Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) 2018 meeting in Beijing, China. Photo: MFA-China

All the flagship projects and programmes approved by the AU Summit are included in the First Ten Year Implementation Plan.

These consist of 12 projects the AU would like to see implemented as catalysts for the implementation of the broader Agenda 2063 (AU Commission, 2015b).

The 12 priority programmes are:

· Integrated High-Speed Train Network connecting all African capitals and commercial centres;

· An African Virtual and E-University to increase access to tertiary education and develop high quality Open, Distance and eLearning resources;

· Formulation of a commodities strategy enabling African countries to add value, earn higher returns, and integrate into the Global Value chains based on local content development;

· Establishment of an annual African forum that brings together the political leadership, private sector, academia and civil society in evaluating the implementation of Agenda 2063;

· Establishment of the Continental Free Trade Area by 2017 to accelerate intra-Africa trade and strengthen Africa’s voice and policy space in global trade negotiations;

· The African Passport and free movement of people by 2018;

· Implementation of the Grand Inga Dam Project, which will generate 43,200 MW of power (PIDA) to support the current regional power pools;

· The Pan-African E-Network to expand and improve e-services, especially intra-African broad band terrestrial infrastructure, cyber security, and the information revolution;

· Silencing the guns by 2020 to ensure the ending of all wars, civil conflicts, and gender-based violence; and

· African Outer Space Strategy to strengthen Africa’s use of outer space to bolster its development. African partners must thus ensure that they co-ordinate better so that projects funded or implemented by China through the BRI are aligned to Africa’s strategic priorities as articulated in Agenda 2063 and the 10-year implementation plan.

Given the scale of the Belt and Road Initiative and Africa’s geographic importance along the Economic Belt and Maritime Road, it will be important to enhance African agency so that projects have not only a national impact, but that they have a clear alignment to regional and continental priorities.

Conclusion,

Having outlined the rise of China as a Southern power, this paper has demonstrated why this phenomenon matters for Africa’s contemporary place in an evolving geopolitical landscape.

Importantly, China’s rise as a Southern power was accompanied by its ‘Going Out’ strategy, which saw the state encouraging and supporting development finance institutions, state owned enterprises and the private sector to invest in projects and opportunities abroad.

This contributed to an important infrastructure boom in various countries on the continent and saw much needed foreign direct investment (FDI) from China.

This period also witnessed African countries consistently featuring in the list of fastest growing economies in the world. The BRI could thus be compared to a second wave of China’s ‘Going Out’ strategy, one that will have a significant impact in countries along the belt and road.

A better understanding of the domestic and global drivers of the BRI will arguably lead to mutually beneficial projects along the continental belt and the maritime road.

One of the reasons that China is such an important actor in the geopolitical landscape is the fact that changes within China reverberate across the global order.

As the country seeks to overcome the middle-income trap and transition the economy away from older, pollution heavy industries towards a greener economy and high-tech manufacturing, it will find itself competing more with industrialised countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in high tech industries. This will also have the ripple effect of relocating many of the factories that thrived in China over the past few decades, but which are no longer sustainable in China due to rising wages and stricter environmental standards.

This can thus create opportunities for countries along the continental belt and maritime road to attract Chinese capital and manufacturing capabilities.

However, as this takes place it is clear that this process will also have to be well managed as local companies find themselves competing more with companies that have been successful in China over the past few decades.

As China produces more high-tech goods, it will also be in search for markets along the belt and road. It was also important to illustrate how Africa can advance its interests through the BRI, especially along the Indian Ocean perimeter given its strategic value along China’s supply lines.

Given the scale of the BRI, African countries would need to co-ordinate through their regional economic communities (RECs) and the African Union in order to ensure that BRI projects on the continent advance the already agreed to strategic priorities in Agenda 2063 and the various regional strategies by the RECs.

This would maximise impact and enhance African agency with China and other countries along the BRI. It is important for African countries to also realise the opportunities created along the entire belt and road, identifying those that are more feasible. Indeed, while China no doubt leads the BRI, opportunities will be created along all of the countries along the ancient routes, providing opportunities for those countries that are better organised at the state and non-state levels.

If African countries, especially those that wield greater influence on the continent prioritise the identified areas in Agenda 2063, they will create greater cohesion in the continent’s international relations, enhancing African agency in partnering with China and other countries along the Belt and Road.

It will also be important for African stakeholders to increase their own maritime capabilities and be prepared to mediate in their interests when tensions amongst the great powers flare up from time to time.

Realising these opportunities will require co-ordination, continued dialogue and research on various levels. It will also require the research community, through think tanks and universities across the African continent to conduct more empirical research in partnership with Chinese institutions and embassies.

This is important to ensure that throughout the implementation and identification of BRI projects in Africa, the research community understands the perceptions of various actors towards China and the BRI projects.

This can act as an early warning mechanism where there is discontent and allow for multiple stakeholders to discuss research findings related to the BRI and Africa.

Indeed, in an age where the weaponization and misrepresentation of information is becoming more prevalent, it will be important that research and dialogue initiatives are ongoing to provide a balanced understanding of the empirical realities of the BRI.

While the positive attributes of participating in the BRI are clear for various stakeholders, it is important for African countries to continue to learn by doing and learn from experiences in the field in order to continue to seek an ongoing partnership that benefits all sides in a mutual manner.

Supporting research that seeks to monitor and evaluate the ongoing partnerships will assist in ensuring that policy is based on evidence-based research.

The aim would thus be to maximise the positives while minimising the potential negatives and creating spaces for multi-stakeholder engagements that assess the partnerships and projects as they unfold.

The speech was delivered by Dr. Philani Mthembu – executive director of the Institute for Global Dialogue during the just-concluded Eighth Meeting of the China-Africa Think Tanks Forum in Beijing, China.

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