THE just-ended eighth conference of ministers of the forum on Africa-China co-operation (Focac) which was held in Dakar, Senegal, provided answers to a number of questions regarding the relations between, and future of the two sides.
As the largest multilateral platform involving the developing world, Focac has attracted interest as a vehicle and expression of relations between the continent and the Asian giant: Questions abound about the nature, benefits, power dynamics and sustainability of the co-operation.
It is clear that the relationship between China and Africa is taking a new direction under President Xi Jinping with massive opportunities ahead.
Similarly, the world continues to face new questions, issues and debates as well as existential challenges that require solving.
The co-operation between China and Africa, therefore, becomes a key point of reckoning. Questions arise as to whether the relationship has deep roots so that — like a big tree — it can weather the storm of current challenges, or nourish a fruitful future.
The Chinese leader answered this question profoundly when he addressed the Focac conference, via video link.
He said: “The key lies in an everlasting spirit of China-Africa friendship and co-operation forged between the two sides, which features sincere friendship and equality, win-win for mutual benefit and common development, fairness and justice, and progress with the times and openness and inclusiveness.”
“This,” he explained, “truly captures the relations of China and Africa working together in good and hard times over the past decades, and provides a source of strength for the continuous growth of China-Africa friendly relations.”
China and Africa have co-operated for at least 65 years in the modern era, having interacted during the liberation struggle, often described as a wind of change. It was China that provided military training and moral support for African liberators. Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Angola, etc, provide an example of this.
Ideologically, China and Africa remain close.
Despite its stature, China has remained humble and grounded and treated Africa as an equal and has not, and will not seek to do otherwise in the future.
Against this background, the Focac ministerial meeting was held in a collegial manner, and President Xi continues to demonstrate how the two sides are true co-operating partners guided by the principle of sincerity, real results, amity, good faith and the principle of pursuing the greater good and shared interests.
This ideological proximity, amity and sincerity allows strong co-operation which can only grow as we move into the future.
It is not a contradiction that while China has grown in stature, it has become an exemplary leader rather than some kind of bully or big brother.
China takes its stature and power responsibly. This allows African countries to look towards China for leadership and practical ways to grow.
In enunciating the “four proposals and nine programmes”, President Xi gave important signposts of how China and Africa will move into the future.
The four proposals cover areas that include fighting COVID-19, deepening practical co-operation, green development and upholding equity and justice.
The nine programmes set to be rolled out are in the areas of medical and health promotion, poverty reduction and agricultural development; trade promotion and investment promotion; digital innovation, green development; capacity building; people-to-people exchange and peace and security.
China and Africa already co-operate extensively in these areas. Further, China has had successes in a number of areas that African countries will be quite keen to co-operate further and learn from China.
For example, China has championed a pioneering model of poverty reduction and lifted 750 million people out of poverty since its reform and opening up 40 years ago, thus eradicating poverty in that country. China’s help towards poverty reduction and agricultural development in Africa, will be life-changing for Africa.
Another notable intervention proposed by President Xi, regarding, capacity-building programme to cultivate skills and professionals, shows another example of practical co-operation where China will tap into its experiences to assist Africa.
Under this programme, China will help build or upgrade 10 schools in Africa, and invite 10 000 high-level African professionals to seminars and workshops, undertake the “future of Africa — a project for China-Africa co-operation on vocational education”, and start an employment “through train” scheme for African students in China. Further, China seeks to set up “Luban Workshops”, and encourage Chinese companies in Africa to create at least 800 000 local jobs.
This bears similar importance to the technology digital innovation programme, enunciated by Xi.
Sharing its expertise, China will undertake 10 digital economy projects for Africa, set up centres for China-Africa co-operation on satellite remote-sensing application, and support the development of China-Africa joint laboratories, partner institutes, and scientific and technological innovation co-operation bases.
With a young, urbanised population, Africa will be aided greatly by Chinese help, especially in the context of growing e-commerce and other cyber-related businesses.
Lastly, China is doing well to support the cultural and people-to-people exchange and co-operation between China and Africa.
It is arguable that this is an important undertaking as the people are an important cog in how the relationship works.
Some challenges that have arisen in Chinese interactions in Africa are a result of lack of cultural affinity and understanding, mistrust and xenophobia.
A broad-based approach to bring the people together through cultural programmes and products, interactions of youth and women; and so on, are, therefore, important.
The discussion and planning around these areas, and President Xi’s clarity on the issues clearly demonstrates that there is a strong future for China-Africa co-operation.
- Tichaona Zindoga is a journalist, publisher and researcher. He was previously deputy and acting editor at The Herald.