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China’s Belt and Road, G7 Global Infrastructure and Africa by Charles Onunaiju

In the next few months, Africa’s most populous country and also her largest economy, Nigeria will get her first ever deep sea port, the Lekki Deep Seaport. When fully operational, as expected before the end of the year, the port would generate estimated 170,000 jobs and rake in revenues of about 201 billion US dollars to central and state governments through royalties, taxes and duties. The 17 meter draught Sea port constructed by one of the world biggest maritime engineering firm , China Harbor Engineering Corporation (CHEC) would reposition Nigeria as key maritime hub of the west and central African regions.

The Lekki Deep Seaport is a major artery in the network of infrastructure connectivity that is at the heart of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, (BRI), a framework of International Cooperation that also includes policy coordination, unimpeded trade, financial integration and deepening people to people contacts.

Launched as “silk road economic belt and 21st century maritime silk road” in 2013, Chinese leader, president Xi Jinping set out the framework to give concrete expression to the irreversible trend of globalization and generate win – win outcomes for all stake holders in the international community.

Nigeria and more than forty African countries have signed on to the international partnership of the Belt and Road Initiative and important projects of connectivity within Nigeria and other African countries, like Lekki Deep Seaport and others are clearly redefining the infrastructure landscape in Africa, helping to turn the abiding vision of Pan Africanism of an internally integrated and connected continent or region into a reality. Nearly ten years down the line, since President Xi Jinping announced the “Silk Road Economic Belt” at a university in Kazakhstan. And with its twin component, the “21st century Maritime Silk Road” in the Indonesian parliament in 2013, the framework has grown into a formidable international cooperation driven by “extensive consultations, joint contributions and shared benefits”.

For Africa, the Belt and Road Initiative has been a turning point, scaling up infrastructure construction and connectivity and giving the countries of the region, the advantage of the economies of scale. Trade within the region, given a boost and an institutional expression with the coming into operation of the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AFCTA) has significantly improved.  Trade with China, despite the disruptions of Covid 19 pandemic has remained resilient. China remained Africa’s leading and largest trading partner for 12 consecutive years in straight row. According to the General Administration of Customs of China, the total bilateral trade between China and Africa in 2021 reached 254.3 billion USD, up by 35.3% year on year. Within the period, Africa exported goods worth 105.9 billion (USD) to China, up by 43.7% year on year.

However, despite the tremendous increase in infrastructure construction and connectivity in Africa. African Development Bank estimates that the region requires an annual investment of about 100 billion USD to fill the gap in its infrastructure requirement.

Against this backdrop, the Group of Seven or G7 Industrialized nations recent meeting and unveiling of 600 billion USD global Infrastructure Initiative is worth some serious interrogation. Though extensively and widely believed to be designed to rival China’s Belt and Road Initiative, trimmed and streamlined from the earlier bogus Build Back Better World (B3W) outlined at the meeting of the G7 in 2021, it overreached itself with an ambitious agenda of 40 trillion USD in investment by 2035. A year later, reality set in with the G7 and the European Union Scaling down the projected infrastructure spending to 600 billion USD.

The United  States will aim to mobilize a total of 200 billion USD for the Program over the next coming five years through a combination of federal financing and Private Sector Investment adding  to 300 billion Euro already announced by the European Union. Other members are expected to make contributions to make the estimated 600 billion USD. The G7 Global Infrastructural Initiative announced by the Group at their summit in Germany in June this year combined the USB3W and the E.U, global Gateway announced in December 2021. The European Union has committed to mobilize investments of up to 300 billion Euros over a period covering 2021 to 2027.

Despite that the expected funding to the sum of 300 billion Euros was mostly repackaged of previously committed funds it however, pales into insignificance when compared to minimum annual expenditures of 100 billion USD of China’s initiated Belt and Road framework of International Cooperation. However, in other to match Beijing’s Belt and Road, the earlier American proposed B3W intended to “collectively, together with the private sector, U.S stakeholders and G7 partners to catalyze hundreds of billions of dollars in the coming years”.

However, as reality set in, the U.S and it’s G7 partners comprising the U.S, Japan, U.K, Canada, France, Germany and Italy has pledged to commit 600 billion USD over the next five years to fund infrastructure in the world. Despite this sum is paltry compared to bourgeoning infrastructure challenge, the question is how soon will it come.  And, if the history of western development aid is anything to go by, would it be another diktat riddled with excruciating conditionality or like the China’s Belt and Road initiative, a broadly consultative frame work leading to consensus on the most desirable outcomes of “shared benefits”.

Africa alone, according to the Africa development Bank, would need investments of about a 100 billion USD annually to close the gap of its infrastructure deficit and it is no gain saying the continent would welcome the G7 Global Infrastructure Initiative but Africa of today cannot wait for the paternalistic dispositions of the West in attempting to define what is best for the people of the region. A mutually respectful partnership, sensitive to each other core concerns would be the appropriate frame work for engagement with a win – win outcomes for both sides.

However, while the current G7 initiative is welcome, the experience that previous proposals followed with elaborate razzmatazz only to tapper out without delivering outcomes, calls for guided optimisms or even constructive doubts.

The failure of former president Barak Obama “Power Africa Initiative” which promised to bring electricity to about 600 million Africans who have no access to electricity in the continent. Mr. Obama, whose African ancestry has helped electrified the continent in a near political frenzy after his election launched the initiative with fanfare in 2013. At a U.S – Africa leader summit in 2014, Mr Obama re affirmed that the Power Africa’s reach extends to all of Sub – Saharan Africa with goals to add 30,000 megawatts (MW) of new, cleaner electricity generation capacity and increasing electricity access by at least 60 million new connections.

However, two years after, the Washington post newspaper has written that “the lack of progress highlights the gap between lofty ambition and the challenge of getting things done”, adding that the reality of Power Africa’s promise bears little resemblance to the President Obama’s soaring words”. The initiative according to the paper  “has yet to deliver any electricity”.

Similarly the Africa Growth Opportunity Act, (AGOA) launched with fanfare in 2000 by the United States as preferential trade program that allows countries in sub – Saharan Africa to export products to the U.S tariff-free. According to many experts, the program have failed to live up to expectations. Infact trade with the U.S under the AGOA framework has considerably dipped below what they were when AGOA began.

By this year, the removal of several countries including Ethiopia from AGOA has added a lot of uncertainty about the program’s future.

Meanwhile at the 8th ministerial conference held in Senegal last year, of the Forum on China – Africa Cooperation, Beijing outlined nine programs of cooperation in the next three years, which among others included “the trade promotion which will see China” open green lanes for Africa agricultural exports to China. According to the Chinese president who delivered Keynote Speech via video link “China will speed up the inspection and quarantine procedures and further increase the scope of products enjoying zero tariff treatment in a bid to reach 300 billion USD in total imports from Africa in the next 3 years.

Most Africans know that Beijing says what it means and means what it says and the West has the unique opportunity to use its latest initiative of Global Infrastructure to put its money, where its mouth is, as the common saying goes.

 

Mr Onunaiju is research director, Centre for China Studies, Abuja.

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