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CWA # 118, 27 May 2019

The BRI Summit 2019
Africa Embraces the Belt and Road

  Seetha Lakshmi Dinesh Iyer

Western countries have by and far rarely paid attention to African countries lag in terms of industrialization because of their poor infrastructure. But thanks to China. African countries are now getting sophisticated infrastructure services, including railways, roads, bridges and ports.

The BRI Summit 2019 saw several African leaders participating in the Belt and Initiative. Even though significant imbalances continue to persist in the Sino-African relations, the bilateral exchanges have only increased in the past years from funding roads, trains, ports, and other high-cost facilities. As far as popular African media goes, much of BRI’s infrastructural goals is in line with the African Union Agenda of 2063 which seeks to link around 54 African nations through massive transportation and communication channels. So, how has the BRI been influencing the region’s development?

On the sidelines of the meeting, the Chinese President reportedly met with many of the African leaders including the Kenyan President and Ethiopian Prime Minister. While Ethiopia and China announced the signing of a number of agreements including a $1.8 billion deal between Ethiopia and the State Grid Corporation of China in order to provide electric transmission and distribution equipment. Also, China had announced that it will write off all debts for interest-free loans until the end of 2018 given to Ethiopia among others.  

 

BRI in shaping Africa’s future

Through cooperation, China has become the biggest investor in Africa. For instance, China has invested in the first phase of construction of a railway line linking the Kenyan capital to the port of Mombasa and also lines linking the Uganda, Burundi and South Sudan. The East African rail link has helped increase Kenya's GDP by 1.5 percentage as it has enormously increased the number of tourist inflow, both local and foreign. While there is also a stretch which connects Tanzania and Zambia. Earlier, Africa had been greatly suffering from the lack of access to sea ports due to which the cost of importing has been exorbitantly high. With the onset of new railway lines which connect to the nearby ports, the trade and economic output has significantly increased. In addition, China has established six special economic zones in Zambia, Ethiopia, Nigeria and Egypt to promote local industrial development and a Suez Canal economic zone which has been attracting investments from other countries in these regions. Like for instance, the Russians have signed a deal to establish an 8 km long economic stretch in the Suez Canal area. These outcomes have undoubtedly encouraged the Africans to engage more with China in order to achieve their shared goal of economic prosperity and global expansion.

Western countries have by and far rarely paid attention to African countries lag in terms of industrialization because of their poor infrastructure. But thanks to China. African countries are now getting sophisticated infrastructure services, including railways, roads, bridges and ports. The Belt and Road initiative’s focus on building infrastructure has not only strengthened the overall Sino-African relations but also produced mutual benefits. For instance, African countries are heavily dependent on

enormous quantities of consumer and light-manufactured goods and electronics while China imports most of its natural resources from Africa to meet its expanding industrial needs. In addition, the fact that Chinese investments and projects associated with the Belt and Road have improved the livelihoods of people in much of Africa has also been conveniently ignored.

Besides, differentiating the positive from the negative in terms of economic outcomes of China’s presence in developing countries is difficult due to the complicated nature of the BRI with all its multifaceted impacts involving economic, political, militaristic, and ideological inputs. So, it would only be unfair to deem all of China’s engagement along the BRI as disadvantageous. Even if China leads, there are clearly economic benefits to the receiving country and invariably to the greater global connectivity.

The kind of development in African countries is only indicative of how far-fetched the popular initiative has been in developing countries. The BRI is still in its early phase and it is only worth a wait to know what the Chinese agenda for Africa is. Clearly, the coming years will see unprecedented turns in the level of cooperation between China and African countries, specifically in the areas of industry, technology and services. However, China’s aggressive economic practices, military expansion, and ideological tactics in Africa should not be left unnoticed. Hence, it is important to draw a clear distinction between the unfavourable and essential engagement to advance and foster development, building commonalities with China while expanding Africa’s global outreach.

 

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