In some few days to come, particularly on the 29th and 30th November 2021, Senegal will be in the league of other African countries like Ethiopia and South Africa to host the all-important Forum on China Africa Cooperation (FOCAC). The FOCAC is a high level tri-annual indaba of China and African countries with diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China (PRC). All the countries in Africa except for Eswatini that has no diplomatic relations with the PRC, gather every three years to participate in discussions on how to design, consolidate and inject new energy on the way forward for a collective development of China and Africa. Since its conception and inception in 2000 and 2003 and the official launch of FOCAC in the year 2006, the Forum is traditionally hosted either in China or any African country interchangeably. This year, Senegal will host the 8th edition of FOCAC with the theme to ‘Deepen China Africa Partnership and Promote Sustainable Development to Build a China Africa Community with a Shared Future in the New Era’.
The FOCAC was primarily a strategy put forward by China to engage with Africa. This relationship have since grown in leaps and bounds. In 2006, China’s financial commitment to Africa was $5 billion and by 2015 and 2018, such commitment rose to $60 billion. In between this development cooperation, China Africa partnership has progressed from resource trade to infrastructure development of monumental proportion, and shifted into a more focused political and strategic cooperation. In recent times, analyst, think tanks and scholars from Africa have continued to promote and influence the government of Africa to show more innovation, commitment and interest in China Africa cooperation due to the benefit that has come to be evident in such relationships.
The FOCAC has enjoyed tremendous good will and partnership in various facet of investment, trade, health, infrastructure, food security, climate change and other areas of human development. This edition will follow the same pattern with previous FOCAC, but will be unique in many aspects. The 2021 FOCAC is the first summit since the Covid-19 pandemic crippled economic activities and businesses on a global scale, destroying livelihoods and threatening multilateralism as we know it. It is also the first FOCAC that just proceeded the 100 years anniversary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) and 50 years of Diplomatic Relations between China and Africa, reviewing the joint China Africa response to Covid19, and for the first time expected to reel out a ‘China Africa comprehensive strategic and cooperative partnership’ specifically for the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in Africa.
There is no doubt that the history of the FOCAC and its derivatives has been a blessing for both China and Africa. This is especially true in the areas of infrastructure development, business opportunities, national and regional security cooperation, cultural diplomacy and people to people exchanges. Indeed, China Africa cooperation has transformed the physical infrastructural environment of both China and Africa, and has proven based on the many hardware projects across Africa that this partnership is unprecedented. It is however pertinent for this year’s FOCAC in Senegal to ensure what Hannah Ryder* refer to as ‘a more organized and collective approach to engagement on the part of African leaders at this year’s FOCAC’. There is a need for African and Chinese leadership, think tanks and scholars to inject some novelty in building a philosophical, cultural and ideological component of China Africa cooperation. In order to improve the quality and efficiency of the FOCAC in general, the 8th edition of the Forum must endeavour to create a hybrid dimension to China Africa cooperation that can activate an innovative path to sustainable development based on a software approach to cooperation and development.
Senegal is one of the ideological, theoretical and cultural hubs of Africa. To project a philosophical angle to the aspirations for building livelihoods and shared humanity that China Africa relations have come to represent, shall be remarkable in this FOCAC. China Africa cooperation has span politics, economy, health, technology, etc. The 2021 FOCAC provides the prospect to pay closer attention on building the mind-set, attitude, philosophy and ideological direction for China and Africa towards a better future of communities, opportunities and humanity. The FOCAC should be a platform to build the significance of character traits like diligence, hard work, respect for culture and tradition, patriotism, knowledge, communal sense of purpose, prudence, the synergy between man and nature and cooperation as enabler for development. If embedded in African culture and traditions are qualities that can point the people towards sustainable development using their traditional alternatives, then FOCAC should concentrate in building those qualities. There are different paths to development than a single prescription and the Chinese experience have proven that.
As the saying goes, Africa is the next frontier of development and this aspiration is very likely to be achieved through China Africa cooperation. It is expected that the 2021 FOCAC will address Africa’s place within the BRI, which is potentially the most audacious economic blueprint of global connectivity in trade, investment and pragmatic access to financing for development. One of the ways Africa could benefit from this initiative is to imbibe the values and inculcate the principles of putting the people at the centre of development, promoting togetherness and projecting our unique socialist nature embedded in African and Asian oriental civilization. China and Africa have so much in common and the sooner a deliberate effort is applied to zoom our shared values into the international frontline, the better for humanity. This can be done by injecting our unique value in the domestic and foreign policy of both China and Africa.
This year’s FOCAC provides the platform for Africa and China to reiterate their belief in a multilateral system which President Xi Jinping of China says ‘falls upon us to follow the trend of history, and choose cooperation over confrontation, openness over seclusion, and mutual benefit over zero sum games*. While contemporary issues like the green economy and climate change, technology transfer, peace and security and post Covid-19 recovery will dominate discussions at this year’s FOCAC, there is also the need to present the philosophical energy that can consolidate on the successes recorded in China Africa cooperation over the years. This could involve understanding and deploying those software features that have enabled China’s peaceful rise, inclusive growth and development in politics, economy and technology. Understanding the principles of Chinese development could be used to unlock the ingenuity of Africans from within, prioritize citizen’s interest in collective development and position Africa’s quest to inclusive and sustainable development as a process rather than a narrative or a big bang theory.
Philosophical vocabulary and direction is important to China Africa cooperation because it will give substance to the framework, content and nature of the overall partnership between both climes. It is therefore instructive that on the side-lines of this year’s FOCAC summit and subsequent meetings in the future, there should be podiums that promote cultural education of Africa and Asian oriental civilization in leadership, governance, relationships, values and development. The number of Chinese cultural institutes in Africa is growing and Africa should take advantage of such presence to collaborate in the areas of language and other exchanges that could promote intellectual understanding of China Africa cooperation, upgrade China Africa oriental civilization, engender new models and paths to development, and ensure a holistic development that is en-sync with the culture, tradition, emotion, beliefs and orientation of the people.
Long live China Africa cooperation.
By Oboshi Agyeno (PhD) Institute for peace and Conflict Resolution, Abuja