COMMENTARY

How to Sustain China-Africa Cooperation beyond pandemic

Africa is reeling under the pandemic’s social-economic impacts

In Summary

• One of the key issues raised in the deepening cooperation between China and Africa revolves around debt sustainability.

• In order to achieve true win-win cooperation, China and African countries should act in good faith.

A file photo of President Uhuru Kenyatta with China's Xi Jinping.
A file photo of President Uhuru Kenyatta with China's Xi Jinping.
Image: PSCU

There is no doubt that Covid-19 pandemic is fundamentally changing the world.

With over 3.5 million people infected and death toll well above 240,000, the pandemic has unmasked the vulnerabilities of the global public health and left a trail of economic loses that will take years to blunt.

Individually, and in some formations, countries are undertaking massive soul searching on just how the virus managed to inflict such widespread damages, in this period of unprecedented technology.

 
 

While Africa has so far not registered the levels of Covid-19 deaths and infections as seen in China, Europe and the United States, the continent is nonetheless reeling under the pandemic’s social-economic impacts.

The World Bank projects that African economies could collectively lose up to US$ 79 billion While McKinsey forecasts over 100 million job haemorrhage in the continent’s formal and informal sectors.

Life is becoming unbearable for millions of Africans as the disease digs in.

It is no accident therefore that the continent is actively leveraging its economic partners to lessen the severity of the disease on its population.

China is one of Africa’s strongest partners, taking top slots in trade, financing, investments and construction.

How can Beijing’s cooperation with Africa manifest during and beyond the pandemic, to the benefit of both entities?   

Having come out of the pandemic earlier than other countries, Beijing has actively shared its epidemic control experience with the continent.

 

Using its industrial leverage and diplomatic reach China has also been the main source of protective equipment, medicines, testing kits and respirators; most of which have come in as donations to all African countries.

The Covid-19 vaccine is also likely to come from China; all of which makes it only rational that Africa maintains close contact with China not only in its fight against the pandemic but also other health challenges.

Covid-19 has transformed the way we live and work.

In Africa, low levels of investment in digital connectivity infrastructure that can facilitate economic activities beyond the big cities have compounded the challenge.

From Kenya’s bid to establish a smart city or South Africa’s effort to ramp up investments in 5G technology, Chinese enterprises are already hard at work in various African countries to enhance the continent’s technological competitiveness.

The pandemic has therefore only heightened the urgency to deliver these public goods at national and regional levels.

The work of post-Covid-19 economic reconstruction will be a steep climb, especially for the economies reliant on commodity exports.

Bilateral lending may slump as countries turn inward for sustainable solutions to the pandemic loses.

As the principal trade and financial partner for the continent, China should promote additional investments in the continent’s key sectors including energy, transport, agriculture, health and manufacturing.

The US$ 60 billion pledged to Africa during the 2018 Forum on China Africa Cooperation comes in handy.

African countries can also take advantage of the financing opportunity under the China-led Belt and Road Initiative framework to modernize consequential infrastructure.

One of the key issues raised in the deepening cooperation between China and Africa revolves around debt sustainability.

In order to free up monies and effectively respond to the pandemic, the Group of 20 advanced economies have already agreed to suspend debt servicing for the world’s poorest countries beginning May 2020.

 

According to the China Africa Research Initiative at Johns Hopkins University, 49 African countries owe China US$ 512 billion; with annual repayments of US$ 8 billion.

While China has already indicated that it would not mind discussing how best to assist each country to fulfil its debt obligations, Beijing should consider debt relief or scheduling frameworks that can allow African countries to service their debt without compromising economic stability.

In order to achieve true win-win cooperation, China and African countries should act in good faith, and reciprocity; while promoting closer people to people relations.

The pandemic has opened up unpleasant wounds of ethnocentrism.

Allegations of racism have been rife both in China and Africa. Relations between the two entities should transcend transactional basis into one where both hearts and minds are in tune.

Even in the aftermath of Covid-19, the International Monetary Fund projects that Africa will be home to eight of the ten fastest-growing economies in the world.

Urbanization is slated to intensify as the middle class expand, creating the world’s second-largest market under the purview of the African Continental Free Trade Area.

The cooperation between Africa and China is a key metric of how these development prospects will be realized.

It, therefore, makes sense to build on the gains already consolidated; while keeping an eye on emerging challenges, for remedial action.

The Writer is a PhD student of International Relations with a focus on China-Africa cooperation.

Twitter: @Cavinceworld. Email: [email protected]