The 8th Ministerial Conference of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) will be held in the Senegalese capital, Dakar, on November 29-30, 2021. The Africa-China Cooperation Mechanism created 21 years ago at the turn century has become a model of international cooperation renowned for producing measurable, tangible and practical results, even with less bureaucracy and glamor.
The theme of the 8th Ministerial Conference “Deepening China-Africa Partnership and Promoting Sustainable Development to Build a China-Africa Community of Destiny in the New Era” would certainly build on the phenomenal results of the two immediate summits of heads of state. . and the government held in Johannesburg, South Africa, (2015) and Beijing, China, (2018), respectively. The two summits, inspired by the tradition dear to FOCAC of defining specific areas and contents to deepen cooperation, were however major turning points and new historical starting points for the FOCAC mechanism.
When taking office in 2013, President Xi Jinping left no doubt that Africa is truly the cornerstone or foundation of China’s foreign relations by making his very first trip abroad. as president directly from Moscow in Africa, especially in Tanzania, where he asserted that “unity and cooperation with African countries is the foundation of China’s foreign policy. This will never change, even if China grows stronger and enjoys a better international reputation ”.
In an overview that is essential to the current trajectory of China-Africa engagement, President Xi Jinping stressed in his inaugural address in Tanzania that “a similar historical experience, common development tasks and shared strategic interests have bound us together. . We both see each other’s development as our opportunity, and we both seek to promote mutual development and prosperity through cooperation.
The Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) is the essential mechanism that promotes the mutual opportunity that China and Africa represent for each other.
With a ministerial conference or triennial summits between them, the FOCAC process does not tolerate complacency as follow-up activities, ranging from project implementation, dialogues and consultations at the intergovernmental and non-governmental levels involving a wide range of actors at various levels, culminating in agenda setting and consensus building on key issues of common interest characterize the time lag between one summit or conference and another. The basic feature of the FOCAC mechanism is the follow-up process, the key element of which is to deliver tangible and practical results on the outcomes of Heads of State Summits or Ministerial Conference.
The two heads of state summits held respectively in Johannesburg and Beijing before the 8th ministerial conference scheduled for the end of this month in Dakar Senegal were a phenomenal step and a milestone in the history of the FOCAC process. At the Johannesburg summit in South Africa, President X1 Jinping presented the 10 cooperation plans and provided financial support of $ 60 billion. The range of cooperation plans described which included industrialization, agricultural modernization, infrastructure, trade and investment, poverty reduction, public health, peace and security, among others, clearly and objectively aligned with Africa’s key and overarching requirements for accelerating growth, sustainable and inclusive development. Between the period of the Johannesburg summit and its counterpart in Beijing, so far, Africa’s infrastructure profile and its pace of industrialization have grown tremendously, generating top-notch real sector jobs and improving massively capacity building and skills acquisition among the continent’s burgeoning young population. In 2017, US-based international management and consulting firm McKinsey and Co released a report on its survey and fieldwork with Chinese companies in Africa and came to the conclusion that it was generating tens of thousands of jobs and also generated senior and middle management among African workers. The report places China ahead of others in strategic sectors for Africa such as finance and infrastructure construction, trade and investment.
At the Johannesburg summit, President Xi Jinping said the ten cooperation plans “would help accelerate Africa’s industrialization and agricultural modernization and thus help Africa achieve sustainable development on its own” .
From the summit period and now, the first electrified railway connecting Ethiopia’s industrial heartland to the port of Djibouti, cutting travel times and costs by less than half, has been fully operational. The nearly 500 km Mombasa-Nairobi normal gauge railway in Kenya, Abuja-Kaduna over 167 km and its Lagos-Ibadan counterpart in Nigeria have all become fully functional, improving passenger and freight freight more efficiently.
Special economic zones and industrial parks invested by Chinese companies as a hub for Africa’s industrialization are growing across Africa, as are sea ports, airports, power plants and road networks assisted by China through concessional loans and grants, bringing unprecedented dynamism and energy as Africa rushes to close the historic infrastructure connectivity deficits that have previously made the concept of unity and pan-African integration a hollow rhetoric.
