The Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) that would be 17 years old in October this year has earned herself reputation of a pivotal international cooperation framework that is distinguished for practical results, enabled by concrete action-plans and diligent follow-up mechanism.

Mostly shorn of the bureaucratic glamour and high sounding ambiguities that have come to define numerous international forums, FOCAC has driven Africa-China Cooperation historically underscored by solidarity, to new frontier of strategic partnership and what the 2nd summit of heads of state and government upheld in their Johannesburg declaration as “Comprehensive Strategic and Cooperative Partnership”, which was earlier mentioned by President Xi Jinping in his keynote address at the summit. Nearly two years, after the historic summit, which held for the first time on the African soil, Africa’s landscape has changed and is still changing.

Africa and China have been engaged with each other since the 1950s, especially after the meeting of former Chinese Zhou Enlai with some leaders of African liberation movements at the Bandung Afro-Asia conference in Indonesia in 1955, and the mutual empathies and solidarity that follow, were to define much of the Sino-Africa relation through to the 1960s and 1970s, when China was readmitted to the United Nations, with the over-whelming support of Africa countries. The solidarity peaked in the early 1970s, with China’s exceptional contribution in the construction of the nearly 2,000 kilometers Zambia-Tanzania railway, a flagship of Sino-Africa solidarity and cooperation. China executed and handed over, the project on schedule despite its own internal turmoil of the Cultural Revolution. The contemporary diplomatic tradition of China in which Africa is the foundation of her diplomatic work was laid out by Premier Zhou Enlai legendary diplomatic visit to Africa in the 1960,s in more than one month  stretch where he outlined the ten principles that governed Sino-Africa relations, under the framework of the five principles of Peaceful Co-existence that have guided China’s foreign policy and diplomatic work since the founding of modern China in 1949

The fact, we wish to establish is that the founding of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, (FOCAC) in October, 2000, was a seamless trajectory of the historic Sino-Africa cooperation, but defined in the context of new possibilities, opportunities and the then, emerging dynamics of international relations, released by the collapse of the bipolar global structure.

FOCAC was the concentrated structural expression of the historic dynamism of Sino-Africa relation. It did not dilute or ever sought to negate the broad bilateral cooperation and relations which individual African countries maintained with Beijing but rather endeared it with structural coherence, reinvested vitality to the broad mechanism of Africa-China cooperation’s and added the important parameter of benchmarks, targets and practical results in the core areas of development engagement between the two sides. As China amasses more national aggregates and acquires greater international preeminence, her cooperation with Africa becomes more prominent, with more generous outlay of development support for Africa. Africa has not been short of reciprocal support for China. As president Xi Jinping narrated in his pivotal speech in Tanzania in 2013, when he came to Africa in the second leg of his first ever foreign  visit, straight from Moscow after his election to the presidency, that “In the wake of the devastating earthquake in WenChuan, African countries rushed to China’s assistance”. He fondly recalled that a particular “African country, with a population of fewer than two million and not well-off itself , made a generous donation of two million Euros to the quake area- about one Euro per person,” noting that “this outpouring of compassion warmed our hearts”.

Reaffirming the core of Africa in China’s foreign policy, president Xi Jinping said that “Unity and Cooperation with African countries have always been an important foundation of China’s foreign policy and this will never change even should China grow stronger and enjoy a higher international standing”, adding that “though there is a broad ocean between us, China and Africa share strong empathy and that we are bound not only by profound traditional friendship and closely linked interests, but also by the dreams we each have”.

In setting the pace and laying out the road map to which Africa and China have traveled together to current phenomenal point President Xi Jinping asked in his Tanzania, epochal speech, “how then can China and Africa become bosom friends”, and he answered “I believe that in in-depth dialogue and concrete action are the way to strike a chord in our hearts”.

The ten cooperation plans of the 2nd FOCAC Johannesburg summit in 2015 and the numerous dialogue platforms, which have formed a major pillar of Africa-China Cooperation including the one we are here gathered, are the evident manifestations of Chinese leadership’s commitment to “in-depth dialogue and concrete action as the practical driver of contemporary Sino-Africa Cooperation. Africa’s unique China opportunity today is not that her cooperation and relationship with China is new, but because China is stronger, influential and broadly more resourced, than when the venerable Deng Xiaoping, her bold reformer, promised that when China crosses the 1000 US Dollars income per capital threshold, it would offer more support to friends and the rest of the world.

