The People’s Republic of China has made itself greatly felt on the continent in recent times, through consolidating its economic pacts with African presidents, and a way of solidifying its geopolitical influence in Africa and other countries that are part of this initiative. Apart from the China-Africa forum i.e. Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) that brings the African continent and the People’s Republic of China under one platform to discuss diplomatic and mainly economic ties, the Belt and Road Initiative is another vital project, which seeks to further the already existing apolitical China –Africa ties. Since the year 2000, Sina-Africa ties have recorded tremendous strides.
What is the Belt and Road Initiative?
For a nation or continent to fully develop, infrastructure development should be given priority. Cognizance of this, the Peoples Republic of China, under the leadership of President Xi Jinping brought forth what is termed the Belt and Road Initiative, which can be abbreviated as BRI. Thus, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) refers to a holistic development approach approved by the government of China, comprising infrastructure development and investments in some 152 countries and international organizations in Europe, Asia, the Middle East, the Americas and Africa. Developing Road Rail and sea transport is what the Road and Belt stand for. Even though some critics see this Belt and Road Initiative as a tool used by China to maintain its hold or influence in the world, the Chinese Government view this as a practical way of ensuring proper infrastructure development in China and its cooperating partners. According to the Government of China, the initiative is “a bid to enhance regional connectivity and embrace a brighter future.’’
Objectives of the belt and Road Initiative
Coined in 2013 by Chinese President Xi Jinping, the Belt and Road initiative is a catalyst of regional integration, increase trade and economic growth. It seeks to connect Asia, Europe and Africa through well-structured route infrastructures including Land and Maritime networks. This landmark project accentuates on key areas including policy coordination, infrastructure connectivity, unconstrained trade, financial integration and connecting people. Leaders recently met in Beijing for the second belt and Road forum to brainstorm and exchange ideas on future cooperation plans between China and other Belt and road partners. During the April 2019 session, the over 5000 delegates in including national governments, local authorities and enterprises compromised on a range of cooperation pacts, important measures among other things.
How beneficial is the belt and Road initiative to Africa
Since the Sino-Africa relations gained grounds in recent times, many people have widely hailed it as being a win-win cooperation, thus, expectations remain high as the two trading partners indulge in the over US$1 trillion in investment projects outlined under the BRI. Since the Belt and Road Initiative, many remarkable projects have been commissioned on the continent, but the problematic stands at how these projects have spurred trade, infrastructure and interconnectivity in Africa. This is a concern as infrastructure development is what can make Africa’s development agenda 2060 a reality. As asserted by the African Development Bank, paved roads do not equate Africa’s population, impeding flexible movement, thus, an increase of 75% to the cost African goods. Expansion and improvement is, therefore, a vital element in Africa’s development strategy and the BRI constitute a pivotal part of this strategy.
BRI sponsored infrastructure projects in Africa
- The 472km Mombasa-Nairobi Standard Gauge Railway. It opened in May 2017 and can accommodate one million passengers and 20 million tons of cargo per year.
- The 759km Addis-Djibouti railway, which went operational in January 2018. It connects Ethiopia to the maritime trade routes of the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea.
- In Uganda, 51km Kampala-Entebbe Expressway, linking Kampala city and the Entebbe International Airport.
Some major projects under the Belt and Road Initiatives include the recuperation of a national road in northern Madagascar worth 155 million U.S dollars. Namibia, Botswana, Tanzania, Nigeria, Cameroon and a number of African countries have also benefitted from the EBRI strategy. Apart from roads, the BRI is also geared towards improving Maritime trade including the Abidjan port in Ivory Coast that will accommodate ships carrying ten thousand(10.000) containers. At least 37 African nations have inked agreements with the Chinese government under the BRI.
Implications for Africa
It is not an exaggeration to say the China Belt and Road initiative has benefitted Africa in many ways were we see visible projects on the continent. But pundits have raised concerns on the sustainability of debts incurred by most African governments in order to push through their developmental projects. A finding by the Johns Hopkins China Africa Research Initiative revealed that East African Nations incurred about $29 billion from China for infrastructure, energy, and construction projects. The research noted Beijing has developed the tendency of wanting to obtain strategic assets than debt reimbursement from its partners, thus, posing a major concern.
Another issue that has pushed many people into asking questions is China’s policy of always employing Chinese labour when handling projects in Africa. This alone has seen over 200.000 Chinese deployed in construction sites across the continent. This is worrisome because Africa’s human capital which is young and vibrant does not fully benefit from these construction works. It has been noticed that there is trade imbalance as far as China-Africa ties is concerned. A glaring example is in Kenya imports goods worth 370.8 billion shillings ($3.67 billion) from China while exporting only 11.32 billion shillings of goods to China in 2019. In spite of these challenges, the Belt and Road Initiative has widened Africa’s connectivity, boost Chinese direct Foreign Investment which intends to promote job creation, income growth and uplift to Africa’s productivity. As South Sudan’s ambassador to China John Duku will put it, the Belt and Road Initiative or BRI ‘’is a clear roadmap to address the challenges Africa especially in infrastructure areas and all areas concerning the environment, technologies and accountability, these are all areas where Africa needs to benefit from.’’
Article from AFRIC Editorial
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