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Building on the successes of 20 years in Sino-Africa partnership

By Stephen Ndegwa
Friday, November 20th, 2020
Forum on China-Africa Cooperation meeting in China in the past
In summary

Celebrations marking the 20th anniversary establishment of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) are ongoing between the two strategic partners. Indeed, there is reason to celebrate, even at this time when relations are strained due to the devastation of the coronavirus pandemic.

COVID-19 has come a long way in strengthening China-Africa solidarity and friendship, and has grown into one big family. The relationship between China and Africa is based on mutuality, a fact President Xi Jinping acknowledged by appreciating African Union’s (AU) show of sympathy during the early stages of the pandemic. Of course, Africa does not have the wherewithal to extend to China, but the deep words of encouragement were a confirmation of tremendous goodwill.

Experts observe that COVID-19 is yet another challenge in the ongoing cordial Sino-Africa relations. Before the pandemic, the main challenge came from the continent’s erstwhile development partners, particularly from the West, who kept warning of China’s underlying aim of ‘mortgaging’ the continent through ‘debt ransom’.

The year 2020 is also a crucial year in the implementation of the outcomes of the 2018 FOCAC Beijing Summit. Both the challenge and admiration of China’s development model by Africa’s leadership has now concretised.

Africa has received donations in drugs and personal protective equipment worth millions of dollars, a gesture that has helped the continent suppress the pandemic’s curve. Assistance for COVID-19 has included hundreds of hours spent online between both Chinese and African doctors exchanging notes on the pandemic’s experience.

African countries are definitely moving ahead with China. Even amidst constant criticism from previous development partners about a looming debt trap, and other dooms day scenarios, Africa realises that as a developing country herself, China is empathetic to both the development pace and challenges of the world’s second largest continent.

In 2019, trade between China and Africa hit US$208.7 billion, and total Chinese FDI in Africa reached US$49.1 billion, grown by 20-fold and 100-fold respectively compared with 20 years ago. We have jointly formulated and implemented the ten cooperation plans (adopted at the Johannesburg Summit) and the eight major initiatives (adopted at the Beijing Summit).

Dozens of economic and trade cooperation zones and industrial parks are up and running across Africa. China has built for Africa over 6,000 kilometers of railways and the same mileage of roads, nearly 20 ports and over 80 large-scale power plants, and more than 130 medical facilities, 45 stadiums and 170 or so schools. These infrastructures have made a big difference in Africa's economic and social development.

The AU Conference Center in Addis Ababa, the Mombasa-Nairobi railway, and the Maputo-Katembe Bridge are some of the key projects in Africa's drive to achieve the "Century Dream", and stand as monumental symbols of the shared development between China and Africa.

Maputo-Katembe Bridge

To date, China has provided some 120,000 government scholarships, and opened 61 Confucius Institutes and 44 Confucius Classrooms in 46 African countries. As many as 21,000 Chinese medical personnel have worked, or are working, in 48 African countries, providing treatment to around 220 million African people.

When West Africa was raged by Ebola in 2014, over 1,000 Chinese health professionals defied the dangers and rushed to their help. Today, facing COVID-19, China and Africa have again come together in a joint fight.

So, what is the way forward? First, the two partners need to strengthen solidarity and build a stronger community with a shared future. This entails firmly supporting each other in safeguarding national sovereignty and dignity, independently pursuing a development path suited to national realities, protecting legitimate rights to development, and seeking national rejuvenation together through joint efforts.

Second is overcoming the current pandemic challenge together and building a China-Africa community of health for all. China has promised to provide its vaccine to African countries in need as a public good to help secure an early victory against the virus.

The third consideration is pursuing a win-win cooperation to build a China-Africa community of development for all. China should continue to support Africa in enhancing infrastructure, advancing industrialisation and building the capacity for independent development. Further, China should support the development of the African Continental Free Trade Area in both cash and kind.

Lastly, China and Africa need to embrace their responsibilities and work towards creating a community with a shared future for mankind. The two partners are staunch supporters of multilateralism and important forces for world peace and development. The two must now shoulder their historic duty to firmly safeguard the UN's central role in international and multilateral affairs, defend basic norms governing international relations, and uphold multilateralism, fairness and justice in the world.

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