Africa China: What's Next?

2015-12-08 18:43

The summit of the Forum for China and Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) in Johannesburg just concluded on the high note as both sides agreed to take their relationship to a higher level, marked by concrete cooperation in industrial development, human development, science and technology, culture and arts. China announced a new package of funding to enable this which is not a new agreed agenda between the sides.

The danger is that these undertakings may suffer the common challenge of multilateral agreements: the failure to implement with the same energy that we negotiate undertakings.

The FOCAC was born in 2000 because this was a critical period in the world, the end of a decade of changes after the Cold War. It is a period in which developing countries emerged to become even more globally significant, active agents in international discussions and key voices in a changing world.

It was a period in which Africa experienced a wave of political changes that brought down many dictatorships especially military juntas that had been propped up by global powers. It also saw the economic upswing across the south, producing such mammoth economic successes as China, Brazil, Turkey, Qatar, and others.

It was a period in which developed countries sought to lead the change taking place by strengthening such clubs as the G8, alliances like NATO, institutions like the IMF and World Bank, and they sought to maintain the old unequal relations with the developing world fashioned in the colonial and imperial period.

The countries of the south also emerged with a greater willingness to assert their interests, to reject old colonial arrangements including the power asymmetry in international organisations and to build cooperation among themselves. It is the period of rejuvenation of south-south cooperation, the pursuit of collective self-reliance.

It is in this period that the developing countries rediscover the value of their cooperation that expressed itself in new bilateral relations, new diplomatic clubs like IBSA and re-energization of older multilateral structures like the G77 +China.

FOCAC emerged as one of a number of Africa's engagements with other regions and countries of the world including Africa and US, Japan, India, G8, South America, and so forth. FOCAC focused on economic, human and cultural cooperation with a big ambitious agenda agreed. China committed huge amounts of money towards infrastructure, construction, agricultural improvement, technology transfer, cultural exchanges, educational and health cooperation. Yearly, ambassadors and then ministers met to renew the commitments.

The FOCAC 2015 took place amidst a sense that the commitment is ambitious but actions have been weak generally especially on the African side. A sense was that though many activities and actions could be reported but impacts sought have not happened to the extent hoped for. For instance, Africa's industrial development remains weak, infrastructure backlogs persist, health and education continue to suffer the consequences of centuries of neglect, and the levels of people to people connections remain inadequate.

Hence, the FOCAC concluded with a commitment to do better in what has been agreed. It reaffirmed the commitment to reform of global governance and to change Africa's position in the world, to end conflict and entrenched peace and development. One of the ways in which the improvement will be expressed is an institutionalised system of monitoring and evaluation and reporting.

There is a danger that in spite of commitments made, the change will be minimal or unremarkable until there are champions of the FOCAC agenda on the African side, ensuring that African countries ready themselves to extract benefits from the relationship. A few countries must show sufficient enthusiasm to ensure that the relationship to a few big wins for Africa. Such countries would mobilize African countries to organise themselves to ensure that the funds invested are used in areas with the most optimal impact. They would ensure a balance between in-country and regional focus on the agenda implementation. Given that it is not a China- AU platform, champion countries should be willing to take the lead in institutionalising the Chinese commitments in regional and continental frameworks. They must provoke Africa to develop a common position on relations with China with specific guidelines to ensure that there is no uneven bilateral cooperation between individual countries and China.

Civil society and citizens need to stand up and demand more accountability from their governments in respect of FOCAC undertakings. A civil society networks must emerge that goes beyond fear of China to translate the opportunity into an advantage for Africa.

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