The People’s Republic of China and Africa relations in the last few decades have become one of the most progressive and dynamic on the political, social and economic partnerships in the world.
In Africa projects worth billions of dollars have been planned for implementation ranging from road infrastructure, airports, energy, water and sanitation, aviation, manufacturing, mining and indeed, generous assistance to multi-lateral donations of infrastructure such as the construction of a multi-million African Union Headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
There is no doubt that Sino-Africa relations are based on mutual benefits. These fundamental developments, for instance, are coming on the back of China having committed and availed $60 billion at the end of 2015 directed towards the industrialization and modernization of the continent. The value of trade between the People’s Republic of China and Africa had increased phenomenally totaling $200 billion in 2014. Apart from the $60 billion availed under the Forum for China-Africa Cooperation Summit in South Africa in December 2015, billions of dollars had already been poured into infrastructure development in different African countries.
This support is key to change the face of Africa in terms of trade. Generally, Africa’s development hinges on a number of things being addressed, and one of them being connectography which deals with connecting geographical transport infrastructure, communication networks and harmonizing policies internally to facilitate trade and investments within Africa and beyond.
The maddening paradox is that the continent’s sheer size and diversity of its landscape, present huge opportunities and challenges as well. In terms of size, the continent is poorly connected in terms of road, rail, air and sea infrastructure – which is one of its greatest barrier to its development, transformation, and modernization.
On a scale, the continent is largely landlocked with many countries cut off from air and sea ports, and the difficulty of moving goods from one country to the other weighs down the intra-continental trade which is estimated to be at a paltry 15% within Africa (African Development Bank, 2017).
In general terms, African citizens and consumers endure the brunt of these trade and commerce difficulties, coupled with trade and policy dissonance that also further limit cooperation between and among countries – but thanks to the 2018 Kigali African Union Summit at which African Heads of State acceded to the African Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA), an agreement cast in the same way as the European Union, aimed at paving the way for a liberalized market for goods and services across the continent. It is important to note that Zimbabwe under the Presidency of Cde Emmerson Mnangagwa, signed the CFTA. Regionally, the government through the support of the Chinese companies is in the process of building road and energy infrastructure which will go a long way in ensuring industrialization, trade, and commerce to improve.
It is a fact that the costs of doing business are driven up by a host of factors which among other things include tariffs, border delays, delays in the movement of goods and corruption. However, the biggest challenge is that if there are no streamlined transport systems in terms of rail, road, and air, cargo will find it difficult to move from one region to the other in a situation where our economies are highly dependent. Thus, products fail to reach destinations on time, let alone perishables decaying along the way as a result of underdeveloped road and rail systems, which push up costs of doing business in Africa and drags down efficiencies.
It is a fact that Chinese investment in African infrastructure through Beijing’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), ultimately helps to create expanded sub-regional linkages. China Brief clearly points out building the East-West Africa highway is key in which infrastructure networks could help facilitate and spring the emergence of an eventual, true East-West link in the long term.
In the short-to-mid-term, the investments being made in road infrastructure will truly and robustly set East-West transport links as a formidable force that is going to be a panacea in improving trade and commerce in Africa.
It is envisioned that the proposed East-West link in the form of the Trans-Africa Highway 5 will manifest into credible network systems for trade for a full continental connection for a strong transcontinental African transport backbone corridor that is likely to change trade relations within Africa.
The nine-highway network is said to have been originally put forth by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa in 1971 and currently undertaken by the agency in conjunction with the African Union, the African Development Bank and external stakeholders. The highway connects Dakar, in Senegal, to the Chadian capital of N’djamena, about 4,500 kilometers. It runs through seven countries, Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria, Cameroon, and Chad.
In Southern Africa, individual countries are accessing funding to build airports in the case of Zimbabwe, the completed Victoria Falls International Airport to the tune of $150 million dollars loan from China, is a good example. China is also supporting revamping and expansion of Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport, and in Zambia, the Kenneth Kaunda International Airport is nearing completion. More support has been invested in energy projects, and this will mark a huge transformation in development among African countries.
Achieving Africa’s development is no easy task, and its transformation comes with sacrifices being made to ensure that China’s investments see the light of day. It is appreciated that Sino-Africa support is based on mutual respect and collaboration, contrary to the view that Africa is facing another threat of Sino colonization. That is conspiratory. Going into the future, African economies stand to benefit by way of improvement in terms of economic competitiveness and enhanced trade volumes within Africa and beyond.
About the author:
Dr. Darlington Muzeza
Dr. Muzeza is a member of the newly founded African Tourism Board