By Allawi Ssemanda
China’s funded Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) – a project that will bring easy connections to countries of East-Asia, Africa, Europe, Middle East, China and the America’s has been viewed by critics of Sino-Africa relations with geopolitical lenses with frames insinuating that China imitated the project with hidden agenda. However, analysis and figures from credible international organizations such as World Bank and African Development bank underscores that BRI project – the first of it’s in the world’s history will provide African countries with greater opportunities which will enable these countries develop industrial capacity and infrastructure which are all key in the continent’s body (African Union) 2063 Vision.
Currently, about 29 international organizations and over 65 countries which represents 62% of the global population have either signed to join BRI or have shown interest in the project. This means that upon completion, the project will make the world’s largest market easy to access and traverse on road which is key in transportation and mobility of goods and services. Indeed, World Bank forecast suggest that as a result of BRI project, infrastructure, trade and investments links with China and several countries in BRI project will see improvement in trade and investments.
In Africa, over 20 countries including the continent’s largest and growing economies such as Nigeria, Ethiopia and Kenya have all joined the project. In East African Region, locals are already enjoying fruits of BRI project. For example, Djibouti-Addis Ababa Railway line which is part of silk road reduced the 759 kilometres journey from three days on road to just 12 hours a great breakthrough in mobility of goods and services.
Current figures indicate that Chinese investments in countries are estimated at over $200 billion, while China’s trade with countries that fall in the corridors of BRI have registered growth figures at $6 trillion for years 2014-2019 while the trade between China and BRI countries was worth $6,975 billion.
China’s declaration during 2018 Beijing Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) where China announced that African countries are key partners in the project proves BRI’s Strategic Rationale which emphasizes that Belt and Road Initiative is meant to build a “community of Common Destiney for Mankind” and easy mobility as well as connectivity of the world.
China’s commitment to invest and support African countries investments in industrial capacity which resonates well with AU’s 2063 vision makes the project an opportunity for the continent to realise her vision. Indeed, 2019-2021 FACOC Beijing Action Plan aims at using industrial capacity cooperation mechanism to ensure both China and African countries realise their objectives. Consequently, BRI project will in the long run undoubtedly result into aiding African countries to develop in in aspects of technological advancements.
Though critics of Sino-Africa Relations claim that China’s development assistance is a debt trap and unfounded claims that China is is hiding ambitions of neo-colonialism Africa, or to seize the African Countries’ properties in instances African countries fail to pay back, these claims seem far-fetched and African countries should really deny ‘Sino-Africa Skepticism’ listening ears for this will slow down the much-needed development cooperation between China and African countries. There are more opportunities BRI project is bringing and African countries should focus more on seizing these opportunities.
According to African Development Bank (ADB), African countries are faced with shortfalls in infrastructural funding budgets. ADB adds that to meet their infrastructure needs that will allow African Countries sustain their growing population and replace their ageing infrastructure, African countries need between $130-170 billion annually. Therefore, African countries need allies who can help them raise such funding and Chinese efforts should be supported rather than attaching it with all negativities.
It is worth noting that talks of “debt trap” are unfounded and based on speculations rather than facts. A recent study by Rhodium Group; BRI project has the best agreements with all those assessed having provisions that China can renegotiate, forgive or write off debts on countries under BRI project opposed to ‘Sino-Africa Skepticism’ who claim China will seize such projects.
Indeed, there are facts centrally to claims of the so-called debt trap. In 2015, China wrote off $40 million loans to Zimbabwe, in 2018, China announced it hard forgiven Botswana a loan totalling to $7 million in 2019, Addis Ababa announced China had written their debt which was incurred in BRI project.
Allawi Ssemanda is a senior Research Fellow at DWC. The views expressed in the this article are his own and not necessarily those of DWC.