Following the conclusion of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation Summit in South Africa in December, the focus is squarely on China’s strategies to sustain its relationship with Africa. As a fast growing economy poised to overtake the US, China has become an assertive power and a leading economic investor in Africa.
China’s influence in Africa grew meteorically after the launch of the forum in 2000 as a special framework by Beijing to engage the continent. The Sino-Africa relationship is founded on four basic principles: sincerity and equality; consolidating solidarity and mutual trust; jointly pursuing inclusive development; and promoting inventive practical cooperation.
Over the years, Chinese trade investment in Africa has fast-tracked from $10 billion to $220 billion. At least 2,000 Chinese companies are said to be investing in various sectors in Africa, including electronics, mining, agriculture, information and communication technology, telecommunication, infrastructure, media, finance and transport.
China is involved in some of the most ambitious projects ever undertaken on the continent. A case in point is the construction of the Mombasa-Kigali Standard-Gauge Railway project. The Mombasa-Nairobi leg of the SGR railway covering 472 kilometers is expected to reach Kenya’s capital in 2017 and proceed to Uganda and Rwanda.
The railway has created 25,000 jobs for Kenyans and, once completed, will save 40 percent of the current transportation costs, thus pushing up the regions’ competitiveness. It has also created a platform for skills transfer and training useful for future industrialization in Kenya and the region. Two technical training schools have been launched in its wake.
Experts concur that the project will boost trade and investment across the East African region and beyond. This is in addition to speeding up the regional integration process that has been on the government’s to-do list for a long time.
In a bid to shore up the continent’s capacity, both private and State-owned enterprises have offered training opportunities to more than 30,000 personnel. Since 2012, they have been trained in China’s prestigious institutions in technical skills, while another 15,000 have pursued higher learning under scholarship programs in 2013 and 2014.
Moreover, health has been a top priority of China’s agenda. A total of 43 Chinese medical teams are stationed in 42 African countries, and 1,771 Chinese medical workers have been sent to Africa since 2012. During the Ebola pandemic in West Africa－including Liberia－China responded swiftly by providing four rounds of emergency assistance worth over $110 million.
To deepen inclusive growth, people-to-people exchanges have been conducted under the framework of the China-Africa People-to-People Friendly Action initiative, the China-Africa Joint Research and Exchange Plan and the China-Africa Think Tanks 10+10 Partner Plan.
These campaigns have roped in nearly 300 young Chinese volunteers to provide services in more than 20 African countries.
Moreover, China’s giant outbound tourism sector saw more than 3 million Chinese citizens choose Africa as their first stop on overseas trips in 2012.
But as factories slow down, so has trade, which has impacted commodity prices. The recent past has seen the slowdown of economies such as Nigeria, Angola and Ghana that for a long time were deemed oil-dependent. These economies are now strategizing on diversifying their economies to cushion against such external shocks.
Africa is therefore looking at how ongoing partnerships with China would help strengthen legal and regulatory institutions. This would not only realize the re-emergence of the manufacturing sector, which has been idle for a long time, but will stimulate intra-Africa trade that many experts have been campaigning for. It is also time to fast-track the planned relocation of Chinese industries to Africa.
All this notwithstanding, China-Africa relations are bound to expand and consolidate. China is operating from the ideology that a better Africa is a better world.