The year 2018 has been a turning point in China-Africa relations if the just-concluded Beijing Summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) is anything to go by. Only a handful of African leaders, for one reason or another, did not make it to the summit.
Based on news reports, only six African leaders were absent from the summit. With the exception of eSwatini, formerly Swaziland, all the other five countries were well represented.
In the face of growing unilateralism and protectionism in the West, China and Africa have embraced multilateralism as their development path through FOCAC.
Established 18 years ago, FOCAC has held two other summits including the 2006 inaugural summit in Beijing and has inarguably become the poster child for South-South cooperation.
The inclusion of the United Nations, represented by its Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, was a notable highlight. His speech echoed the theme of the summit which was to foster a stronger community with a shared future for the benefit of all.
Based on his speech, there is no doubt that the UN secretary-general perceives FOCAC as a powerful instrument for global cooperation, peace and development.
Guterres hailed FOCAC as “an important tool, in which it will be possible for Chinese leaders and African leaders to discuss matters of common interest.”
He categorically expressed his support for South-South cooperation: “I am convinced that China will do everything in order to make sure it really helps create conditions for an effective and successful Africa development.”
But as FOCAC continues to grow from strength to strength, and has become the focal point for significant South-South cooperation, scrutiny and criticism have not been far behind.
Now more than ever, China’s interest in Africa is under the microscope with critics questioning every move.
There are those who have gone as far as questioning the ambitious Belt and Road initiative – a network of railroads and shipping lanes linking China with over 70 countries including Africa. Others have taken issue with the vast financial support in the form of aid and loans that Africa has received from China.
During the recently concluded summit, Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged another $60 billion in aid, investment and loans to Africa.
In the 2015 summit, a similar pledge was made and honored. In every FOCAC summit, China has made a financial pledge to Africa to help it build the infrastructure it needs to accelerate development.
Critics have taken issue with the aid, investment and loans given to countries on the continent and have said that this will significantly contribute to the continent’s debt burden. Some have gone as far as predicting that Africa will eventually not be able to pay off its debt to China.
Against this criticism, it is interesting that African leaders appear to be unanimous on engaging and deepening relations with China.
That nearly all but a handful of African leaders attended the 2018 summit is an indicator that the interest is not one-sided.
Africa is as interested in China as China is in the continent. China is one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, a seat that was in part acquired through votes cast by African countries.
It would be foolhardy to dismiss the critics unless Africa takes advantage of the support coming from the East and leverages it to accelerate its poverty reduction agenda.
If the continent is unable to put to good use the aid, investments and loans given by China, those claiming that the partnership is not good for Africa will eventually be proved right.
The responsibility for the failure in this case will not have been on the inability of China to set the continent on a good development path, but on the continent’s lack of ability to use every resource given down to the last morsel, to write Africa’s success story.
China will need to lay down some principles and targets that are time-bound to serve as the barometer with which to measure how fast and how far the continent has gone toward addressing its most pressing needs.
As a country that had once been in the same development quagmire as Africa, it is difficult to see how a cooperation of this nature would produce nothing but positive development outcomes.
That notwithstanding, in the next phase of development, Africa will need to be more accountable and to demonstrate an understanding that aid and loans are inherently time bound.
Credit: Global Times