From talk of Chinese colonisation to a video doing rounds on social media of Kenyans speaking Mandarin, there is a growing desire to understand what China will mean to Africa in future.
China has used this month’s 70-year celebration to showcase its ambition, from the display of nuclear power, military hardware to a declaration by President Xi Jinping that ‘no force can stop the progress of the Chinese people’.
The world is coming to terms with this new force, with rivals US reacting with a trade war and ban on China’s 5G technology, while Europe is learning to live with the new power.
But how is Africa adjusting itself to the new phase of Chinese boldness, and what does it mean to us?
As scholars, we need to play a part in understanding what the emergence of China means and how, as a society, we should react to it.
From our classrooms, we have stood and watched how the media, politicians, global powers and Chinese frame the discussions around China’s access to Africa’s natural resources, China’s exploitative tendencies in Africa and China’s geo-strategic competition with the West.
As scholars, we have asked ourselves questions about the place of Africa in its relationship with China. Should we listen to the growing anti-Chinese sentiment led by the West or alternate analysis that suggests that the African continent stands to benefit if it formulates Africa’s China policy akin to 2006 China’s Africa policy?
University of Nairobi’s Department of Political Science and Public Administration will host the first conference on China Africa relations next week on Thursday, seeking broad-based scholarly perspectives in understanding the synergy between China’s and Africa’s development visions.
The relationship between Africa and China dates back to the 10th century BC, with regard to bilateral trade between Egyptians and Chinese. That relationship collapsed with the onset of colonialism. The Bandung conference of 1955, which brought together 29 Asian and African countries, is often cited as the starting point for the renewed China-Africa relations in the modern era.
The conference emphasised sovereignty, the policy of non-interference, having economic and technical relations, the policy of mutual benefit, as well as the need for peaceful co-existence.
In 2013, President Xi Jinping launched the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which aims at harmonising policies across sectors, improving transport connectivity, promoting trade linkages, enhancing financial integration and improving people-to-people exchanges. Two years after that the African Union launched Agenda 2063.
Agenda 2063 outlines the following seven aspirations on inclusive growth, sustainable people-driven development, political integration in the spirit of Pan Africanism, good governance, democracy, and respect for human rights, justice and the rule of law.
Peace and security, cultural heritage and a strong, united and influential global player and partner. When these aspirations are juxtaposed against the goals of the BRI, we notice that actually there could be synergy between BRI and Agenda 2063.
It is against this background that the forthcoming conference seeks to understand how the synergy could be appropriated on the African side so as achieve mutual benefit. The aspirations are sync with panel discussions on China and security in Africa, China’s infrastructural development in Africa and China-Africa cultural interactions.
Agenda 2063 envisions an Africa that is free from armed conflict, terrorism, extremism, intolerance and gender-based violence, which are major threats to human security, peace and development.
It seeks to rid the continent of drugs, human trafficking, organised crime and other forms of criminal networks, such as arms trade and piracy. The synergy here could be created by integrating the water-based route – Maritime Silk Road (MSR) – with African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA).
Therefore, African littoral states, the AU and China ought to harmonise their policies to ensure safety for the MSR and Africa’s aim of peace and security. Doing that would go along with the AU’s goal of promoting the blue economy. The planned APSA could thus be extended to an AU-level Blue Economy Securitization Framework along with the flashpoints of MSR off the coast of Africa.
Infrastructure is at the heart of the African agenda to accelerate integration and growth, technological transformation, trade and development. Africa should leverage on BRI which seeks to implement massive infrastructure projects like railroads, bridges and roads.
Thus, Africa’s dream of a world-class could find expression in the BRI’s transport corridor, if policy-makers ensure that the funded infrastructure projects align with the AU’s priority areas.
On ICT, African policy-makers could leverage on BRI space information corridor. In fact, the action plan on the BRI commits China and Africa to jointly “construct cross-border optical cables and other communications track line networks, improve international communications connectivity, and create an Information Silk Road.”
As for China-Africa cultural interactions, the AU envisions that pan-African “diversity in culture, heritage, languages and religion shall be a cause of strength, including the tangible and intangible heritage of Africa’s island states.”
Thus through high-speed railways, it is believed that the BRI would enhance intra-continental commuting, consequently leading to increased people-to-people exchange, a fertile ground for cross-national awareness and identities.
–The writer is the chairman of Political Science and Public Administration Department, University of Nairobi. [email protected]
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