China’s ‘Silk Road’ strategy heralds Kenya’s growth

By: PETER KAGWANJA

Kenya and the Horn of Africa are focus of China’s post-2015 development strategy in the Indian Ocean rim.

President Xi Jinping is expected to unveil the strategy during the coming second summit of the Forum on China-Africa Co-operation (FOCAC) in South Africa on December 4 and 5, the first to be held on the continent.

China’s new Africa development strategy is part of the grand “Silk Road Economic Belt” and the “21st-century Maritime Silk Road” framework that President Jinping revealed in September and October 2013, respectively.

CHINESE ECONOMIC TENTACLES

Beijing is pushing this strategy to enable it take a bigger role in global affairs and to export its production capacity in areas such as steel manufacturing with the potential of accelerating the industrialisation of countries within the “Silk Road” ambit.

After the completion of the ongoing refurbishing of the ports of Mombasa and Lamu and the construction of a modern standard-gauge railway (SGR) linking Nairobi and Mombasa, Kenya will firmly form part of the “21st Century Maritime Silk Road”.

It is one of the five African countries, together with Ethiopia, Tanzania, Egypt and South Africa that Beijing targets for the exportation of its production capacity and industrialisation in the next decade or so.

Notably, the FOCAC summit occurs against the backdrop of the process leading to the generation of the post-2015 Development Agenda by the United Nations that designed to help define the future global development framework that will succeed the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

As part of China’s post-2015 development strategy towards Africa, industrialisation is the key theme of the 6th ministerial meeting of FOCAC that paves the way for the December China-Africa Summit.

INDUSTRIALISATION FOCUS

In the same vein, industrialisation and infrastructure were the focus of a recently concluded expert seminar on “Deepening China-Africa Co-operation” co-hosted by the Africa Policy Institute (API), the Foreign Policy Advisory Council (FPAC) in the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing and the Embassy of China in Nairobi on November 10, 2015.

The seminar was designed as a curtain raiser for the December FOCAC ministerial meeting and the summit whose policy outcomes are expected to feed into the meetings.

The coming FOCAC forum provides China with an opportune moment to take a paradigm shift to deepen its co-operation with the continent’s 54 states and to forge a development strategy to guide Sino-Africa relations in the post-2015 era.

SINO-AFRICAN RELATIONS

China is hoisting its relations with Africa on three pillars.

The first is the historical connections with Africa, going back to ancient times when African scholars and travellers visited parts of China and Chinese sailors made voyages to many parts of Africa.

These interactions were facilitated by the “Silk Road”, an ancient network of trade and cultural transmission routes dating back to 200 AD that linked China and the rest of the world, including the Horn of Africa.

The “Silk Road” is styled along these interactions and networks that placed China at the centre of the ancient world system as a “benign power”.

Sino-African ties in the modern era started in the 1960s during the era of Mao Zedong, the first leader of the Communist Party.

After the formation of FOCAC in October 2000, China has forged increasingly strong economic ties with Africa.

During the 1990s, Sino-Africa trade increased by 700 per cent.

The trade volume jumped from a low of $1 billion in 1980 to $55 billion in 2006, making China the second largest trading partner of Africa after the United States.

China became Africa’s largest trading partner after surpassing the United States in 2009 as Sino-African trade hit a high of $163.9 billion in 2012.

Africa is the source of more than one-third of China’s oil supplies.

CHINESE INVESTMENTS IN AFRICA

China has provided low-cost financing to Africa with less restrictions and conditions than the West, which has enabled Africa to undertake infrastructure projects.

China’s investment has gone hand in hand with the expansion of private enterprise.

Today, an estimated 800 Chinese corporations are doing business in Africa.

These are mainly private companies investing in the infrastructure, energy and banking sectors.

Investments by Chinese companies in the energy sector have involved oil and gas exploration and production.

These investments are mixed packages of aid and loan in exchange for infrastructure building and trade deals.

Chinese economic role in Africa has been a game changer in Africa’s economic processes.

In the last decades, the continent’s economy has grown steadily at an estimated rate of 5.3 per cent in 2011 and 5.8 per cent in 2012 and is projected to grow by 5 per cent by 2016.

Over the last 15 years, Beijing has also cancelled more than $10 billion in debt that African nations owe China.

CHINESE FOCUS ON INDUSTRIALISATION

In the last decade, China has turned its focus on industrialisation.

Africa’s take off will remain a pipedream as long as there is not industrialisation.

China is not a newcomer to Africa’s industrialisation and infrastructure development. In the 1970s, China sponsored the building of the 1,860 kilometre “Tazara Railway’ completed in 1976, with 47 bridges and 18 tunnel made by 50,000 Chinese workers.

More recently, in Ethiopia, Chinese technology and low-cost finance have helped build the first city ring road, the first expressway, the first city light rail, the first electrified railway, and the first wind power generation project.

Despite this, China still imports from Africa unprocessed and low-cost raw materials.

It sells to the continent high-cost manufactured goods. This is feeding the embers of criticism that China is not different from traditional African partners in the West.

During the upcoming FOCAC summit, Africa also needs to craft a common and clear policy to get Beijing to commit to new development strategies and approaches to correct this unequal relation, boost Africa’s industrialisation and push the continent up the value chain in the global economy.

SOURCE: DAILY NATION