Inspiration and empowerment for Africa
China’s experience of opening up and carrying out fundamental reforms provides valuable lessons from which African countries can learn. More importantly, the relationship between China and Africa has the potential to be a key enabler for achieving African countries’ aspirations for inclusive and sustainable growth, social-economic transformation and a stronger voice in global affairs.
China-Africa relations are underpinned by the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence which were agreed upon at the Bandung Asian-African Conference in 1955, namely mutual respect for each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, mutual non-aggression, mutual noninterference in each other’s internal affairs, equality and cooperation for mutual benefit, and peaceful co-existence. These principles are against colonization and imperialism.
More fundamentally, China has consistently adhered to these principles as evidenced by President Xi Jinping’s speech at the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation in September in which he set out China’s “five nos” approach to its relations with Africa: no interference in African countries’ pursuit of development paths that fit their national conditions; no interference in African countries’ internal affairs; no imposition of China’s will on African countries; no attachment of political strings to assistance to Africa; and no seeking of selfish political gains in investment and financing cooperation with Africa.
The consistency with which China has abided by these principles is a clear testimony to the fact that its cooperation with Africa is sustainable and trustworthy. Indeed, the ongoing trade frictions between China and the United States and the latter’s tendency to undermine and violate the very rules of multilateralism — whose crafting and advocacy were championed by it — enhance Africa’s trust in cooperation with China, while questioning the Western countries’ double standard and hypocrisy.
Africa’s resource endowments and China’s pursuit of markets create opportunities to leverage Africa-China cooperation to realize Africa’s aspirations while drawing on the Chinese experience in promoting inclusive growth, employment creation, and structural transformation of the country’s economy. China’s development success in these areas was informed by critical fundamentals: building human capital and improving access to assets; investing in infrastructure with structural transformation in mind; and using well designed social transfer programs to address poverty and inequality. The key Chinese characteristics can hardly be replicated exactly elsewhere but they provide valuable lessons on aspects of leadership, governance, inclusive development and the culture of discipline, hard work and savings.
Given this rich and valuable experience to draw lessons from, African countries should capitalize on their cooperation with China by ensuring that the relationship is embedded within the larger effort of promoting development in the context of the continent’s quest for poverty alleviation. However, to achieve this, Africa has to, first and foremost, play a proactive role in that relationship, by developing comprehensive strategies on three levels. A continental strategy that focuses on those issues which have a bearing on each other. These are basically infrastructural in terms of addressing the connectivity challenge, and peace and security. Regional strategies reflecting the priorities and agendas of different regional economic integration groupings. And country-specific strategies informed by countries’ socio-economic development plans. We have adopted this disaggregated approach to demonstrate that Africa, as a continent, is not homogeneous, neither linguistically nor in terms of priorities, as some scholars and politicians tend to believe. This approach also puts emphasis on the need to adapt to the specific characteristics of each of the three levels.
We are quite confident that if this approach is implemented effectively, the FOCAC Beijing Action Plan (2019-21) — with its eight major initiatives for industrial promotion, infrastructure connectivity, trade facilitation, green development, capacity building, healthcare, people-to-people exchanges, and peace and security — will go a long way, not only in scaling up the alignment of the cooperation with Africa’s development aspirations but also enhance its results and outcomes. And ultimately, they will silence the negative voices of those who appear keen to rekindle the Cold War politics of rivalry between the East and West, while forgetting one reality of today’s world: It has changed significantly in a number of dimensions, including broadening developing countries’ choice in terms of sources of aid, FDI, trade and development paradigms.
Currently, a proactive approach from the African side appears to be the missing critical link in the relationship. This being the case, for African countries to effectively exploit the existing and unfolding opportunities requires a proactive role coupled with adequate commitment from and preparedness of the African leadership in terms of putting in place the requisite policies, strategies and action plans, flanked by an effective institutional framework for monitoring and evaluation of progress. It is only through shouldering such a proactive role that Africa can realize its poverty reduction dream while ensuring that Africa-China cooperation is mutually beneficial. The author is director of Centre for Chinese Studies at University of Dar es Salaam. The author contributed this article to China Watch, a think tank powered by China Daily. The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.