The African Union (AU), established in 2001 to replace the defunct Organization of African Unity, which was founded in 1963, was formed to hasten the regional integration process in Africa to enable it to play its rightful role in the global economy. The AU has created an effective forum for its member states to adopt coordinated positions on matters of common concern to the continent in international fora and defend the interests of Africa effectively. It is this unity of purpose that gave birth to the celebrated Agenda 2063—a 50-year continental people-driven plan outlining the “Africa We Want.” Agenda 2063 is a strategic framework for the socioeconomic transformation of Africa.
But what does Agenda 2063 aspire to achieve? Its main objective is to create a prosperous Africa based on inclusive growth and sustainable people-driven development. It also aims to create a continent that is strong, united, resilient and influential—this has opened up Africa to numerous growth opportunities and challenges. World economic powers like China, India, the United States and Japan have upped the ante by hosting African heads of state to various development summits. Japan hosts the Tokyo International Conference on African Development; the United States hosts the U.S.-Africa Business Summit; India hosts the India-Africa Forum; and China hosts the Forum on China–Africa Cooperation (FOCAC). China’s successful cooperation with Africa in economic sphere has brought FOCAC’s role in pushing China-Africa cooperation into sharp focus. Since FOCAC’s inauguration in 2000, the forum has focused on trade, investment and technical cooperation, resulting in multi-sectoral growth of the Sino-African cooperation.
Continental development blueprint
FOCAC has emerged as an engagement channel of interest for most African nations because of its favorable agenda that resonates well with the development needs of the continent. With the established diplomatic relations between China and 53 African countries, cooperation has been furthered through creation of sub-forums within the framework of FOCAC.
Besides ministerial conferences, FOCAC also holds summits. The Third FOCAC Summit, held in Beijing in September 2018, offered African countries a great opportunity to strengthen cooperation with China aimed at realizing aspirations of the Agenda 2063 in light of the evolving geopolitical dynamics. The implementation of a continental development blueprint was periodic, with the first phase taking 10 years and a focus on flagship projects that include an integrated high-speed railway network, an African virtual and e-university, African commodity strategy, Continental Free Trade Area, Grand Inga Dam in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, continental financial institutions and a single air transport network. These were areas where the Chinese shared valuable lessons and experiences with their African counterparts at the FOCAC Beijing Summit. With a combined population of 2.6 billion people and a GDP of $16.282 trillion, China and African countries have a solid foundation for heightened cooperation. At the FOCAC Beijing Summit, African countries not only broadened the scope and benefits of Agenda 2063, but also proposed new measures to deal with issues of industrialization, trade imbalance, employment creation for the youth, food security, energy, security, public health and disease prevention.
The benefits of the FOCAC Beijing Summit to Africa cannot be opposed and it will remain pivotal in catapulting Africa to meaningful partnerships to grow their exports not only to China, but also to the other parts of the world. This can be done through tapping the Chinese experience and practices on trade competitiveness. African countries depend heavily on primary products for exports and foreign earnings which have minimal value additions. It’s imperative for Africa to learn from the Chinese on the need to process primary products so that they can gain competitiveness in the international markets and earn higher margins. This will expand international markets for African exports that will help reduce trade deficits, and increase balance of payments and foreign exchange earnings.
African countries participating in the FOCAC Beijing Summit discussed with China on how to adopt appropriate modern and affordable Chinese technology that will promote efficiency in the production of goods and services for both domestic and international use. Information and communications technology is an enabler of growth and development and will be instrumental in creating jobs for the youth.
Variety of cooperative projects
Most of China’s infrastructure projects in Africa are located in urban areas and so the FOCAC Beijing Summit was a good forum to engage China on more infrastructure projects targeting rural areas to reduce rural-urban migration, alleviate poverty and spur rural development.
The FOCAC Beijing Summit was also useful in engaging China on the need to have more Chinese visit Africa as tourists. Despite the growing Sino-African relations, there is disquiet on the current number of visitor arrivals from China. In fact, the share of tourists from China to Africa is a paltry 1.5 percent of the total outbound Chinese tourists, with only Kenya, South Africa, Mauritius, Morocco, Egypt, Namibia, Cape Verde, Botswana, Tunisia and Tanzania emerging as the most competitive tourist destinations for the Chinese.
For the continent to be stronger as a trading bloc, it’s important to adopt competitive global currencies away from the traditional reverence of the U.S. dollar, British pound and the euro. The FOCAC Beijing Summit discussed not just the possibility but also the pros and cons of adopting the renminbi as a reserve currency. This will safeguard Africa’s currencies from unprecedented local currency volatilities, thus leading to economic stability.
Some have termed the increased Chinese infrastructure loans as a new face of neocolonialism, but Professor Ching Kwan Lee of the University of California argues that China-Africa cooperation has helped Africa stand on its own, rather than making her dependent on China. Lee adds that the more than 10,000 Chinese enterprises operating in Africa have promoted Africa’s independence and autonomy rather than the usual dependence commonly associated with colonialism. It’s a two-way relationship with mutual benefits. For Africa to move toward a peaceful, prosperous and integrated continent based on inclusive growth and sustainable development, in line with the Agenda 2063 mission statement, collaboration with China must be given unconditional room to grow beyond expectation.
The writer is an economist, consultant and a regional commentator on trade and investment