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Sino-African Cooperation: the realities on the ground

DECEMBER 1, 2014 By: Mohamed Fernando Conteh

Chinese President, Xi Jinping
Chinese President, Xi Jinping

As China continues to strengthen bilateral ties with African countries, it is often accused of being more harmful to the continent than good. A rejoinder in the China Daily newspaper alluded to a critic’s position suggesting that “…China’s moves in recent years is an attempt to plunder the abundant resources in the vast land and convert the underdeveloped continent into a raw material supply base for its own economic development” (China Daily, March 1st, P8, 2011). The accusations are enormous and the thread running through them is the obvious – China is using aid to intensify its presence in Africa for its own good. But whether the accusations are genuine or distorted, Sino-African cooperation is not hanging by a thread since it was established in the 1950s. The romance is heightening and China has arguably become one of Africa’s most valuable partners.

Aid and the realities on the ground

In addition to supporting the fight against colonialism, Beijing has positioned itself significantly in Africa’s infrastructure development. It has supported the construction of several public facilities such as the Moi International Sports Centre in Kenya, the Cairo International Convention and Exhibition Centre, the Friendship Hall in Sudan, the Tanzania National Stadium,  the Tanzania-Zambia railway, the Low-cost Housing Projects in Angola, the Lagdo Hydropower Station in Cameroon, the National Theatre in Ghana, the new Conference Centre for the African Union in Ethiopia, the Friendship Harbor in Mauritania, the Water Supply Project in Niger, and the Medzerdah-Cap Bon Canal in Tunisia, among others. While most of these projects were completed more than a decade ago, recent ones could be found in many parts of Africa.

In Sierra Leone, the Chinese Government has made pleasing progress in infrastructure construction and nothing could be more gratifying than to say “xiexie nin Zhongguo” (thank you China). At the ground breaking ceremony of the four commuter booths project which is to be constructed by the China Friendship House under the China-Africa People-to-People Friendship Action, the Awoko newspaper quoted the Political Counsellor of the Chinese Embassy, Mr. Fan Xiaodong, as saying: “When Sierra Leone Friends talk about China, they usually talk about the National Stadium, Youyi Building, which has become the landmark of the relationship. With time going, you should also add the new Ministry of Foreign Affairs building, the Bo Stadium and the Regent-Grafton Road, to the landmark list”.

The recent of all being the support rendered to the Government of Sierra Leone, following the outbreak of the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD). The Chinese were among the first batch of foreign medics to arrive in the country to provide infrastructural, clinical and epidemiological support to contain the virus. Arguably, Chinese supported projects in Africa continue to paint a clear picture of what the ordinary man could discern as aid.

Policies and traditions

Beijing has unique foreign policies towards Africa: the-no-strings-attached aid policy, coupled with non-interference in domestic issues, and mutual respect and benefit to achieve common goal could not be underestimated in international relations. These policies have not only attracted African leaders, they have seemingly paved way for the continued excellent relations with China. As if these blueprint policies have not won the minds of African parties and leaders, Beijing also has a tradition of its top diplomats visiting African countries annually. In 2010, Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi visited Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Morocco and Kenya. In 2011, he also visited Gabon, Togo, Guinea and Chad, among others.

To continue with the tradition, President Xi Jinping toured Africa in March 2013 and also attended the BRICS Summit in Durban, South Africa. Li Keqiang, the current Premier of the People’s Republic of China and Party Secretary of the State Council, toured Africa in 2014, visiting Ethiopia and other East African countries. “Chinese top leaders’ frequent visits to the continent show that Africa is of significant importance to China’s foreign policy and that the relationship between the two sides has stood the test of time” (Xinhuanet).

Trade and investment

So far, Beijing and Africa have been engaging in lucrative business transactions and they both rely on each other in many ways. In 2013, Beijing issued a White Paper on China-Africa Economic and Trade Cooperation. The document constitutes of six broad pillars: “promoting sustainable development of trade, improving the level of investment and financing cooperation, strengthening cooperation in agriculture and food security, supporting African infrastructure construction, stressing African people’s livelihoods and capacity building, and promoting cooperation under multilateral frameworks”.

The White Paper could be seen as Beijing’s extraordinary road-map and steadfastness in its determination to be active in sharing Africa’s development dream. “According to official Chinese data, since 2009, China has been Africa’s largest trading partner for five consecutive years…[that] China’s direct investments to Africa reached $25 billion” (AFP – Sat, May 3, 2014).

China Daily reported an export deal up to the tune of $100 million in 2013. “Dangote Group of Nigeria and Shandong-based China National Heavy Truck Company signed a contract for delivery of 1,700 heavy trucks and 1,700 semi-trailers.” Such record breaking deal might not only create new jobs for Nigerians, but also for other nationalities across its wide area of operations in West Africa. Dangote Group is currently investing in a cement plant in Sierra Leone which is expected to employ at least 200 Sierra Leoneans.

Based on emerging trends, coupled with the realities on the ground, one might be tempted to reecho President Xi Jinping’s statement in his 2013 tour of Africa that “Africa’s development creates opportunities for China, as China’s development creates opportunities for Africa”.

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