Fifty of Africa’s 55 leaders attended the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) in Beijing last week.
Chinese President Xi Jinping presented a development framework built around eight initiatives: Industrial promotion, infrastructure connectivity, trade facilitation, green development, capacity building, healthcare, people-to-people exchanges, and peace and security. He also announced $60 billion (Sh6 trillion) financing for Africa. Aid would peak $5 billion a year.
China also pledged to support Africa in achieving food security by 2030, expand exchanges and cooperation in addressing climate change and create a joint peace and security fund.
And there was, of course, China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) — the most ambitious global infrastructure project in history that involves 76 countries in Asia, Africa and Europe. Beijing suggested, quite reasonably, to formally link BRI with Africa’s continental infrastructure vision.
Concerned by China’s growing economic and political influence in Africa, Western leaders have increasingly attempted to create doubt and misinformation regarding its true intention. They question, for instance, the economic value and financial viability of Chinese-led projects, terming them as unnecessary, wasteful, predatory and debt traps that would inherently plunge the continent into a financial crisis.
Others allege African leaders were being hoodwinked into financial commitments for transport infrastructure that are designed to promote Chinese appropriation and extraction of the continent’s minerals and hydrocarbons. They say, quite wrongly, that Chinese activities have not created jobs.
I do not believe that there are nefarious reasons behind China’s goodwill. To the contrary, China appears to genuinely want to share its experiences and enter mutually beneficial arrangements with other developing countries.
Economic growth is determined by accumulation of factors of production — principally capital, labour and technology. Africa’s labour stock is in abundance and growing in number, skillsets and capacity; capital and technology are in short supply yet abundant in Europe and North America.
For Africa’s economies to grow, they must attract capital and technology. But capital flow into Africa has been dismal, elusive and erratic, undermined by illicit financial flows estimated at $50 billion a year.
For more than five decades, the West has been either unwilling or reluctant to meet Africa’s capital and technology needs.
There has been inadequate attention towards boosting its productivity, industrialisation and trade China has growing financial and economic footprints in all corners of the world. The performance of Africa’s fastest-growing economies can be directly linked to increased inflow of Chinese development finance, investment and trade.
This is noteworthy for some of these economies — Kenya, Ethiopia, Cote d’Ivoire and Rwanda — are largely resource-poor.
With Chinese assistance, they are ably demonstrating that economic prosperity is not always tied to natural resources.
Africa’s near-universal preference for Chinese investment and development finance is a matter of common sense.
The assistance, which consists mostly of export credits and minimal- or zero-interest loans for infrastructure is fast, flexible, demand-responsive and comes with no strings attached. Projects are often undertaken by efficient State-owned enterprises.
Chinese low-cost technologies are affordable, accessible, relevant and practical. Indeed, China faces the same problems as much of Africa, where the more advanced economies offer no meaningful solutions.
Africa has become assertive and can no longer tolerate the belligerent, demeaning and patronising attitude of the West.
China adopts an affable and respectable stance towards its partners, promoting friendship and win-win cooperation with commercial and trade diplomacy. But it is, perhaps, China’s long-standing respect for the sovereignty of Africa, and non-interference in its internal affairs, that is most significant.
Africa has little choice but to finance it development through external debt. It must either take advantage of Chinese funding or listen to the naysayers, stay on the sidelines and remain poor. But it must guard against wastage, misguided priorities and corruption.
Mr Chesoli is a New York-based development economist and global policy expert. [email protected]