As the epochal summit of the heads of state and government of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, (FOCAC) in Johannesburg, South Africa in December, 2015, president Xi Jinping avowed that “to build China-Africa comprehensive strategic and cooperative partnership, China will implement ten cooperation plans with Africa in the next three years”, which would address “three bottle neck issues holding back Africa’s development”, which are “inadequate infrastructure, lack of professional and skilled personnel and funding shortage”, for which he expressed optimism, that when properly addressed, would lead to “accelerating Africa industrialization, agricultural modernization and sustainable self-development”.

Almost in their order of priority to the Africa’s challenges of modernization, president Xi Jinping listed the ten cooperation plans as follows:-

  • “First, we will implement China-Africa industrialization plan. China will actively promote industry partnering and production capacity cooperation between China and Africa and encourage more Chinese enterprises to make business investment in Africa. China will build or upgrade a number of industrial parks in cooperation with Africa… set up regional vocational education Centers and schools for capacity building…. Also train 200,000 technical personnel and provide 40,000 training opportunities for African personnel in China.
  • “Second, we will implement China-Africa agricultural modernization plan. China will share its experience in agricultural development with Africa and transfer applicable technologies”.
  • “Third, we will implement China-Africa infrastructure plan. China will step up mutually beneficial cooperation with Africa in infrastructure planning, design, construction, operation and maintenance”.
  • “Fourth, we will implement China-Africa financial plan,” through which “China will expand its RMB settlement and currency swap operations with African countries, encourage Chinese financial institutions to set up more branches in Africa, and increase its investments and financing cooperation with Africa in multiple ways to provide financial support and services for Africa’s industrialization and modernization drive”.
  • “Fifth, we will implement China-Africa green development plan,” which would enable “China to support Africa in bolstering its capacity for green, low-carbon and sustainable development…..”
  • “Sixth, we will implement China-Africa trade and investment facilitation,” that would commit China to carry out 5.0 aid-for-trade programs to improve Africa’s capacity…”
  • “Seventh, we will implement China-Africa poverty reduction plan. While intensifying its own poverty reduction efforts, China will increase its aid to Africa….”
  • “Eight, we will implement China-Africa public health plan,” which would see, “China help and control system as well as its capacity building by participating in the building of the African Center for Disease Control….”
  • “Ninth, we will implement China-Africa cultural and people-to-people plan,” through which “China will build five cultural centers in Africa and provide satellite TV reception to 10,000 African villages….”
  • “Tenth, we will implement China-Africa peace and security,” through which “China will provide 60 million U.S Dollars of grant to support building and operation of the African stand by force and the African capacity for the immediate response to crises…”

To enable the successful implementation of the ten cooperation plans, president Xi Jinping announced that China has decided “to provide a total of 60 billion U.S Dollars for funding support,” which included 5 billion USD of grants and zero-interest loans, 35 billion USD of concessional nature on more favorable terms and export credit line, an increase of 5 billion USD to China-Africa Development fund and special loans for the development of Africa SMEs respectively and the China-Africa fund for production capacity with an initial contribution at 10 billion U.S dollars”.

While Africa is familiar with manifestoes and several declarations of intent towards the renaissance of the continent, the ten cooperation plans outlined by president Xi Jinping was a manifesto of regeneration of a different kind, because it duly deployed the machinery for implementation and nearly two years after the historic summit, facts on the ground show that Africa has reaped rich harvests of the practical implementation of the ten cooperation plans. Yet as president Xi Jinping urged in his speech at the summit, that even though, “China-Africa relations have reached a stage of growth, unmatched in history, we should scale the heights, look afar and take bold steps”, which translates that the peak of Africa-China cooperation still lay in the distant future, with potentially great accomplishments along the way.

Barely, two months after the 2nd FOCAC summit, the China-Africa industrial capacity cooperation fund company ltd was set up by the China Foreign Reserve and Export Import Bank of China with a startup capital of 10 billion U.S dollars.

That the core areas of the ten cooperation plans outlined by president Xi Jinping are centrally strategic to Africa’s modernization cannot be overemphasized. Already, the jubilant Afro-optimism that greeted the break neck, commodity fueled growth in some few years have nearly petered out.

The popular Dutch disease linked to commodity boom, and its inevitable cycle of burst, moped up and chocked out, modest gains of development. It became evident and clear enough, that Africa’s future cannot rest on the fragile commodity market. With the euphoria of the commodity-induced boom over, Africa countries have to return to the drawing board, of articulating a more realistic road map to attaining a sustainable and inclusive development.

