AS a symbol of hope that the World is now ready to return to normalcy after a stint of tough travel restrictions across the globe due to the COVID–19 pandemic, a few dozen of Heads of States and Governments gathered in New York from 20 to 28 September to attend in person the world’s most respected summit, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA).
One particular point of observation during this year’s Summit was the fact that President Samia Suluhu Hassan of the United Republic of Tanzania became the country’s first ever president to address the General Assembly, and the 5th female president to do so in the body’s history.
Aware that she is a beacon of hope and bearing an example for women and young girls across the globe of how high women could climb in the leadership ladder, she called in her maiden speech for more concerted efforts by world governments to streamline gender parity. But more importantly, she emphasized the traditional position of her country in the recognition and respect of multilateralism in addressing and overcoming global challenges of our times.
Indeed, the General Assembly has historically been the rightful place to articulate, debate and adopt major legitimate decisions on key issues of the day. This fact was fittingly reaffirmed by President Xi Jinping of China in his statement at the 76th session of the UNGA when he recollected how in 1971, exactly 50 years ago, at the 26th session of the General Assembly how all rights of the People’s Republic of China in the United Nations were restored with the help of developing countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
For the 54 African countries who comprise 28 percent of the UN membership, that event will also long be remembered since, after most of them attained national independence in 1960s. It marked yet another victory for developing countries in pursuit of a fairer international system that advocates equity, justice and win–win cooperation.
In Tanzania, many will remember the event for the pivotal lobbying and campaigning role played by Dr. Salim Ahmed Salim, the then Permanent Representative of Tanzania to the United Nations and later Prime Minister of the country. As they say, a friend in need is the friend in deed.
This act and many others during immediate decades to come have gone into cementing cherished relations between African countries and China, evidenced by its continuous advocacy for structural accommodation of the voices of developing countries in international avenues of decision making such as the UN and the G20.
Fast forward, reminiscing this key annotation in China– Africa relations calls for the need to appreciate the evolving nature of relations between the two sides. Currently, these are underpinned by the Forum on China–Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) mechanism that has, since its inception in year 2000, been lauded as an important platform for dialogue and advancing the comprehensive and in–depth China–Africa relations while providing an effective mechanism for practical cooperation.
More recently in January 2021, the Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi used his official visit to Tanzania to give an appraisal on how the eight major points of cooperation agreed during the 2018 Beijing FOCAC Summit were implemented, citing how over 70 percent of the expected outcomes have been delivered in areas of industrial cooperation promotion, infrastructure connectivity, trade facilitation, green development, capacity building, health care, people–to–people exchange, and peace and security.
While it is true that diplomatically such exchange of visits at high level signifies closer relations between two nations that see eye to eye in diverse areas of cooperation, pundits will point out the importance of accounting for new developments taking place in both sides so as to maximize the outcomes of the relations.
For instance, apart from changing its top leadership, earlier this year Tanzania launched the 3rd Five Year Development Plan 2021/22–2025/26 (FYDP III), which, among other things, is focused on implementing the country’s 17 priority projects, including construction of flagship projects such as the 2115 MW Julius Nyerere Hydro Power Project and the five–phased 1,219-kilometre Standard Gauge Railway from the port of Dar es Salaam to the hinterland regions of the country and beyond to Tanzania’s landlocked neighbouring countries.
Other priorities of the FYDP III include stimulating a competitive and inclusive economy so as to steer Tanzania from its current status of lower middle-income to an upper middle-income country. Given the high resource envelope for financing the Development Plan, estimated at TZS 114.8 trillion, this is an area of focused and practical cooperation that could top the agenda in China– Tanzania relations for a few years to come, at least until year 2026.
Moreover, Tanzania’s ratification and eventual joining of the 1.2 billion population market - African Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) underlines its commitment to continental obligations, particularly through using the African Union (AU) backed CFTA as one of the means to rectify many economic injustices that have faced Africa due to unfair international economic and trading patterns.
As a single market, AfCFTA is a big opportunity for China, but some would argue that its operationalisation, which basically aims at boosting intra–African trade and encouraging African economies to produce what they consume rather than being mere exporters of raw materials and importers of finished good, pose a real-time challenge in developing Africa’s relations with China – its current biggest trading partner. To put it in perspective, with a little more than 20,000 Chinese nationals living and doing business in Tanzania, trade between Tanzania and China is currently valued at USD 3.9 billion.
The balance of trade is asymmetrically tilted in favour of China with Tanzania exports valued at USD 238 million compared with USD 2.1 billion worth of goods China exports to Tanzania.
Given the fact that Tanzania, just like many other sub-Saharan African countries, is still largely an agrarian economy, increased access to the Chinese market for select agricultural and livestock products can be a short-term measure to address this anomaly. Beef and beef products from Tanzania are currently barred from entering China.
As the Communist Party of China (CPC) marks the centenary of its founding this year, the Chinese Government has undisputedly proven over the years to be a capable contributor of global development, a provider of public goods and a defender of multilateral international order.
As the world is on the inevitable verge of revisiting tenets underlying the international system due to diverse overwhelming global challenges, it is high time now for African countries including Tanzania to translate the excellent historical relations with China into more profitable win-win economic and trade relations.
This is key to lifting millions in Africa out of poverty through creating income generating activities in their own economies.
In effect, this will ensure a truly global community of a shared future. In conclusion, I proposed that this could be achieved through China’s siding with African countries in their call to ensure active inclusion in the global health system that would eventually lead to equitable and timely availability of vaccines – including the possibility of manufacturing vaccines in Africa; China’s participation in recapitalizing the African Development Bank (AfDB) and the Afrexim Bank so as to support Africa’s industrialization, infrastructure development for regional connectivity; private sector job creation as well as the AfCFTA initiative; and stepping up digital cooperation so as to enable Africa to benefit from China’s technological strength.
As we reflect the above few points, we take this opportunity to wish the Chinese people a happy October 1st National Day.
(The writer is former Prime Minister of Tanzania and Vice Chairman of Board of Directors, Tanzania-China Friendship Promotion Association.)