Africa and China have historical and close relations which date back to the former’s liberation movements. In the past two decades, these relations have grown exponentially to new heights. The traditional government-to-government relations between the two sides, prominent throughout the early and last decades of the second half of the 20th century, have greatly evolved. They have now transcended to business-to-business and people-to-people relations. This should not come as a surprise as one famous African saying goes, ‘a tree’s beauty lies in its branches, but its strength lies in its roots’. So it is true that in recent years, there has been a lot of fascination and trepidation about the relations between China and Africa. Perhaps what most people forget to consider is that it is the deep roots of these relations that have enabled them to flourish beyond many people’s comprehension. Ours is rich and complex, a stable relationship that is unlikely to change but only to grow from strength to strength.
I make this observation against the backdrop of global adverse events that have confronted the world. Crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic, the Russo–Ukraine war, effects of climate change, supply chain disruptions, inflation, debt crises, and food price spikes have all ensured that Africa and the developing world are the hardest hit. These challenges are compounded by Africa’s local problems of insecurity such as the war in Sudan, military coups in parts of West Africa, and high poverty rates in almost all African countries.
Despite all of these seeming gloomy and doomy, Africa remains resilient and has a real opportunity for economic recovery and creating wealth and prosperity for its people. To achieve this, international partnership is key. Partnerships that, among other things, support Africa’s efforts to end poverty, create jobs, and reduce inequality in the continent.
China has, over the years, proved to be a reliable partner for Africa in this regard. China has continued to offer the true partnership that Africa wants – sustainable investment and trade.
As of 2022, China has sustained its role as Africa’s largest trading partner for 14 consecutive years. Statistics show that China’s trade with Africa rose from less than 13 billion US dollars in 2000 to about 254 billion US dollars in 2022, a whopping increase of over 19 times. Records of the first five months of 2023 alone show that the total import and export between China and Africa clocked at 113.5 billion US dollars, up by 16.4 percent year on year. China has also remained Africa’s largest investor with over 47 billion US dollars of FDI as of 2022. These increased investment and trade exchanges have greatly helped build African countries’ economies, create more opportunities for new businesses, and fight unemployment in the continent.
Just like any other healthy organism, China–Africa relations are growing and adapting to accommodate the evolving interests of both sides. For instance, as African countries endeavor to kick start their homegrown African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) initiative, China has made a bold and welcome move to increase engagement with Africa’s continental and sub-regional financial institutions, diversify FDI and expand the list of imports from Africa in order to fuel the initiative.
While we all agree that once the AfCFTA is fully operational, it will unlock the benefits of the continental market and generate substantial opportunities for all African countries and beyond, it is at this point that international partnerships with countries like China come into play. On one side, Africa is seriously looking for support to help bridge the infrastructure gap and ensure the interconnectedness of the whole continent through roads, railways, airports, electricity transmission lines, telecommunication lines, and so forth so that to ensure AfCFTA yields the expected results. On the other, China is answering this infrastructure improvement call through its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) subscribed by 52 African countries and the African Union Commission. This is a shared understanding that once the connectivity infrastructure is in place, then the focus can shift to promoting bilateral trade and reducing trade deficits with China by African countries.
Tanzania’s rich history and foreign policy permit the country to give due priority to African continental initiatives such as the AfCFTA. Tanzania is poised to make the most out of the continental arrangement. Just like many other developing countries, Tanzania is also ripe for the new tide of industrialization coupled with technological development, innovation, and the digital economy. Thus, working with countries like China, a giant in this arena, will enable us to acquire the necessary skills and capabilities, and mobilize the much-needed resources.
Tanzania is keeping its end of the bargain. The current Tanzanian Government, under the leadership of Africa’s only female Head of Government, Samia Suluhu Hassan, is open for investment and international partnerships. She has deliberately introduced the four pillars (4Rs) of consolidating democracy and ensuring people-centered development. In a nutshell, the pillars, reconciliation, resilience, reform and rebuilding, are a candid invitation to all domestic partners and international friends to embark on a common path of cooperation for mutual benefit.
It is in this context that Tanzania’s relations with China are now tighter than ever before. The leaders of the two countries, President Xi Jinping and President Samia Suluhu Hassan see eye to eye with each other and have a close fraternal working relationship. This is evidenced by their recent encounters in Beijing, China, during a state visit and in Johannesburg, South Africa on the sidelines of the BRICS Summit. Now, Tanzania and China’s relations have been upgraded to a comprehensive strategic cooperative partnership aiming at elevating cooperation in all areas. Government and private sector delegations from both sides also make frequent visits. A few days ago, a Chinese delegation from Zhejiang Province, composed of more than 100 economic and trade representatives, visited Tanzania and held business-to-business discussions with their Tanzanian counterparts in Dar es Salaam.
China remains the largest single source of Tanzania’s Foreign Direct Investment, according to Tanzania’s One-Stop Investment Centre (TIC). As of August 2023, the TIC registered a total of 1,195 Chinese projects worth 10.73 billion US dollars in Tanzania, creating 141,530 jobs. In the past two years alone, 205 new Chinese projects worth 3.1 billion US dollars were registered by the Centre and will provide 22,626 new jobs.
Numerous Chinese companies continue to operate in Tanzania in accordance with the local investment law, duly paying their taxes, providing employment to hundreds of thousands of young Tanzanians, and facilitating appropriate technological transfer to the country. To mention just a few, Chinese companies are involved in implementing Tanzania’s strategic projects, such as the construction of the central-line Standard Gauge Railway, which will ensure regional interconnection with many eastern and central African countries with no access to the sea; the Julius Nyerere Hydropower Station, which will ensure Tanzania attains self-sufficiency in electricity generation, and the Tanzania National ICT backbone network, which will ensure internet connectivity to almost all hospitals and primary and secondary schools in the country.
Furthermore, Tanzania is among the 9 African countries that continue to enjoy a waiver of tariffs on 98% of taxable imports since 1 December 2022. This means that Tanzania’s agricultural products such as avocado, soya beans, cassava and many more easily find their way into the vast and lucrative Chinese market. This is a big boost for Tanzania whose population is still largely agrarian.
China has also continued to support Tanzania in overcoming learning poverty and skill gaps by offering scholarships to Tanzanians. For instance, in 2023 alone, the Chinese government awarded 46 Tanzanian students with scholarships in various Chinese higher learning institutions, and another 114 students were awarded degree program scholarships offered by the Ministry of Commerce of China. Cumulatively, more than 2,000 scholarships and few more thousand short courses in vocational and technical training have been offered by China to Tanzania to date. These scholarships are intangible investments that are critical in empowering the Tanzanian people to reach their full potential to contribute to their country’ growth and prosperity.
In multilateral arena, Africa-China relations continue to thrive, and this is historical too. We all remember the role that Africa and in particular Tanzania played in restoring the lawful seat of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in the United Nations. Who hasn’t heard the story of “dancing Dr. Salim Ahmed Salim” in the United Nations General Assembly Hall following this victory? Africa and China have continued to stand together in the multilateral fora and support each other’s interests. They also formulate and defend common positions under the umbrella of the G-77 and China group. The cooperation between Africa and China in the multilateral fora has been necessary and beneficial to both parties.
Ultimately, it’s the people of the two sides who stand as firsthand witnesses of the significance of these relations. These are the relations that last because the interests of their two peoples are at the center. Just as I said in my introduction, it is the people of Africa and China that form the roots which keep the tree of Africa-China relations strong and flourishing.