Africa must find economic voice

Beijing is already talking about how, going forward, it will focus on enhancing strategic synergies, pushing the Belt and Road Initiative through the African Union Commission, poverty reduction and skills training of young people.

Africa figures highly in Beijing’s estimation of the global economic trajectory, if deliberations at the ongoing 13th Communist Party of China National Congress and 19th People’s Political Consultative Conference are anything to go by.

China, commanding the world’s second largest economy, knows there is no future without Africa, hence its strong push to enhance ties with the continent.

This thrust is outlined in President Xi Jinping’s “Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era” development blueprint for a prosperous society.

Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era encompasses 17 areas of focus for China’s development agenda.

These areas include pursuit of peaceful development and co-operation with other countries. For our continent, this is dubbed “A New Era of China-Africa Co-operation and Common Development”.

China has stated its commitment to working with on the bases of political equality and mutual trust, mutual beneficial co-operation, enriching cultural exchanges, assistance in security, and solidarity and co-ordination in international affairs.

To address Africa’s development problems of inadequate infrastructure, lack of professional and skilled personnel and shortage of capital, China has laid out a clear plan.

That plan involves the China-Africa industrialisation programme to promote partnerships in industry with more investment in Africa by Chinese enterprises; agricultural modernisation with China sharing its experience in this sector; and an infrastructure programme to upscale mutually beneficial co-operation in planning, design, construction, operation and maintenance.

What remains is for Africa to be clear on how it wants to engage China going into the future.

China has increased direct investment, trade and loans to Africa.

This seems to have ruffled the feathers of Washington the wrong way, with then US Secretary of State Mr Rex Tillerson recently showing discomfort with the way ties between Africa and China are growing.

Instead, Mr Tillerson tried to play up American humanitarian aid to Africa, which he priced at US$533 million.

Yet African countries are not in need of aid as much as they are in need of win-win trade, skills exchange and infrastructure development partnerships.

With those fundamentals in place, Africa’s reliance on aid will decline. And this is what China is offering.

Last week Deputy Minister of Commerce of the People’s Republic of China, Wang Shouwen Qian Keming, told the international media here that Africa was an important partner.

He pointed to development co-operation in more than 20 African countries, which emphasised infrastructure, clean water, industrial co-operation, capital investments in small to medium-sized enterprises and skills training.

And as China hosts the Forum on China-Africa Co-operation (Focac) Summit later this year, these partnership assume a new, higher level.

Minister Wang said Focac was a platform to take stock of existing partnerships and enhance them for mutual growth and development, with Beijing’s multi-billion dollar Belt and Road initiative, sometimes referred to as the New Silk Road, as the bedrock.

China, he pointed out, wanted to assist Africa to grow by and for itself and the international community.

It is against this background that it is incumbent upon to find its voice and outline its own interests clearly so that we have truly win-win partnerships.

A good starting point would be to start planning for the China International Import Expo slated for November in Shanghai, where Africa should present a credible trade position.

We should start asking ourselves what Africa has brought and will bring to the table since 17 years of the birth of the Focac, which graduates into a full Summit this year; what Africa hopes to achieve from Focac and what its plan to achieve this is.

Does Africa really know what it wants? Does it know how to get it? Is it doing what it must do to get it?

China is clear on what it wants.

Beijing is already talking about how, going forward, it will focus on enhancing strategic synergies, pushing the Belt and Road Initiative through the African Union Commission, poverty reduction and skills training of young people.

Focac is the platform where for African leaders to play a defining role in uplifting African economies by negotiating sustainable trade, agriculture, and industrialisation deals.

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