Examples include the Zambia-China Economic and Trade Cooperation Zone, the first of its kind established in Africa. it drives upstream mining of Chambishi copper mine and downstream production smelting and at the same time introduces more Chinese companies that do construction business in the local market. Eastern industrial zone in Ethiopia where the textile, footwear and garment processing industries are concentrated, the Suez Canal economic zone in Egypt focuses on petroleum equipment, auto parts and some high-tech industries. The Mauritius-Jinfei Trade and Economic Cooperation Zone develops trade and trade logistics, tourism and financial services. These and several others, including Nigeria’s Lekki Free Trade Zone, are some of the critical and high-end results of China-Africa cooperation.
Cooperation between China and Africa has been greatly enriched and made more proactive thanks to the vigor of the FOCAC multilateral process. In the era of deceptive nationalism, China and Africa through the mechanism of FOCAC have reaffirmed multilateralism as the trend of the times, which accords with the aspirations of the general interests of humanity.
The Beijing Summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation further raised the profile of FOCAC as steps towards an even stronger China-Africa community of destiny in the new era were taken when efforts were made to consolidate the ten plans for cooperation in Johannesburg, three years earlier by launching eight new initiatives, which, according to President Xi Jinping, “were in close collaboration with African countries over the next three years and beyond.” The eight initiatives included industrial promotion, infrastructure connectivity, capacity building, health care, person-to-person exchanges, and peace and security. The progress of these initiatives as well as the ten cooperation plans that they were to complete and consolidate were on track in the best tradition of the FOCAC monitoring process when the centennial disruption of the Covid-19 pandemic occurred. But in the face of the common affliction inflicted by the pandemic, China-Africa cooperation has proven to be resilient and has established itself as an example of international cooperation in the face of a raging pandemic, whose profile of equal opportunities killer was clearly established when it ravaged both the poor and the rich in equal measure.
As the pandemic wreaks havoc on lives and livelihoods, China and Africa called an extraordinary summit on solidarity against covid-19 on June 17, 2020.
Concretely, President Xi Jinping said China will put in place what it takes to support Africa in its efforts to develop the African Continental Free Trade Area, improve connectivity and strengthen industrial and supply chains. “. The only known international summit held amid the outbreak of the covid-19 pandemic, the China-Africa relationship through the FOCAC process has proven to be a model of international cooperation and solidarity that has resisted, unwavering even in the face of a strange pandemic. The FOCAC process has negotiated the most fruitful and productive cooperation in which a traditional friendship and solidarity has been transformed into concrete and measurable results, resulting in tangible and practical added value to the national aggregates of the participating countries. The addition of the exponential engine of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) to the FOCAC process has further accelerated the pace of Sino-African development cooperation, multiplied its value inputs and given it a reach of significance. considerable quality, which integrates green development and all the main concerns of contemporary climate change issues.
The 8th Ministerial Conference in Dakar Senegal this month will be both introspective, reflective and prospective. The pandemic has slowed people-to-people contact between China and Africa even as e-commerce and other aspects of the digital economy have skyrocketed. But since the people are the foundation of China-Africa cooperation, the Dakar ministerial conference should initiate ideas that would help the rapid restart of people-to-people contacts.
Post-covid-19 economic reconstruction would obviously be a priority and new engines of cooperation would probably be announced. However, it is imperative to strengthen the existing system. Africa and China, as forerunners of the community of destiny in the new era, must take practical steps to safeguard multilateralism, deepen its mechanisms and practices while remaining steadfast in their commitment to dialogue, consultation and cooperation.
The 8th Dakar Ministerial Conference is a historic turning point as it takes place in the context of its predecessors, the very successful summits that preceded it and the challenge of Sino-African cooperation based on equality, mutual respect and awareness of the mutual strategic opportunity offered by each inconvenience.
Onunaiju is Research Director, Center for China Studies, Abuja