By Austin Maho (Ph.D)
This October is a major landmark in the growing Sino-Africa relationship. October 2020 is significant because it marks the 20th anniversary of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) which has grown to become one of the world’s most visible and effective multilateral platforms for international collaboration and development.
FOCAC’s 20th anniversary is coming on the heels of the outbreak of the Covid-19 global pandemic. Covid 19 has infected millions and killed hundreds of thousands.
The disease has challenged global health and relationship. It has exposed global fault lines and has laid bare the hypocrisy of nations. At a time the world should have embraced multilateralism and solidarity some countries have fallen short of expectation. Unilateralism has become a counterforce to multilateralism.
FOCAC has come to represents the new world order for multilateralism and cooperation. In twenty years it has become the rallying point for developing countries and South-South cooperation. It represents a shift in Western-backed global institutions that have only served the interests of big powers.
Twenty years after, FOCAC has grown exponentially and presently comprises of 54 African countries, the African Union Commission and China as main financial and catalyst for its operation, it has become a global institution of reckon giving voice to African countries in the global community.
The Forum was founded in the year 2000 in Beijing with many African heads of state in attendance. The forum holds it gathering every three years and has since inception hosted meetings in Egypt, South Africa and Ethiopia.
The Forum held it 7th ministerial conference meeting two years ago on September 2, 2018, at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing.
As noted by State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi at the September 2018 meeting, FOCAC has become an important mechanism for collective dialogue and practical cooperation between China and African countries, a model of South-South cooperation and a banner of international cooperation between China and Africa.
FOCAC for African countries has come to, “represent the principle of sincerity, real results, affinity and good faith and the values of friendship, justice and shared interests”.
Looking at the 20 years trajectory of the organisation there is no doubt that China and African countries’ relationships are at historic high. It has never been this good.
The high point of FOCAC was at the 2018 summit which brought together over 50 African leaders and government to Beijing. It was an unprecedented gathering cementing China African cooperation, the gathering was a testament to the comprehensive and strategic partnership between the continent and China.
20 years have recorded remarkable wins for both China and Africa. As of 2019, bilateral trade between China and African countries has grown to 208.7 billion U.S. dollars, more than 20 times its volume 20 years earlier. Statistically, China has traded with Africa more than any other country in the World.
According to the Consul General of the Chinese Consulate in Lagos Nigeria, Mr Chu Maoming Chinese companies in Africa have become major employers of labour in the continent and have provided capital and technologies for industrial growth.
In terms of trade and investment, the volume of trade between China and Africa exceeded US$200 billion in 2019, and China has become Africa’s largest trading partner for 11 years in a row. China’s stock of indirect investment has reached US$110 billion, and more than 3,700 Chinese enterprises have invested and started businesses in various parts of Africa, providing a strong driving force for sustained economic growth in Africa. Driven by China-Africa cooperation, other foreign countries have also increased their attention to Africa, bringing more opportunities for Africa’s development.
Nigeria has been a major beneficiary of this relationship under the FOCAC platform.
As of 2019, the bilateral trade volume between China and Nigeria increased by 26.3% year-on-year. Nigeria continues to maintain China’s third-largest trading partner in Africa, the largest engineering contracting market and an important investment destination.
In terms of infrastructure, Nigeria has seen a harvest of infrastructural development, especially in the railway sector.
A number of Chinese funded projects have been successfully completed. Major ones are the 187 km Abuja to Kaduna standard gauge railway line which was commissioned in 2016. The 315 km Lagos to Ibadan railway line which is set for commissioning in a few months’ time. There is also the Abuja urban light rail project which was commissioned in 2018. The Abuja metro light rail line is the first of its kind in West Africa. These projects and many others which are still under construction signifies the growing friendship between Nigeria and China.
The cooperation between China and Africa through FOCAC has been of great benefit to African nations, significantly it has strengthened the two sides in the fight against COVID-19.
Through the instrumentality of FOCAC, China has been able to send lifesaving medical supplies to many African countries and China has also renewed its commitment to expedite the completion of the African CDC within the shortest possible time.
Before the outbreak of the pandemic, the emphasis has been on building a relationship between China and African countries especially in the areas of Agriculture, trade, culture and people to people exchanges, solidarity and Sino-Africa brotherhood.
Irrespective of western fuelled criticism, Sino-Africa relationship has been mutually beneficial, it has been a relationship built on trust and understanding. The insinuation in Western quarters that China is pushing African nations into a debt trap is simply ridiculous and designed to sow the seeds of doubt into a blossoming partnership and brotherhood.
As FOCAC celebrates its 20th anniversary, the results of the platform can be seen across Africa. Over the past two decades, FOCAC has become an important platform for collective dialogue and an effective mechanism for practical cooperation between China and Africa, despite the challenges of a fast-changing global landscape China-Africa partnership is matching ahead full throttle.
FOCAC 20 years on has become the vehicle of China Africa relationship encompassing several areas of cooperation.
Coupled with the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) the future is bright.
China through the instrumentality of the BRI continues to commit funds for the construction of essential intra- and inter-continental connectivity for a new Africa that is better linked, trade better and has a stronger voice in the international community.
As the world slides into unilateralism and ultra-nationalism, FOCAC is the hope, the voice and benchmark for global multilateralism a win-win for China Africa cooperation.