How Africa can benefit from China’s Belt and Road Initiative
China has always kept rest of the world in awe with its development, especially since the country gradually opened its door for the rest of the world. The significant transformation in just 30 years from an inward-looking agricultural country to a global manufacturing powerhouse, as well as becoming the first country to achieve the millennium development goal by lifting 800 million of population out of poverty have placed China as a working model for other countries around the globe. China’s pursuit for a shared prosperity and global economy has been the tenets of the Belt and Road Initiative. Before the advent of this initiative there have been attempts by the EU, US, Russia and India to rebuild the ancient Silk Road (dating back to Han Dynasty, 206BC—220AD) that linked Asia and Europe in particular.
However, China’s approach toward the initiative is different owing to the commitment of President Xi Jinping, as well as the numerous agreements- such as the 130 transport pacts – it has already signed with partner countries involved in the route. President Xi announced the proposal for a “Silk Road Economic Belt” in 2013, when he visited Kazakhstan. The initiative is to establish a modern equivalent, creating a network of railways, roads, pipelines, and utility grids that would link China to the rest of the world with the aim to redirect the country’s domestic overcapacity and capital for regional infrastructure development. This initiative will inject billions of dollars in international transportation infrastructure: Mainly railways and roads stretching across Asia, the Middle East, Europe, and Africa; the initiative is designed to boost commerce. The initiative has won extensive endorsement from the international community. In 2017, during the Belt and Road Forum, President Xi said that the only way for China to realize the development initiative promised by the Belt and Road Initiative is to have an environmental global stability. The initiative placed China at the center as promoter of globalization with a taste of Chinese humanism and culture. President Xi, while speaking at the summit in Beijing where he also pledged $124 billion for the new Silk Road, stated that it was necessary to coordinate policies with the development goals of institutions, including APEC, ASEAN, African Union, and the European Union.
As China marks the fifth anniversary of the initiative, it is pertinent to note that the pillar of the world economy (Africa) is not left out. Africa has been in contact with China since the pre-colonial times which has planted friendship seeds in the hearts of both Chinese and African people. Africa is endowed with large population of human resource, millions of arable lands and countless natural resources. While most African countries endeavor to industrialize and diversify their economies, China, after nearly 40-year of reform and opening-up, has accumulated rich experience in industrialization and modernization. The combination of the Chinese capital, technology, market, enterprises, talents, rich experience in development and African abundant resources, huge demographic dividend, the great market potential will have a great chance to create another miracle of development.
Although few African countries (Egypt and Kenya) were officially named in the initiative, many other African countries have benefited and have continued to benefit from this initiative, such as Ethiopia, Djibouti and my country Nigeria. Nigeria is a regional and continental self-determined powerhouse that has, since independence, adopted and maintained a policy of political neutrality in foreign relations. Because of its influence and the strong belief in itself as a formidable (real or latent) global actor, Nigeria has been actively involved in the continent of Africa via its foreign policy on significant global matters. As a result of the country’s economic and political pedigree, Nigeria significance in Africa is arguably necessary for any actors looking to make a strategic power play, economic and otherwise, on the continent. Nigeria is a resource-endowed nation with a young and growing diverse population. Nigeria’s population, currently the seventh largest globally and Nigeria favorable demographic advantage also makes Nigeria a consumer country.
As the leading nation of West Africa and one of the most powerful nations in Africa, Nigeria is highly respected from all over the world, especially in China. China and Nigeria are strategic partners sharing with similar cultures, historical background, celebrating their independence on the same day, and highly complementary economies. The friendship has borne rich fruits covering almost all fields in recent years, but just as Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said during his visit to Abuja in January 2017: “Compared with the size, population and market of China and Nigeria, the two countries cooperation still have a large potential to be deepened”. Also, during his visit to four West African nations, he said “in the past, China support African nations to attain political independence, but this time the Chinese people are willing to support African nations gain economic independence; the Belt and Road can act a platform to attain the economic independence”.
With so much dependence on oil, the other sectors of the economy have been poorly developed as well as underutilization of her manpower, this has promoted the Nigeria government to opt for more options to diversify its economy as well as to train more talents who would be able to shoulder the responsibility in this new era. Meanwhile, China through the platform like the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), the Belt and Road Initiative and many other mechanisms, shows its strong willingness to share its experience and attain common development with other nations.
Over the last decade, China has become a major economic partner of Nigeria. Nigeria is China number one engineering market, number two export market, number three trading partner and major investment destination in Africa. Trade between China and Nigeria has increased from $2 billion in 2005 to $6.5 billion in the first five months of 2017, an increase of 33 percent, over the same period in 2016. This represented 7.6 percent of the total trade volume between China and Africa and 36.4 percent of total trade volume between China and ECOWAS. China investment in Nigeria grew by 27 percent in 2016. China’s total investment in Nigeria has climbed to $15b. The nation is presently affectionately referred to as “Africa’s China” among global investors.
More so, the influx of Chinese technology, management and experienced talents, have greatly boosts the diversification and development of Nigerian economy. Recently the strong willingness and enthusiasm which the local people welcome Chinese product is encouraging, Chinese products had become the pillar of the local economy and made their hometown a better place. Nigeria has all the required qualities to become another world manufacturer, and China has the willingness and ability to support Nigeria realize its potential. China and Nigeria need to find a platform and mechanism to effectively conduct their cooperation, and this is the role the Belt and Road Initiative plays.
As Ehizuelen Michael, a researcher and the executive director at the Institute of African Studies, Zhejiang Normal University, said, “Africa needs sharity and not charity”. With the economy, population and market of the Belt and Road participating countries, the initiative will make a great impact on the world economy in the coming years. For example, the building of the Lekki Free Trade Zone possesses some economic significance with the aim of cutting down the country’s reliance on imports. The Lekki port will function as a commerce hub extending the Belt and Road further to the West on the African continent. Also on June 7, 2018, Nigeria took a bold step in her cooperation with china by signing a direct currency swap deal which is expected to last within a period of three years. China is willing to work with Nigerian friends to more actively participate in the initiative, and lay a more solid foundation and foster greater connectivity for world economic growth.
Edeh Emmanuel Chidiebere, from Nigeria, is currently studying at Zhejiang Normal University, Zhejiang province. He is a master's student of Chinese language and also a beneficiary of OBOR through FOCAC.
The opinions expressed here are those of the writer and do not represent the views of China Daily and China Daily website.