This week, Chinese President Xi Jinping chaired the 2018 Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) in Beijing. The summit discussed how to “build a stronger community of a shared future between China and African countries”.
Beyond the conference jargon, interesting trends emerged that African leaders and citizens should pay attention to. The news release said the summit was aimed at synergising China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) with the African Union’s Agenda 2063.
The BRI is China’s incredibly ambitious mega infrastructure projects — including roads, railways and ports — that will stretch through the interior of central Asia and into Europe along the ancient Silk Road.
In its modern iteration, the BRI will encompass more than 60 countries, half of the world’s population and over a quarter of global GDP. Kenya, with its Chinese-built and -funded SGR, is one of the BRI touching Africa.
The AU articulates Agenda 2063 as an “integrated, people-centred, prosperous Africa, at peace with itself”. How might this be realised?
Having better connectivity would obviously fix some of Africa’s deep trade challenges that have been holding it back. African trade represents two per cent of the global total, and intra-African trade just 12 per cent of the continent’s trade activity — compared to 60 per cent in Europe and 35 per cent in Asia.
This is partly because of the way colonial powers oriented African infrastructure outward as the continent was a source of raw material for the world. It meant that African countries are not well connected with each other, which has acted as a brake on development.
Fixing this internal connectivity problem — through roads and railways across the hinterland — will unleash the latent productivity of a continent already incredibly rich in natural resources.
But China says it wants to come in and do more than just build and walk away — and this is where African governments should do more forward thinking.
According to the reports from the FOCAC 2018 organisers, China has committed to finance eight major initiatives in Africa to the tune of $60 billion (Sh6 trillion). The financial package consists of $15 billion in grants, interest-free loans and concessional loans, a $5 billion special fund for financing imports from Africa, $10 billion of investment in three years, $10 billion for special development financing and $20 billion for credit lines.
Eight initiatives were announced at the summit — industrial promotion; China-Africa economic and trade expo; 50 agricultural assistance programmes; emergency humanitarian food aid; healthcare; building capacity for agriculture; industrial connectivity and green development; and China-Africa peace and security fund.
That can be interpreted as China’s intention to deepen investments on the continent from just sourcing raw materials to expanding production capacity and with more investments than just single, disconnected contracted projects. In other words, China sees itself as being in Africa to stay.
The biggest threats to Africa’s wildlife and wildlands are habitat destruction and wildlife trade. Both are mostly driven by poorly planned and unbalanced economic development. China being the biggest partner in Africa’s economic development, there is no better partner in addressing these conservation threats.
Many people and organisations view China only in terms of wildlife demand reduction. But it is an important conservation player in all aspects of species protection — stopping the killing, trafficking and demand, as well as achieving the longer-term goal of protecting and conserving Africa’s great wildlife landscapes.
China is demonstrating a considerable strategic vision in its plan for Africa. But do we, Africans, have a plan that addresses the environmental risk to which this vision of development exposes the continent?
How do Chinese-financed and -built infrastructure projects lead to a people-centred, prosperous and peaceful Africa with clean air and protected natural environment? A bigger problem is often the knowledge challenge. Even when the money has been available, many a time it has been lost in bad execution or ideas that are doomed to fail.
These are the hard questions that we should address after FOCAC. China has offered support; we need to answer our questions. We need not make more mistakes because, as Africa has grown, its ecological resource base — on which future generations depend — is being eroded. With a clear agenda, Africa can both develop economically and conserve its key wildlife and wildlands.
Mr Sebunya is president of the African Wildlife Foundation. [email protected]