IN 2013, China proposed the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) as a major strategy to align China’s development with that of other countries along the routes while addressing different needs.
The goal of the BRI is fivefold; policy coordination; facilities connectivity; unimpeded trade; financial integration; and people- to-people bonds.
The Initiative aims to interconnect countries in Asia, Europe and Africa through an ambitious vision for infrastructure, economic and political cooperation.
It is clear that the BRI has the potential to be a game-changer, and it is exciting to see how it will continue to evolve in the coming years.
In response, the Chinese Government committed USD 1 trillion for the initiative for ten (10) years (2013– 2023). However, analysts see the USD 1 trillion funding for the initiative over 10 years is insufficient, given the massive scale of infrastructure needs in Asia and beyond.
For instance, the Asian Development Bank estimates that the Asia-Pacific region alone will require USD 1.7 trillion annually in infrastructure investments until 2030 to maintain growth, alleviate poverty and respond to climate change.
Although, while the funding may not be sufficient to meet all infrastructure needs, the amount is still significant and can help finance much-needed projects in many developing countries, especially in Africa.
By January 2023, 152 countries from Asia, Europe and Africa signed the Belt and Road Initiative MoU with China as compared to 142 countries in December 2021. It is worth noting that the BRI initially focused on Asia and European countries before expanding to include African countries.
For Africa, the BRI focused on connecting all 54 African countries through transportation infrastructure projects, including modern highways, airports and high-speed railways.
Furthermore, the Belt and Road Initiative aims to promote the connectivity of the Asian, European, and African continents and their adjacent seas, establish and strengthen partnerships among the countries along the Belt and Road, set up all-dimensional, multi-tiered, and composite connectivity networks, and realise diversified, independent, balanced and sustainable development in these countries. Such partnerships can help promote sustainable development and prosperity for all involved.
The BRI is expected to promote trade and strengthen economic growth across the region leading to a 25per cent reduction in road transport margins and 5 per cent in sea transport margins and to coordinate economic policy and improve regional collaboration and contribute to lifting 7.6 million people from extreme poverty and 32 million from moderate poverty by 2030.
It is interesting to note that the UN has acknowledged the intrinsic link between each of the five pillars of the BRI and the 17 SDGs 2030 Agenda.
The connectivity projects of the BRI have the potential to tap the market potential in this region, promote investment and consumption, create demands and job opportunities and enhance people-to-people and cultural exchanges. Moreover, these projects will enable the people of the relevant countries to understand, trust and respect each other and live in harmony, peace and prosperity.
Before the roll-out of the BRI in Africa, China had deep roots in most African countries after their independence, with the BRI being a transcontinental development aimed at connectivity among nations in Asia, Europe and Africa.
At least 52 African countries, including the African Union signed the MoU for the project with the exception of Eritrea, Libya, Somalia and South Sudan.
The main driver was political and economic factors for both groups of countries (signed and not signed).
Those that signed looked at the BRI as an opportunity for them to complement their infrastructural gaps, increase foreign investment, expand trade and reduce poverty, while the others were uncertain of the implications of the BRI.
Many African countries are implementing BRI projects but classical examples from Uganda, Kenya and Djibout give a clue of what is going on.
In Uganda, China is financing several of the country’s infrastructural development through the BRI, the construction of the Kampala-Entebbe Expressway-49.56, Karuma and Isimba hydropower dams as well as the ongoing expansion of the Entebbe International Airport.
These projects have improved connectivity within Uganda in terms of improved traffic conditions on both bypass and distributor roads in urban areas, as well as enhancing urban development and improving connectivity between Uganda and other countries in the region, and have contributed to the country’s economic development.
In Kenya, the Chinese government through the BRI constructed the Mombasa-Nairobi Standard Gauge Railway (SGR). The 472 km long railway cost about USD 3.8 billion (90 per cent of which was funded by Chinese loans).
Other notable projects under the BRI were Lamu Port-South Sudan- Ethiopia Transport (LAPSSET) Corridor, Nairobi Expressway, Likoni Floating Bridge, and the Makupa Bridge.
These projects had had a positive impact on the economy of Kenya; for example, the SGR has significantly reduced transportation costs and time for goods and people, resulting in an economic growth in the country.
China has become more involved in Djibouti’s economic development and infrastructure projects, including the construction of a new port and a railway connecting Djibouti to Ethiopia, which are part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative.
Additionally, Djibouti is home to China’s first overseas military base, established in 2017, reflecting the growing strategic importance of Djibouti to China’s interests in the country and Africa.
The game-changer projects have been, for example, the construction of Doraleh Multi- Purpose Port which started in 2004 and was completed in 2017, by China State Construction Engineering Corporation (CSCEC) and under the supervision of CCCC Fourth Harbor Engineering Co., Ltd and the Addis Ababa-Djibouti Railway construction of which began in 2011 and which was completed in 2016.
The railway project was constructed by China Railway Engineering Corporation (CREC) and China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC) and supervised by the China Railway Seventh Group Co. Ltd.
The expansion of Djibouti’s international airport project started in 2015 and was completed in 2018, the contract for which was awarded to the China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC) and the supervision was carried out by the China Airport Construction Group Corporation (CACG).
The BRI projects in Djibouti have significantly impacted the country’s infrastructure and economy. The projects have provided Djibouti with improved transportation and trade links and stimulated economic growth and job opportunities and enhanced the country’s position as a regional hub for trade and transportation.
These projects align with Africa’s 2063 vision of establishing an integrated railway network, connecting the continent from Egypt in the north to South Africa in the South.
Before the launch of the BRI in 2013, China had already established itself as a significant player in Africa’s economic and political landscape. China had been investing in Africa since the 1960s, primarily in infrastructure development, natural resource extraction and trade. However, the relationship was largely one-sided, with China benefiting more from the relationship than the African continent.
With the initiative, there has been increased investment, trade and infrastructure development between the two sides. Infrastructure development projects such as ports, railways and roads have been a major focus of China’s investment in Africa.
The BRI has also facilitated the establishment of new economic zones and the expansion of existing ones in Africa, boosting the continent’s economic growth. The BRI has marked a shift in China’s strategy towards Africa, that is, from merely extracting resources and conducting trade, to investing in long-term projects that have a significant impact on Africa’s economic growth.
From the above analysis, it is important to note that there is consensus from all countries under the initiative that the BRI has had a number of benefits. BRI have some shortcomings as well, but those are reserved for other day.
The success of the BRI’s second phase will depend on how well it can navigate this competition and adapt to changing circumstances.
The author is a lecturer in Governance and the Politics of Global Development at Mzumbe University. Email email@example.com (0788000025)