This search is not new and has historically been the subject to which African thinkers, scholars and leaders have expended tremendous energy. The Lagos plan of action, a bold framework of economic and social revival of Africa, adopted by the 2nd extra-ordinary assembly of OAU heads of state and government devoted to economic matters in their meeting in Lagos, Nigeria, from the 28th to 29th of April, 1980, committed itself “to adopt a far-reaching regional approach based primarily on collective self-reliance”, having earlier observed that “the effect of unfulfilled promises of global development strategies has been more sharply felt in Africa than in the other continents of the world”. What followed in the historic document of the Lagos plan of Action, were series of affirmations and commitments of individual states in Africa and collectively to face squarely myriads of regional and national development challenges. However, owing to the factors of the then, international situation and also of internal weakness, the rival document prepared by the Bretton Wood institutions (the World Bank and the IMF) prevailed as the dominant economic blueprint for Africa, which accelerated structural distortion and dependency that were to dot the regions socio-economic and even political landscape. The framework of the then, largely hostile international environment is currently relaxed and thanks to China, Africa is engaged in more mutually beneficial and equal international cooperation.

Africa and China have engaged each other as mutual opportunities to which each side can derive practical benefits. This is contrary to the international climate of the 1970s and 80s which the document of the Lagos plan Action lamented that, “rather than result in an improvement in the economic situation of the continent…. have made the continent to stagnate and become more susceptible than other regions to the economic and social crises suffered by the industrialized countries, which has resulted to the fact then, that “Africa is unable to point to any significant growth rate or satisfactory index of general well-being in the last twenty years”.

However, the history of Africa’s let downs, her aborted great moments are transcended by her famed resilience.

With a more favorable international environment featuring a rising China with her unique and robust friendly and functional cooperation with Africa, the continent stands at the cusp of a great opportunity to rejuvenation of her economic and social fortunes to the benefit of all the people.

The Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, (FOCAC) on whose platform, giant strides have been made in the cooperation between the sides have now, an added impetus of the One Belt, One Road strategy of international development, which China has initiated to deepen the creation of a global community of shared and common destiny.

I will very shortly return to this added vitality and dynamism to international cooperation. As the three year duration of the ten cooperation plans race to close, how have the plans been implemented and what can Africa do to maximize the benefits of the plans.

As the FOCAC process or mechanism is characterized by consultations since its founding in 2000, the 2nd summit of the Forum have been followed by numerous consultations and several dialogue platforms which tracked and ensure requisite actions on the outlined plans

To date, a number of strategic infrastructure projects have been completed and already the service of the development needs for which they are meant.

Africa’s first electrified railway, the 7,527 km Ethiopia-Djibouti railway, which has availed the previously landlocked Ethiopia a faster access to the sea (port of Djibouti) has commenced operation, reducing a formerly nearly seven day travel time to about ten hours.

The 186km Abuja-Kaduna standard gauge railway, linking Nigeria’s capital Abuja and the Northwestern state of Kaduna was last year in July opened for commercial operation.

Similarly, the Lagos-Ibadan railway in the Western region of Nigeria down to the Northern commercial hub of Kano has been commissioned for construction, with China Exim Bank providing 85% of concessionary loan to the project funding.

Already, the Nigeria’s chronic power shortage could be overcome as the strategic Mambill power plant in the North Eastern Nigeria is due for completion through China Exim Bank funding support.

The latest heavy infrastructure that has made its gleaming presence to Mombasa-Nairobi 470km railway line that would eventually connect landlocked South Sudan, Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Burundi and Ethiopia to the Indian Ocean. An elated Kenyan leader, president Uhuru Kenyatta said at the opening of the completed railway that, “a history that was first started 122 years ago, when the British who had colonized this nation, kicked off a train to nowhere…, dubbed then, the “lunatic express” but the “Madaraka express”, (named after the day Kenya attained internal self-rule) would begin to shape the story of Kenya for the next hundred years”.

With other projects, consisting railways, high ways, airports, power plants, bridges optical fibers, digital television projects etc. Africa-China Cooperation and its broad mechanism of the FOCAC process have proved a reliable enable in Africa’s most decisive phase of building the framework for sustainable and inclusive development.

The prospects of industrialization, the real foundation for sustainable economic take-off and development have now, unique chance of success, because it will be anchored on the evolving transport infrastructure and reliable power supply, the twin inevitable for industrialization. The modernization of agriculture in Africa, which consist of the core area of the ten-cooperation plans are receiving decisive support, and would be guarantee by the three solid tripod of transport, power and agricultural modernization on which industrialization would seamlessly integrate.

The plans suit Africa’s most objective requirement to achieve economies of scale, diversify her economies from the excess dependence on the unreliable commodity boom cycle and forthrightly industrialize, and with China in her contemporary rebalancing of her economy, presenting a powerful incentive of market access to Africa’s future industrial products.

