By Steven Akabwayi
In 2013, Chinese President Xi Jinping launched the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) which emerged to be one of the most significant and greatest projects of the 21st century according to experts. By June 2023, over 152 countries and organizations had signed agreements related to BRI including the African Union as bloc.
The BRI was primarily established to link East Asia and Europe through physical infrastructure but was later expanded to Africa and other continents by the Chinese government significantly broadening the Chinese economic foothold on the continent.
Just two weeks ago, world leaders gathered in Beijing for China’s Belt and Road initiative, this was its third event of this kind since its official flag-off by President Xi Jinping in 2013, over 130 countries participated in this summit with analysts noticing China’s ambitions to solidify its relations and engagements more towards the global south as ties between Western countries and Beijing continue to take a drastic rift.
From the African perspective, the Belt and Road Initiative is beyond major infrastructure projects, Africans view the Belt and Road Initiative as a vehicle for improving people’s livelihoods and standards of living and a way of sharing China’s development dividends with other countries especially those in Africa where there is great hunger for development.
The Belt and Road initiative also embodies China’s vision of a win-win foreign policy approach that envisions building a global community of shared future as President Xi Jinping proclaimed in this years BRI summit.
While speaking at the second Belt and Road Initiative Forum for International Cooperation in 2019, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres acknowledged the critical linkage of the Belt and Road Initiative with the 2030 agenda.
He noted that the scale of the Belt and Road Initiative’s planned investments offers a meaningful opportunity to contribute to the creation of a more equitable prosperous world for all given that the five pillars of the Belt and Road Initiative are intrinsically linked to 17 sustainable development goals, these are conceptual pillars that can be translated to real world progress for all people mostly in Africa addressing poverty, hunger, climate change among others.
As one way of addressing climate change which ranks number 13 on the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals(SDGs), China has expressed commitment to green development and promoting environmentally friendly projects.
“It doesn’t matter whether the cat is white or black, for as long as it catches the mice” This was the point of view Deng Xiaoping put forward as a guiding philosophy to develop the economy and restore productivity, however, when Xi Jinping took over in 2013, he reversed this view citing that for the cat to catch the mice, the later has to be green. This potrays the emphasis and priority he accords to a sustainable clean green environment.
Currently, China is the world’s leading investor in Greenfield energy and infrastructure systems across the developing world the same climate-friendly developments have been intensified under the Belt and Road initiative by promoting renewable energy and clean sustainable transportation systems.
On the issue of poverty, China has facilitated a reduction of unemployment in Africa with the Belt and Road initiative projects established, recently china’s leading television CGTN released a documentary that starred a 29-year-old Ugandan youth named Bless whose life was transformed after securing an entry job at karuma hydroelectric power station in Kiryadongo district . According to the documentary, while working at the station Bless gained a set of professional skills that laid a solid foundation for his future development and light a path to a better future for other Ugandan youth.
Contrary to the Western narrative, China’s Belt and Road Initiative is not a debt trap for African countries, china a developing country Sees African countries as its fellows given their shared history, and the Asian economic giant comes intending to provide the assistance that is necessary for Africa development,, through its journey of development, China has identified infrastructure as a critical component for any countries development .
China contributes significantly to the development of infrastructure in Africa which has been for long been the main constraint of achieving economic transformation on the continent.
In less than a decade, Africa has witnessed the establishment of mega airports, roads, and railways to overlapping bridges that run overseas and across rivers connecting faraway places, ports, and large cities.
As far as infrastructure is concerned in the East African Community, China has been a key player through connective finances and technology exchange.
Some of the recent famous projects that have been launched under the Belt and Road Initiative in Africa as a whole include the Bagamoyo port in Tanzania which aims at enhancing Tanzania’s maritime capabilities and facilitating regional trade.
There is also a standard gauge railway in Kenya connecting port Mombasa to the capital Nairobi, the Lamu Port that aims at connecting Kenya with South Sudan and Ethiopia, Suez Canal Economic Zone in Egypt, port of Djibouti among others.
Steven Akabwayi is a Research Fellow at the Sino-Uganda Research Centre