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China in Africa, a Sierra Leonean viewpoint

China in Africa, a Sierra Leonean viewpoint

China’s strong position and stance in the UN Security Council today can be as a result of the direct role played by Africa, especially Sierra Leone.  Solomon A.J Pratt’s ‘Jolliboy…’ will help you get detailed accounts of this role played by Sierras Leone. So attempts to discuss China’s presence in Africa today should always take into account this historical fact.  (Photo: John Pa Baimba Sesay, IA, China)

At the recently concluded fifth Ministerial Conference of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, precisely held on the 19th of July this year, President Hu Jintao of China spoke of the strategic relationship that exists between Africa as a continent and China as a country. For him there have been some sort of remarkable achievements that have been scored by African countries and people in promoting the continent’s peace and development, which should serve as a compelling factor for the international community to “continue to give high priority to enhancing peace and development in Africa and increase input in this area…”  This was when he was delivering a seven page speech that was centered on the theme: “Open Up New Prospects for a New Type of China-Africa Strategic Partnership.”

China’s strategic presence in Africa has been of great help, from the perspective of her role in continent’s infrastructural development. This is especially so with the last decade or so, following the establishment of the China-Africa Cooperation Forum .The creation of FOCAC came about in 2000 as a framework upon which to build on the friendly cooperation between China and Africa, cope with challenges that may come as a result of economic globalization and work towards promoting common development projects. (http://forum.eximbank.gov.cn/forum/channel/focac.shtml ).   China stands as the world’s second largest economy with Africa being the home of most of the developing countries.  It should be stated, that the rapid economic trade between Africa and China has to do with the availability of huge resources in Africa which are of great importance to the economic and infrastructural growth of China. However, it is also worth to state, that besides obtaining resources from Africa, China today continues to build bridges,  seaports, power plans roads and other kind of infrastructure for Africa countries. We also see today the involvement of China in Africa through the China Africa Development Fund-CADFund. With representative offices in four African countries; South Africa, Ethiopia, Ghana and Zambia, CADFund was established in 2006 as the first equity investment fund in the country, primarily focusing on investment in Africa. It has an aim of enhancing China-Africa economic cooperation and promotes Africa’s development through direct investment.

There are more than 6,000 branches of Chinese related companies across Africa with some 2,000 investments in the continent. In Malawi for instance, China’s first investment program in that country following the signing of diplomatic ties years back is through the Malawi Cotton project, with funding from the China-Africa Development Fund. This is believed to be the largest China-related agriculture investment in Africa. The China-Africa Development Fund is one of several ways through which Chinese enterprises are encouraged to invest in Africa.  Trade between Ghana and China, reached US $ 1.27712 billion exceeding US $ 1 Billion for the first time, in 2007 and   China’s imports from Ghana are to   increase by 150% and such imports include, but not limited to rubber and cocoa.  China is the largest exporter of manufactured goods and has continued to play a leading role in international trade especially across Africa. It has significantly contributed to Africa’s economic growth.

Wei Jianguo is former Vice Minister of Commerce and currently now Secretary-General of the China Centre for International Economic Exchanges. He wrote in his book, titled, ‘Africa A Lifetime of Memories…’ that “as China-Africa relations have progressed over the past half century and more, a special China-Africa cooperation model has taken shape. This China-Africa cooperation model derives from the process of China’s aid, investment and trading in Africa and it adopts practices different from those of Western countries. Its most notable characteristic is a focus on equality and mutual benefit with no political conditions attached.” In fact the same author referred to above also revealed in his work, that new China’s trade with Africa begun in 1950 with China establishing trade relations with Egypt and Morocco in the north of Africa.  “The then trade volume was only 12.14 million US dollars, accounting for 1% of China’s foreign trade volume…” but this rose to  90.87 million dollars in 1954 as China’s main export were tea, oils and foodstuffs, light industry products, among other commodities.

President Koroma and President Hu Jintao

In an article in March 2012 edition of ChinaAfrica, a news monthly magazine, covering China and Africa,   Qu Xing, head of the China Institute of International Studies wrote of how “China attaches great importance to cooperation between developing countries…” It is my view, that as a result of China’s new model of engagement with Africa, especially the model of cooperation, in fostering ties with Africa this has led to not just China being able to build a new AU Conference Center with the total investment of 800 million Yuan, which is about $123.7 million but also announced to provide a total of 600 million Yuan free help to the AU for the next three years.

China’s quest for peace and development in African cannot be overemphasized. And it is within the framework of FOCAC that President Hu Jintao also, during the recently held fifth Ministerial Conference of FOCAC, that President Hu Jintao underscored the fact that notwithstanding the tremendous changes that have taken place in the world, peace, development and cooperation remain the trend of our times though “uncertainties and destabilizing factors in international development have notably increased. The impact of the international financial crisis is still with us. Regional and international hotspot issues keep emerging …” Developing countries, especially within Africa have tried to maintain strong momentum of growth, although we are still confronted with many difficulties and challenges. China and Africa form over one third of the world’s population, which means they are an important force for advancing world peace and development.

Again, Africa as a whole should take advantage of the assurance given by President Hu Jintao that “no matter  how the international  landscape may change, China will remain unchanged in its commitment to supporting Africa’s peace, stability, development and unity “ ,with a strong promise of  continuing  to give  sincere  support to African countries’  independent choice of development paths and genuinely help  strengthen their  capacity for self development  as they will continue to stand firm with the African people and forever be a good friend and good bother of the African people. There were five points’ action plan for cooperation between China and Africa announced by China. They include;  opening  up new prospects for the new type of China-Africa strategic partnership, in terms of working towards strengthening the political mutual trust between  China and Africa; work towards expanding practical cooperation between   China and Africa , increasing cultural and people-to-people exchanges ,increasing coordination and cooperation in international affairs and working towards making FOCAC more stronger.  In the next three years, the Chinese government will take measures in key priority areas to support the causes of peace and development in Africa and boost a new type of China-Africa strategic partnership. They should be followed by Africa and see how these cooperation framework announced by China will help improve on the development agenda of the continent.

Sierra Leone is no exception to the socio-economic gains that African countries continue to enjoy from China. The Mission in China is accredited to other countries in South East Asia and Pacific Region like Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, India, Japan and Vietnam among others.  China’s bilateral relation with Sierra Leone is felt in the areas of trade, economic and technical cooperation, as well as exchanges and cooperation in the fields of culture, education and health. This has been the case since 1971 when both countries entered into diplomatic relations. Historically the Sino-Sierra Leone cooperation of mutual benefit started from 1984 and it has been making serious progress since then.

At the educational sector, China has received over a thousand of Sierra Leoneans coming to study since the 1970s.  On Monday 3rd September, the Mission received in guest a delegation of eleven officials from the Ministry of Agriculture, on an exchange experience sharing visit to China.  A day before, the Mission also received 27 students who had come to pursue their studies.  At the investment front, Sierra Leone continues to welcome Chinese investors in country. Sierra Leone’s investment potentials, say for instance in agriculture are among the best in West Africa, having a “diverse climate, plentiful; rainfall, good soil and abundant land to be cultivated .This message, we keep telling interested investors. In the marine sector, investment could be in the construction of fisheries harbour complex, which practically could be of great help to our country.

In my view, therefore, China’s presence in Africa has been of great help in that, their investments are visible and reflects the present day needs of our people.

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