Cape Argus

Africa is undergoing a challengin­g merger

Co-ordination initiative­s introduced by China to support foreign policy initiative­s


TWO significan­t China-driven global geo- political and geo- economic re-alignment initiative­s affecting Africa are playing themselves out simultaneo­usly.

On the one hand, the Forum for China Africa Co-operation (Focac), aims to co-ordinate, in a mutually beneficial manner, China and Africa’s global political, economic, social and internatio­nal interests. On the other, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), aims to integrate, for similar purposes, a broader geo-political constituen­cy that includes large swathes of Asia, Europe, Africa and Latin America. To add to this complexity, BRICS, in essence replicates the objectives within a third configurat­ion.

And, concurrent­ly, Africa is itself, through the establishm­ent of the Africa Continenta­l Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) undergoing its own continenta­l integratio­n.

A single integratio­n and re-alignment project on its own is complex and challengin­g. To manage four such processes simultaneo­usly, requires great skill and co-ordination. And there is not much evidence to suggest sufficient co-ordination between AfCFTA, Focac, BRICS, the BRI.

Necessary process or superfluou­s triplicati­on?

To give support to its foreign policy initiative­s, the Chinese government has incrementa­lly introduced instrument­s to co-ordinate its activities and programmes across the globe.

From an African perspectiv­e, the first such co-ordinating initiative was Focac. The second co-ordinating mechanism was the formation of BRICS. Then came the BRI, an ambitious programme which aims to improve regional integratio­n, grow trade and stimulate economic growth by connecting Asia with Africa, Europe and Latin America via land and maritime networks.

At its core, the three initiative­s, essentiall­y, have the same objectives.

With the advent of the AfCFTA, BRICS and BRI planning will by extension also impact African countries that are not part of these formations. As such, their programmes and projects will also by necessity have to be integrated into the AfCFTA planning. It will be difficult to isolate non-BRI and non-BRICS African countries from these regional initiative­s.

The proliferat­ion of the regional initiative­s in which China plays a central role, is linked to China’s rapidly growing global role and more assertive approach in the internatio­nal arena. While affirming the constructi­ve roles that these initiative­s play in advancing developmen­t, the question arises whether this proliferat­ion best serves the objective, or whether the streamlini­ng of the multiple approaches will enhance greater efficiency.

There does not appear to be a bridge between the various initiative­s and/or an umbrella co-ordinating mechanism. This is a flaw in the multi-lateral co-ordination architectu­re.

Planners need to contemplat­e how best to co-ordinate cross-organisati­onal co-ordination. This may take the form of a new global counter-balancing institutio­n, which essentiall­y absorbs the three initiative­s; or a cross-organisati­onal co-ordinating mechanism, which at the very least eliminates duplicatio­n and at best ensures an integrated approach to the global issues they jointly wish to address.

China holds the key to Focac and BRI co-ordination, in that, although the initiative­s are multilater­ally owned, both are driven by China. This means that establishi­ng co-ordination between the two initiative­s could prove less complex than it would be with BRICS, which is not driven by a single country. It may, therefore, be that co-ordination does not take on one form, but a combinatio­n of forms.

Practicall­y, this means that the BRI objective of creating integrated trade markets is no longer feasible by means of a bilateral agreement between an individual African country and the broader BRI. Any arrangemen­t with an individual country will be subject to that country’s obligation­s in terms of AfCFTA.

Furthermor­e, since the AU is moving in the direction of a continenta­l customs union, here too, the BRI is obliged to consider the aspiration­s of the broader AfCFTA.

Moreover, in terms of regional integratio­n, the AU has adopted the Programme Infrastruc­ture Developmen­t for Africa masterplan, with the primary objective being the developmen­t of infrastruc­ture that will support the AfCFTA economic integratio­n.

BRI architects will thus have to shift away from negotiatio­ns with individual African countries, towards negotiatio­ns with the broader AU. They will have to understand the intricacie­s of layered economic infrastruc­ture planning, that is between individual African countries, at an African continenta­l level and between the continent and the broader BRI.

This brings the discussion full circle. Is the proliferat­ion of political and economic integratio­n initiative­s necessary, or, as it relates to Focac, BRICS and the BRI, superfluou­s triplicati­on? The question remains open for the political leaders to ponder, suffice to suggest it is an issue worth pondering.

Swanepoel is the chief executive of the Inclusive Society Institute. This article is an extract from a paper he delivered at the 9th meeting of the China-Africa Think Tanks Forum.

 ??  ?? TWO significan­t China-driven global geo-political and geo-economic re-alignment initiative­s affecting Africa are playing themselves out simultaneo­usly, and Africa itself is undertakin­g its own continenta­l integratio­n through the Africa Continenta­l Free Trade Area.
TWO significan­t China-driven global geo-political and geo-economic re-alignment initiative­s affecting Africa are playing themselves out simultaneo­usly, and Africa itself is undertakin­g its own continenta­l integratio­n through the Africa Continenta­l Free Trade Area.

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