Even before African countries gained independence, Africa and China shared an intriguing and resilient relationship that despite the distance between the two continents, the now over sixty years cordial relationship between African countries and China can be described as brotherly.
Arguably, the relationship between the two has been characterised by visible solidarity and concerted efforts to engender fairness in the international system. During colonial period when the rest of the world saw Africans as mere objects as some sought to buy Africans as commodities during infamous slave trade, China embarked on a very important role of helping the colonized African countries to snap the shackles of ugly colonial and minority bondage. China’s stand at the time was seen as suicidal. A case in point is that at the time when Beijing announced a kind loan of over $400 Million to help in building of Tanzania – Zambia Railway in late 1960s, economically, China was learning to stand. At this time, China’s per capital GDP was three times less than that of Sub-Saharan–Africa. It can be recalled that till 1978, China’s per capita GDP stood at $156 whereas Sub-Saharan Africa’s averaged at $490!
It is against this background or clear history that Sino-Africa relations even during these hard and difficult times that have been beset by the coronavirus, the two sides continue to stand shoulder to shoulder.
Last week, Africa and China hosted a much-needed China-Africa Extraordinary Summit. The summit was chaired by China and Senegal (in its capacity as co-host of the Forum on China-Africa Co-operation –FOCA), and South Africa (as the current chair of the African Union). Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO) also attended.
During this summit, Chinese President Xi Jinping promised that China will continue helping African countries with equipments needed to contain the spread of Covid-19. Another great gesture was President Xi’s promise that China will waive some debt from African countries due this year, and also restructure time frames for repayment from some countries. While such measures are not very uniqueas the G20 also promised to be lenient to low-income countries encumbered with debt.
China’s promise of meeting bills of putting up Africa’s Centre for Disease Control (CDC) in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa as was announced by African Union Commission in many ways shades light of not just a brotherly relationship between China and Africa but also a ‘heart-to heart’ relationship between the two.
Despite a few unresolved questions on the project; such as time frame of proposed CDC and the site, China’s pronouncement that Beijing is ready to fund the centre is enough to further describe Sino-Africa Relations as one of mutual benefit, respect and presents China as a true and reliable ally.
While on surface it may seem like a perfunctory decision, the choice of inviting WHO’s Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus to grace the occasion was stop-on for it communicated a clear message to those who doubt World Health Organization and was indeed a vote of confidence in Ghebreyesus who a few politicians in some capitals have described as China-Centric. Whether this criticism is political or otherwise, blame game at this critical time would certainly fail WHO’s efforts in ensuring Covid-19 is contained.
There is no doubt that the decision by Washington to withdraw financial support for World Health Organization at this critical time makes their work difficult, leaving negative consequences especially on regions like Africa which are arguably not fully self-reliant to singly deal with Covid-19.
By pulling out their funding from WHO, Trump Administration made it clear to those who want to know that you cannot count on them in the current international system, even when the situation calls for solidarity.
While this may seem far-fetched, one can conclude that it is high time Africa and China lowered their expectations of U.S leadership in dealing with Global crisis through existing International systems. America’s recent withdraw of funds from WHO should serve as an example that president Donald Trump will likely use the same method, he used to win 2016 election; such methods may include employing nationalistic sentiments, and scepticism towards multilateralism as he was clear during his last U.N address where he denounced Globalism. Such methods may in short term see him win the coming elections. What is clear is that impacts of hamstringing global institutions like the WHO in the end leave severe marks.
Therefore, the need for Africa’s own Centre for Diseases Control should not be delayed in anyway, AU leadership should swiftly address the current not tough questions by clearing where the centre should be constructed. Also, China and Africa should show WHO support in these unprecedented times. In my view, more than before, we need Sino-African solidarity.
Namara Collins, Lawyer and Research Fellow at, Development Watch Centre.