Beijing summit: What Africa must doBy BOB WEKESA | Thursday, June 14 2012 at 15:05
This July, the triennial Forum on China Africa Co-operation (Focac) will be held in Beijing.
This fifth summit will further cement relations between the world’s largest developing nation and the world’s region with the largest number of developing nations.
Twelve years since the mooting of Focac, China-Africa relations have been improving in all directions.
The volume of trade is well over $160 billion, more than 10 times the statistics in 2000.
All African countries that subscribe to the One-China Policy have diplomatic missions in Beijing, and China has envoys in 49 of the 54 nations on the continent.
One only needs to consider the establishment of Confucius Institutes in Africa to appreciate China’s soft power.
This year’s summit is particularly important in that President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao will be presiding over their final Focac in line with the Chinese political transition.
For African countries with presidential-term limits, leaders who have been in power since the early 2000s will be attending the summit for the last time.
Chinese and African leaders will, therefore, be looking back to a dozen years during which the two regions that had only passing knowledge of each other have built close ties fairly rapidly.
A review of the relations would doubtless show that Focac has achieved a great deal, and it is unlikely that the political transition in China and in African nations will lead to any dramatic reversals in these respects.
In Zambia for instance, President Michael Sata may have had reservations about China before taking over power, but Lusaka has not drastically changed diplomatic policies towards Beijing.
Since China’s unambiguous entry into Africa in 2000, new infrastructure has sprung up on a scale last seen in the colonial era or in the immediate post-independence period.
Early this year for instance, Angola offered to bail out its former colonial master, Portugal, thanks to China breathing life into its oil sector through an approach that ensured resources were used well.
The Focac mechanism should not merely be seen as the new Silk Road through which African nations can access much-needed investment for economic take-off, but also pragmatic lessons for African countries, most of which have ambitious medium- to long-term ‘visions’.
What remains on the cards is the democratisation of the international system, often seen as a euphemism for a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council for Africa.
Another point of consideration is that Africans should not be perpetually looking to China for support without giving something in return.
How about, for instance, Kenya and Tanzania fashioning a scholarship scheme for Chinese students to study Kiswahili at their universities?
It is also evident that African nations have not fully utilised the opportunities offered by Focac often waiting for Beijing to initiate lines of co-operation.
The tourism sector is a case in point. Focac has earmarked some countries as preferential destinations for Chinese tourists — and an increasing number of well-to-do Chinese are travelling nowadays — yet little is seen in the way of African nations tapping into this huge reservoir.
Mr Wekesa is a Kenyan journalist studying at Communication University of China.
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