the prospects.

The 400km-plus standard gauge rail line from Kenya’s port city of Mombasa to its capital, Nairobi has been completed and has been put to use by Kenyans, triggering more economic activities while helping to reduce cost of doing business.

Meanwhile, the Mombasa port has been under massive reconstruction and will be a vital artery of the “21st Century maritime Silk Road,” the maritime component of China’s initiated Belt and Road framework of inclusive and integrated international cooperation. As China and Africa sat down in Beijing in the 3rd summit of FOCAC to ponder on the roadmap to drive the next phase of China/Africa cooperation, the Silk Road Economic Belt, and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, otherwise simply called the Belt and Road, a massive framework of overland, maritime and digital connectivity featuring heavy infrastructure constructions across countries and within countries,  considerably weighed in, as a powerful impetus for fresh development strides, already set in motion in Africa by the FOCAC process.

Africa’s regional power house and its largest market, Nigeria, is already in the cusp of new economic dawn, due  to China’s fueled massive investment in strategic infrastructure. Since 2016, the nearly 200km standard gauge railway line between the capital city, Abuja and the North-West city of Kaduna is up and running. Last July, the first intra-city railway connecting the city centre of Abuja to the airport, described as the first of its kind in West Africa, was launched amidst fanfare by President Muhammadu Buhari. The construction of a major railway to connect the commercial city of Lagos through Ibadan to the Northern commercial hub of Kano, has been launched. The country’s economic recovery blueprint called the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan, ERGP, which promises massive infrastructure constructions as the key to unlock sustainable and inclusive development, look set to leverage China’s concessional funding in the sector. The country’s notorious epileptic power supply would receive massive boost when the China-funded Mambilla Power Station comes on stream.

After 40 years of flip flop on the power project, the China Exim Bank has recently agreed to 85 per cent of concessional funding of the power project, which when completed, is expected to save about 40 per cent of capital, which businesses are estimated to invest to generate their own power, presently making Nigeria one of the costliest places to do business in Africa.

Nigeria’s industrial landscape is fast revitalising as Chinese enterprises boost domestic capacity and considerably give substance to the concept of Made in Nigeria with China.

The FOCAC has  accorded Africa a practical and functional international partnership with an uncommon focus to the existential challenge of the core material needs that would put the region, not only on the path of economic recovery but on a steady and inclusive development trajectory. China’s belief that Africa’s security challenge and peace prospect  can be overcome and secured through sustainable and inclusive development, has significantly changed and shifted international perspective, which previously viewed Africa as a place for high security risk for investment and business.

Where Africa’s former colonial masters and their partners in the West view Africa’s security challenge as obstacle to development, China through the mechanism of FOCAC see economic development in Africa as the practical way to overcome the security challenge and secure peace, stability and prosperity in Africa.

*Mr. Onunaiju, Director ,Centre for China Studies, wrote from Abuja.