Former politician: China-Africa friendship has matured
Sino-African relations have flourished to a new level, according to Mohamed Higazy.
“China has proved itself a good trading and development partner. We have reached a level where uplifting the lives of our people is our key concern,” said the former assistant foreign minister of Egypt.
Speaking in Cairo, the diplomat said Africa should play a key role in this cooperation by proposing and implementing innovative strategies that benefit its citizens, and it should have no doubt.
“China has launched forums where it is engaging us as peers. Africa is friends with the second-largest economy in the world, which is interested in working with it.”
He observed that the kind of misunderstandings that have occurred with traditional partners have hardly been the case with China — hence the need for Africa to embrace the opportunity.
“China scarcely interferes with internal governance and is a firm believer that Africa is capable of solving its own issues,” Higazy said. “We therefore need to put our houses in order and specify our development ambitions.”
The career diplomat, who has served his country for more than 35 years, is candid in his assessment of the ChinaAfrica relationship. As with other partners, he said China’s engagement with the continent is based on trade. Nonetheless, its approach has nudged Africa’s economy forward while giving its funds a human face.
“China understands Africa’s critical needs, limited funds, skills and infrastructure. Over the years we have witnessed high-level engagement between President Xi Jinping and his counterparts in Africa. We have seen disbursements of funds and the arrival of Chinese firms that not only provide technical support but boost the capacitybuilding efforts of African governments. Modern infrastructure now dots our continent, something we never thought possible. I would say that this is win-win cooperation.”
Higazy sternly cautioned against adopting the popular rhetoric that criticizes China’s growing influence in Africa. He believes the continent has matured and its leaders are smart.
“Africa knows its needs and wants a partner who engages with it sincerely — one that does not interfere with its sovereignty but understands its gaps and is willing to work above that. We have found this friend in China.”
Old partners, nevertheless, cannot be done away with. He noted that Africa’s challenges are vast and no one partner can shoulder the responsibility. China has been reliable in building hard infrastructure while the United States and European partners have shown an interest in propping up soft infrastructure such as water and health, in addition to developing institutional capacity.
“We have also seen India strengthening its presence in Africa and this is visible in the IT sector. New partners are also showing an interest — such as Turkey and Middle Eastern countries. This charm offensive means jobs for our people, which translates into stability,” he said.
“Increased economic activity in Africa will surely erode the advance of extremists who prey on unemployed youths. We need to keep our bulging population engaged, and that is why I am a firm believer that the continent needs all its partners.”
Despite China’s bigger footprint on the continent, Higazy said trading has a short shelf-life, so the Asian giant needs to increase its industrial investments in Africa. He further note that trade was a convenient entry strategy that addressed an underdeveloped manufacturing sector and a growing consumer market.
But Africa is now keen on bridging the trade imbalance that is currently in favor of China.
His sentiments come in the wake of an increasing number of Chinese factories relocating to Africa. The continent offers cheap, available labor and untapped markets. But this has encountered headwinds, including high energy costs, lack of infrastructure and unattractive investment policies.
Acknowledging this environment, he called on African governments to formulate policies that make their countries safe and attractive prospects for private and foreign investors.
“Charity starts at home. We need innovative policies designed to lure Chinese investors. Remember, we are competing against other stronger countries such as the Philippines and Vietnam.”
Over the recent past, Egypt has been seriously pursuing economic reforms to improve its investment climate following four years of turmoil. It has cut fuel subsidies while introducing value-added tax, simplified bankruptcy proceedings, amendments to the capital markets law, a new insurance law and a land management framework.
This complements previous reforms that saw Cairo remove most non-tariff measures and decrease tariff protection, which liberalized the market significantly. It has also launched several programs to attract foreign direct investments, at an all-time low of 4 percent compared with 8 percent in 2011.
However, the diplomat said the recent approval of an International Monetary Fund loan of $12 billion is a boost to the economy. He said some funds will be channeled toward boosting electricity production capacity from 14,000 to 17,000 kilowatts to light up homes and power industries. Clean power alternatives such as gas and nuclear are also under exploration.
He is glad that the Chinese yuan joined the IMF’s basket of reserves, saying that settlements would now not have to be converted into dollars, which always increases trading costs.
Mohamed Higazy says China has proved to be a sincere friend of Africa.