Western policy makers view the continent with ‘condescending skepticism’ but China will play its role in uplifting Africa

Gideon Chitanga

Gideon Chitanga

Published Apr 3, 2024


Gideon Chitanga

In the past decade and half, China has emerged as Africa’s largest development partner tying extensive bilateral and multilateral investments to consolidate Sino-Africa relations.

The Chinese economy, flying at double digits, fuelled diversifying partnerships in infrastructure, mining, agriculture, manufacturing, and now, emphasise quality investments in new technologies and climate friendly green economies, which could help Africa realise its climate change targets.

Where China has succeeded in doing business and forging strong political and economic relations with African countries, Western policy makers and business leaders tend to view the continent with condescending skepticism almost akin to historical colonial sentiments. Yet in the past year, Africa has seen more interest from Western powers, with high-ranking government officials from Europe and the US traversing the continent making promises to assure the African leaders that the continent continues to be their priority, despite decades of general neglect or indifference, except treating the continent as a major case for Western aid.

Many critics of China have suggested that China Africa relations face their first major threat since a decade and half due to post-pandemic challenges associated with what they view as economic sluggish economic recovery in China.

Suggestions are that while heightened Western interest in the continent could trigger trilateral geopolitical competition by amongst the big powers, likely to checkmate Sino-Africa relations. Furthermore, economic slowdown in China could scupper some of the most progressive and transformative bilateral and multilateral relations experienced on the continent, judging by the resonating impact, particularly in infrastructure development, political solidarity and consolidating diplomatic relations, some of the major reasons why the West is clawing back into the continent.

The Communist Party of China (CPC) says it is dedicated both to pursuing happiness for the Chinese people and rejuvenation for the Chinese nation and to promoting human progress and world harmony, emphasising that Africa will not be left behind in the realisation of this mission, duty, aspiration, and goal.

Speaking at a meeting with the press during the Two Sessions meeting in Beijing on March 7, member of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee and Foreign Minister, Wang Yi, said that China was on course towards post-pandemic recovery, at 5 percent GDP growth, and, through its new reforms anchored on tech-innovation, also called future economies, will play its role in uplifting African countries, the global south, and the rest of humanity by sharing its peaceful development with others.

Wang Yi said Beijing will hold the next meeting of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) in China this autumn, where Chinese and African leaders will gather again after six years to discuss future development and cooperation and exchange governance experience. Leaders from China and Africa are set to enhance their long-standing friendship and deepen unity and collaboration to open new avenues while strengthening existing partnerships within the FOCAC for faster common development centred on a new chapter for a China-Africa community with a shared future.

Africa continues to be a key member in continental and global initiatives such as the Forum for China Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), the BRICS+, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the Global Security Initiative (GSI), the Global Development Initiative (GDI), and the Global Civilisation Initiative (GCI) amongst others, which have set critical shifts beyond hegemonic relations dominated by the West, creating broader spaces for multilateral cooperation rooted in visions of global equity and mutually beneficial relations.

The BRI is significantly playing an important role in multilateral socio-economic development, linking diverse continents through infrastructure, technology, and broader economic development. The FOCAC is the prime multilateral platform for China Africa relations, bringing together 53 African countries, the African Union (AU) and China. African giants such as South Africa, Egypt and Ethiopia are key members of the expanded BRICS+. The BRICS has emerged as a key grouping of countries from the global south promoting the collective interests of developing nations, and advocating for equal, fair, and inclusive multipolar world.

China has remained Africa’s biggest trading partner for 15 years straight. Africa-China relations dates to years of solidarity during struggles against Western colonialism and imperialism. Wang Yi visited Africa in January 2024, fulfilling the 34-year tradition that Chinese foreign ministers make their first overseas trips to Africa at the beginning of a new year marking unparalleled history of international exchanges. Wang Yi said that China will continue to stand firmly with Africa to support the continent in charting its development path, exercising independent thinking to generate homegrown ideas, including strongly supporting continental capacity for self-driven development and faster modernisation in Africa.

Since independence, African countries have struggled with externally imposed Western models of development which have generally aggravated socio-economic challenges in the continent. Such policies as the Economic Structural Adjustment Programmes strongly driven by the Bretton Woods institutions in the 1990s have resulted in enduring legacies of socio-economic turmoil and political instability in the continent, denying Africa much needed political stability, economic prosperity, and room to experiment with endogenous initiatives and ideas to drive home grown development and exercise African agency. Sino-Africa political solidarity has evolved into strong diplomatic relations denominated by mutually beneficial development partnerships, the upliftment of socio-economic wellbeing of African and Chinese people, permissive of African creative ideas to nurture homegrown development based on African conditions.

As a major power, China continues to foster peaceful development and political stability by ensuring that its domestic economic development uplifts socio-economic conditions in other countries, while contributing to conflict resolution to foster peace and stability, based on the principles of sincerity, real results, amity, and good faith, and taking the right approach to friendship and interests, advanced by President Xi. China is one of the largest contributors to peace missions through the United Nations, sponsoring peace diplomacy based on dialogue and mediation to build bridges between violently polarised societies, based on the values of mutually respect and respect to national sovereignty. The simultaneous pursuit of peace and development is not only crucial for stability, but provides broader solutions which addresses structural long-term causes of conflicts, particularly in poorer African countries under fragile states.

Considering consolidating economic and political relations between China and Africa, accelerated post-pandemic recovery in China will be crucial to Africa’s prosperity and stability. Africa as a major partner in building a community with a shared future for mankind, Africa should innovatively leverage on its strong mutually beneficial relations with China for domestic socio-economic transformation, and, continue to equally participate, and share in fostering peace and prosperity for humanity at home, and globally.

Gideon Chitanga, PhD is a Post Doctoral Researcher at the Centre for Africa China Studies (CACS), University of Johannesburg.

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