However, for this scenario to materialize and unfold, Africa must not look on passively as the Chinese goodies drop on her laps. For so long, the rhetoric of regional collective action have thrived in several pan-African meetings and conferences but have produced marginal results, with prospects of real integration and unity ringing hollow to many ordinary Africans. There must be now demons ratable will and practical step to ensure economics of scale and reap the fruits of comparative advantage, which each individual African state possess in relation to regional integration.

As China dutifully provides the hard infrastructure through which this can happen, Africa should articulate and pool the soft infrastructure by way of harnessing regional industrial policies, creating an institutional framework to enhance regional market and incrementally easing the bottle necks that hinder free movement of persons-workers, good and capital and boasting intra-regional trade. Also related to creating the enabling soft infrastructure is the issue of governance. Governance in Africa has followed the trends of economic and political orthodoxies, issuing from the economic and political framework of the developed centers. Many years of economic reforms along the lines of the received economic and political orthodoxies have yielded modest or very poor results. Successful economic policies on the developed and advanced industrialized economies are definitive reference points for extensive studies, but their usefulness to Africa is only in the context in which appropriate lessons can be learnt. Governance must follow the path of proper grasp of the existential and specific condition in which broad generalization help to deepen the understanding of the specific.

Governance is not state craft, merely an act of balancing off rival contenders for state power. Governance consist essentially and mostly in the rigor of scientific interrogation of reality in all its ramification, especially in understanding what Amilcar Cabral called in the specific context of Africa, “the struggle against our weakness”, which he further explained as “the expression of the internal contradictions in the economic, social and cultural (therefore historic) reality of each of our countries”. Without any equivocation Cabral asserted that “we are convinced that any national or social revolution which is not founded on adequate knowledge of this reality runs grave risks of poor results or of being doomed to failure”.

In an indictment of the national liberation movements of his time, which is even more valid for contemporary states in Africa today Cabral posited that “the ideological deficiency, not to say the total lack of ideology, on the part of the national liberation movements (read, contemporary states) – which is basically explained by ignorance of historical reality which these movements (states) aspire to transform – constitutes one of the greatest weakness, if not the greatest weakness, of our struggle against imperialism”, (read in this context, under development)

It is by been in constant focus on reality that defines governance in China and the huge success it has made. In a speech at the first group study session of the political bureau of the 18th communist party of China Central Committee in November, 2012, president Xi Jinping urged his colleagues that “it is important to stress that the basic foundation of China being in the primary state of socialism. This is the paramount reality and the most important national condition in contemporary China”.

Our own reality check in Africa may not arrive at the same conclusion as China, but a thorough realistic appraisal of our various specific national conditions, will help arrive at the appropriate governance process, which can be further enriched by learning from the experiences of others and the relevant lessons on offer.

Notwithstanding the aggregates of our weakness, the Africa-China cooperation provided an objective content to our relative strength and what needs to be done, is to consciously and constructively appropriate the incremental input of this objective content to offset our weakness.

To this extent, the China initiative of the One Belt, One Road, a new framework of international cooperation, would offer a more advanced content to the existing mechanism of China-Africa Cooperation. The content of the “Silk Road Economic Belt” and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road”, otherwise known as the “Belt and Road”, proposed by Chinese president Xi Jinping in 2013 has already gained international currency and acceptability.

As explained by one of Chinese leading academic authority on the “Belt and Road”, “The Belt and Road Initiative is not an entity or institution rather it is concept and initiative for cooperation and development it relies on the existing bilateral and multilateral, borrowing the historical symbol of the ancient Silk Road and using the existing and effectively regional cooperation platforms. Holding high the banner of peace and development, the initiative is aimed at actively developing economic partnership with countries along the routes and joining hands with them to build communities of interest, destiny and responsibility featuring political mutual trust economic integration and cultural inclusiveness.

The Belt and Road is basically a transport network and integrated multidimensional and interconnected system that is composed of railways, highways, aviation, navigation, oil and gas pipelines, transmission lines and communication networks from which, would also emerge industrial clusters that would serve the networks”. The essential point in the Belt and Road strategy is connectivity through which various countries can engage in policy coordination, facilities linkages, unimpeded trade, financial integration and foster people-to-people bond.

As an advanced and wider framework of the several core issues that is already covered in the Africa-China cooperation, the deeper funding mechanisms and broader source of financial support, would expand enhance expansion of the infrastructure projects in Africa and foster greater possibility of production capacity and industrial cooperation with Africa, a prospect that would bring closer to realization, the seven aspirations of Africa contained in the Africa Union historic document of Agenda 2063.

Charles Onunaiju,

Director, Center for China Studies,


Categories: ChinAfrica


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