Why African Countries Should Embrace China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative?

The Third Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation was held in Beijing from October 17 to 18. Themed “High-quality Belt and Road Cooperation: Together for Common Development and Prosperity”, the forum was attended by over 10,000 registered representatives from 151 countries and 41 international organizations. Dr. Natu El-maamry Mwamba, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Finance, participated in the forum as the official representative of the Tanzanian Government.

Chinese President Xi Jinping made a historic keynote speech at the opening ceremony of the forum, and committed another 107 billion USD to finance the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) projects across the globe for the next five years, majority of the beneficiaries being low- and medium-income countries, including those in East Africa, which are in critical need of financial support, infrastructure and reliable energy supply.

According to the currently available data, China has invested a total of 932 billion USD in BRI projects for the past ten years, of which more than 561 billion USD were invested in infrastructure projects and 371 billion USD being allocated to non-financial investments. The newly committed 107 billion USD to finance BRI projects by President Xi Jinping is a clear and strong signal of China’s commitment and steadfastness in initiating the global engagement on addressing and resolving major issues facing the international community, including poverty, poor infrastructure, youth unemployment, climate change, etc.

This has pushed China to commit itself to supporting livelihood improvement projects across Africa in the next five years, as a way of fighting poverty and modernizing the world. This ideology lies from a strong experience of President Xi Jinping as a village leader in his young age in rural China, where he had pushed for the improvement of infrastructure and livelihood as a common course towards development.

The same ideology which was implemented by Her Excellence President Samia Suluhu Hassan in Tanzania, and for her belief in better livelihood for sustainable development. Furthermore, the actualization of President Samia’s 4Rs, specifically the Re-building and Reform agenda on Tanzania economy, therefore the second phase of BRI brings a new boost to President Samia’s aspiration to revive and reform Tanzania’s economy towards a people-centered economy.

Moreover, President Xi emphasized that the BRI was pivoted upon the principles of “Planning together, Building together, and benefiting together.” He said that the “BRI exceeds and intends to minimize the differences between civilizations, cultures, social systems, and stages of development”. Hence, it had opened new avenues of collaboration and aimed to foster international cooperation without any discrimination of national identity.

 

This is the essential aspect for the majority of African countries whose priorities has been neglected by the West for decades, and they were forced to implement priorities which had nothing to contribute to their economic liberation or to leverage their natural resources and agricultural potential. The Westerners’ arrogance and sense of superiority have rendered their financial aid and loans provided to African countries not realizing fruitful results in economic growth and poverty alleviation.

China’s principle of “planning together” is highly expected to address the long-existing economic woe of African countries and will have a visible impact on their economy. The same way in late 1960s when China helped to the rural economic and transport woe of both Tanzania and Zambia through the construction of TAZARA railway, when there was no  country ready to finance the project as it was not their priority and they used economic inviability as an excuse to reject Mwalimu Nyerere’s request, despite the fact that it was badly needed for Zambia to gain access to seaports to export its copper without subjecting to the mercy of the Portuguese who controlled Angola and Mozambique, and the British who controlled Rhodesia (now renamed as Zimbabwe) and South Africa at that time.

The focal areas of the second-phase BRI provide new lifeline for most low-income countries whose debt-ridden economy resulted by taking massive loans from foreign private creditors and the Bretton Woods institutions, which either charge high interest rates or earmark their loans for specified areas. Therefore, the new principle of engagement in BRI second phase will help these African countries to build their economy through China’s direct investment in industry for processing agricultural products and natural resources extracted from these countries, and financial support will help to stimulate development of the financial sector in of these countries, which is essential for creating employment and reducing poverty in rural Africa.

The same will help Tanzania boost its drive in commercialization of the agriculture sector through the new initiative of Build a Better Tomorrow (BBT), and resolve the unemployment problem of the youth.

Among the new focus of the BRI second-phase are the  “small yet smart” projects and the “principles of green, transparent and non-corrupt cooperation”. And these give new opportunity to exploring wind and other source of renewable energy to power the industrial sector of these nations, Therefore, it was pivotal to explore “hydro, wind and solar energy based power plants, oil and gas pipelines, and the increasingly smart and interconnected power transmission networks” for high-quality development.

Tanzania and other African countries can benefit from Chinese technology and expertise in energy generation to implement these projects, which will also benefit them in technology transfer and employment.

Other area of focus are: building a multidimensional Belt and Road connectivity network, supporting an open world economy, carrying out practical cooperation, promoting green development, advancing scientific and technological innovation, supporting people-to-people exchanges, promoting integrity-based Belt and Road cooperation, and strengthening institutional building for international Belt and Road cooperation.

It was further explained that the BRI second phase provided the warning against decoupling, bloc politics, confrontation, and rivalry among nations, which is essential for maintaining world peace and boosting sustainable development. Therefore, President Xi argued and warned against “ideological confrontation, geopolitical rivalry and bloc politics.” He added that “we stand against unilateral sanctions, economic coercion and decoupling and supply chain disruption”.

Additionally, the BRI is also helping countries in the world oppose monopolization of global supply chains by providing pathways for free flow of goods and services. It can be concluded that the BRI aims at building a community with shared future for both developed and developing countries, and China is becoming a new global champion in fighting the economic injustice and poverty in the Global South, which were largely caused by political and military dominance by the powerful West.

And this gives reason for the African countries to stick and live with the spirit of BRI for their economic prosperity rather than getting tempted by the European Union’s Global Gateway program or the United States’ Build Back Better World (B3W) initiative, which has been recently re-branded as “Partnership for Global Infrastructure Investment (PGII)”, aimed at preventing further decline of these nations’ influence, in the developing world.

(The writer is a political and economic analyst based in Dar es Salaam. Email: vangamsita@gmail.com)

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