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China in Africa

China in Africa

Lifting the bars of people-to-people and political diplomacy; prospect and desire of a coming Ambassador

Sierra Leone’s sustained growth continues to make great progress with specific reference to the governance period of President Ernest Koroma. During his first five years, he moved the country toward a change drive. That was done, successfully as demonstrated in areas of infrastructure, in energy generation and distribution, agriculture and fighting corruption. This is same at the diplomatic front. President Koroma in January 2012, appointed Victor Bockarie as Ambassador Plenipotentiary to the Peoples Republic of China, with accreditation to several other countries in south-east Asia. (Photo: John Pa Baimba Sesay)

Ambassador Foh’s appointment came at a time Sierra Leone is moving with a prosperity drive, spearheaded by the country’s President.  This prosperity drive is as important for our economic growth, as it is with the role of China in the fulfillment of this all important agenda. When discussing the Sino-Sierra Leone relation, one thing to be made apparent is also the significant role that Sierra Leone played in pushing for China’s entrance into the United Nations. That was after diplomatic relations were entered into by 1971 between the two countries. President Koroma attaches great significance to the friendship and diplomatic ties between the two countries. In 2011,he  spoke of the special ties  between Sierra Leone and China, whilst calling for further efforts toward  strengthening those ties, not only on government level but to deepen the interface at the private sector level.  For President Koroma, “China is becoming a market of the future and we (Sierra Leone) must take advantage of that…” especially in trying to cooperate with multilateral institutions.

China is indeed a growing world economic power.   China’s foreign trade in 2012 was at $3.87 trillion, given the fact that the country is the world’s biggest world’s exporter and second largest importer and these expanding imports, according to China Daily, will enhance the country’s influence in global market. This is encouraging for developing nations especially for third world nations. China is Africa’s strategic develop0ment partner. Practically, China‘s continued emergence as a major trading partner for Africa is expected to continue growing. The International Business Daily of China-Africa (February 2012) reported that China’s export to Africa’s rose by 5% in 2012, which was seen as a faster growth than to other regions. It quoted figures released by Standard Bank that 18% of African imports in 2012 came from China as compared to 16.8% in 2011, 10% in 2008 and 4.5% a decade ago.

The Sino-Africa development cooperation is not only limited to trade but takes into account infrastructure. Zhai Jun is quoted by China Daily (February 22-28) as saying Africa faces numerous challenges and as such “China will play a role as a firm supporter of its renaissance and unification by making contributions where they are needed and wanted” In fact, in a Policy Brief, Volume1, Issue 4, 29 July, 2010, the African Development Bank Group Chief Economist Complex, writing on “Chinese Trade and Investment Activities in Africa” made the point, that “official Chinese economic activities in Africa are structured on a bilateral basis, with discussions being held between China‘s central government and its African counterparts.” Thus, in line with the context of development cooperation, we see several Chinese state-owned banks devoting their operations to backing China‘s presence in Africa.

This is an encouraging development given China’s model of development cooperation with African governments.  Presenting a paper at a Partnership workshop in Beijing, February 2013,  on “China’s Engagement and Aid Effectiveness in Africa, including Trade, Investment and Special Economic Zones” Sierra Leonean  born Professor Franklyn Lisk from the Centre for the Study of Globalization and Regionalization (CSGR), Warwick University submitted that Chinese Model of Development Cooperation is focused on among other frameworks;  Mutual relations and benefits: ‘win-win’, partnership, ‘shared growth’, country ownership and Investment-oriented: trade, special economic zones, industrialisation.

Sierra Leone continues to utilize all options available in line with her desires to fostering socio-economic and infrastructural development. Ambassador Bockarie Foh recently spoke of his determination to further strengthen the relationship between Sierra Leone and China by moving beyond the tradition diplomacy of infrastructural development, but also sustain the political diplomacy that once existed as demonstrated in the ties between President Siaka Stevens and Mao Zedong of Sierra Leone and China, respectively.

Strengthening such ties is something that the Director-General of the Bureau of African Affairs International Department of the Central Committee Communist Party of China, Cao Baijun has always welcomed. In May 2012, he spoke of how his department “would want to further such relationship” This should come into play taking into account when in 1978; Vice Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress Ji Pengfei visited Sierra Leone as was also the case in 1984, when Vice Premier Tian Jiyun visited Sierra Leone, among other high profile visits. On the Sierra Leone side, President Siaka Stevens, founding father of Sino-Sierra Leone relations, visited China in 1973, two years following the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries, as was also the case with President Ernest Bai Koroma, Leader of the ruling party in Sierra Leone, who visited China twice, in three years of becoming President. There are several other high profile visits.

Forging traditional and political diplomacy is not Victor Foh’s only desire. He spoke of wanting to learn from China on how to promote issues of women and children. The need to also constantly engage investment institutions like   China-Africa Development Fund (CADFund) and Export-Import Bank (EXIM Bank) is as crucial as the need for Ambassador Foh to be supported by and sundry. Exim-Bank is the world’s third largest export credit agency, with a mandate to “implement state policies in industry, foreign trade and economy, finance and foreign affairs”. The vast majority of infrastructure financing arrangements done by China in the African continent are reportedly financed by the China Exim Bank. The Bank has financed over 300 projects in Africa, with infrastructure, being the core of its undertakings. On the other hand, 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. As of last year the agency, the agency had invested about 2.3 billion dollars in Africa with over 30 projects, including their investment in Real Estates in Sierra Leone. (Source:, Hu Zhirong, Vice President for CADFund 2012). There is great work ahead and Victor Foh will surely succeed, with our collective support.

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