There has been long historical friendship between The peoples’ Republic of China (PRC) with Africa, dating back to the 1950s and 60s, when African countries were launching liberation struggles to fight for independence. In 1978, Tanzania which was the training base of most of African liberation struggles had 20 Chinese military instructors at Itumbi camp, while other freedom fighters were taken to China for military training. China provided both military and financial support to Africa’s liberation without any condition of paying back either in hard currency or natural resources.
China’s presence in Africa is more visible today than ever before with increased trade, and construction of large scale structural projects like roads, railways, ports, bridges, oil exploration and many others, through un conditional agreements often accompanied by soft loans.
The China-Africa Cooperation started in October 2000, with the aim of strengthening cooperation between China and African countries. The Forum for China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), organizes high level meetings that take place every three years, bringing together China and African governments representatives to discuss mutual development aspirations. According to Stratfor Enterprises; a US based geopolitical intelligence firm, China has doubled its financing commitment to Africa at every FOCAC meeting. In December 2015, the FOCAC 6th ministerial conference and the 1st to take place in Africa, convened in Johannesburg, South Africa with more than 40 African countries represented. During the meeting, President Xi Jinping pledged $60billion in form of aid and loans to the African continent.
Africa’s longest suspension bridge in Mozambique, constructed by China Roads and Bridges Corporation (CRBC). The structure is expected to last at least 100 years! Photo: courtesy of Gauff Engineering.
In 2009, for the first time, China over took US as the largest trading partner of Africa, while in 2014, the trade volume reached more than $200billion.
It should be understood that The Peoples’ Republic of China had well established diplomatic relations with the Organization of African Unity (OAU) which advocated for the total liberation of the African continent. The OAU latter transformed into The African Union (AU); and when in 2012, China built a $200million AU headquarter, it was to cement the longtime friendship of a hard journey travelled together, rather than a gift of influence or a bribe as sources wanted the world to believe.
When China was supporting Africa’s liberation struggles, her own economy faced serious challenges. ‘The Great Leap Forward”, economic and social campaign that was aimed at rapid transformation of China from an agrarian to industrialized economy had failed to take off. The Chinese president at the time, Mao, was trying to adapt a Soviet economic model which did not work as expected; probably because it was not the right time for China. He later resorted to homegrown initiatives and concentrated more on efficient ways of organizing labour and increasing agricultural production.
Lack of sufficient capital to invest heavily in both industry and agriculture at the same time was the cause of postponing the industrialization phase. This therefore, acts as evidence that China’s support to the African liberation struggles was not out of a rich nation supporting poor Africa, or a method of trying to take over Africa. It was out of ideological clarity and sacrifice on the necessity of the liberation of the oppressed African people. With the above background, and China’s foreign policy of non-interference in domestic affairs, humble cultural respect and the absence of racial prejudice has given China much acceptance in Africa.
China’s influence in Africa is growing based on good diplomatic relations and the win-win cooperation approach. China today, has 52 diplomatic missions in Africa. China eyes Africa as a gem of economic potential for investment and a market for their manufactured goods. Africa is a vast emerging market with a growing population. In the last decade, it is estimated that 60 percent of the world’s ten fastest growing economies were in Africa, and China has realized and seized the opportunity to engage more in trade and investment. China’s trade volume with Africa has been on the increase, and now estimated in the excess of $200billion.
China’s foreign policy that supported Africa’s liberation from colonialism, a policy that respects the cultural values and political choices of the African people, has made China Africa’s strongest ally. African has embraced a relationship with China built on mutual respect and understanding.
Author of the book: China and Rwanda: Effective Leadership is Key To Transformational Governance.