The mutual friendship between China and Africa is founded on shared history, values and a desire for prosperity for humankind. It is a history of the fight against imperialism, colonialism, hegemony and dispossession. China’s engagement with Africa is one of equals as developing nations with the quest for a shared future characterised by social justice, freedom, equality, peaceful co-existence and shared prosperity.
The recent 15th BRICS Summit, hosted by South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, as well as all associated events and engagements, were a watershed moment for the Global South in its quest towards a new world order.
China’s commitment to working with Africa and the rest of the world demonstrates its longstanding aspiration to building a community of shared future which is deeply embedded in peace-centric foreign policy of China. The foundation for China-Africa cooperation is firmly rooted in pluriversality and underpinned by mutual trust. This pluriversal approach has contributed to the appeal of China-Africa cooperation, and it holds great development potential for African countries. The BRICS mechanism and the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) provide valuable platforms for China-Africa cooperation and development.
In the fourth volume of his book Xi Jinping: The Governance of China, Chinese President Xi Jinping writes, “Why do China and Africa have such a close relationship and such a deep bond of friendship? The key lies in an everlasting spirit of China-Africa friendship and cooperation forged between the two sides, characterised by sincere friendship and equality, mutual benefit and common development, fairness and justice, openness and inclusiveness, and progress with the time.”
China has been promoting FOCAC since 2000 and contributed positively to Africa’s development, especially in areas such as debt cancellation for heavily indebted poor countries, provision of training for African professionals, extension of credit lines to African governments, and cooperation across a range of dimensions, including education, science and technology, agriculture, public health, and security.
The theme of the 15th BRICS Summit held in Johannesburg on 22-24 August was BRICS and Africa: Partnership for Mutually Accelerated Growth, Sustainable Development, and Inclusive Multilateralism. One of the priorities of the summit was to build a partnership between BRICS and Africa to unlock mutually beneficial opportunities for increased trade, investment, and infrastructure.
In the presence of 46 African countries, President Ramaphosa declared that this historic summit heralded a new chapter for BRICS. In the first expansion of the group since South Africa’s inclusion into the bloc, six countries have become new members starting January 2024. Indeed, this is a historic moment for the developing world and for the creation of a new world order. In his address to the BRICS-Africa Outreach and BRICS Plus Dialogue titled Hand in Hand Towards a Community of Shared Development, President Xi Jinping said that “China is a friend that Africa can count on” and committed to carrying out “more cooperation with African countries to support Africa in enhancing its own capacity for development.” These measures include, amongst others, launching with UNESCO a “GDI (Global Development Initiative) for Africa’s Future” action plan, to support sustainable development in Africa.
The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) is the engine for African economic and regional integration. As this year’s BRICS Summit noted, “The African continent remains on the margins of the global trading system and has much to gain through BRICS collaboration.” The AfCFTA and BRICS cooperation present opportunities for the continent to transition away from its historic role as a commodity exporter towards higher productivity and value addition. The summit noted that investment in infrastructure development in Africa will need to be significantly scaled up. Infrastructure is a catalyst for growth, development and integration.
China has been involved in a wide range of infrastructure projects. President Xi pointed out that over the past decade, “China has provided a large amount of development assistance to Africa and helped to build more than 6,000 km of railway, over 6,000 km of highway, and 80-plus large power facilities on the continent.” Support from China also includes enhancing Africa’s own capacity for development.
South Africa’s National School of Government hosted a lecture by esteemed academic Zhang Weiwei, director of the China Institute at Fudan University, on the sidelines of the BRICS Summit. In an interview with Observer Network, Zhang said that the large number of developing countries seeking membership of the BRICS group is an indication of how the “non-Western world expects to change today’s unjust international order.” Quite poignantly, he noted that the world is witnessing the awakening of the non-Western world and that the international order must change. This is the biggest consensus of the Global South and the BRICS countries.
In addition to providing financial and technical support to Africa, China has been involved in several capacity development and knowledge exchange initiatives with African countries. There has been an increase in the people-to-people exchanges in the areas of education, culture, healthcare and human resources. As compared to the training programmes offered by most donors, the Chinese training courses exclusively target civil servants. Such exchanges help to strengthen relationships and increase understanding between the Chinese and African participants.
The AU’s Agenda 2063 contains the vision and aspiration for a prosperous Africa based on inclusive growth and sustainable development. For this to become a reality, Africa requires good governance, strong cultural identity, common values and ethics, people-oriented development, and needs to become strong, united, resilient and influential. Building state capacity to effectively manage state affairs and deliver socio-economic services to the people is key to realising these aspirations. Self-serving bureaucracies should be replaced with dynamic, innovative, ethical and competent bureaucrats and politicians who demonstrate greater levels of statecraft.
Through the National School of Government’s partnerships with many Chinese institutes such as the China-Africa Institute and the Chinese Academy of Governance, South Africa has been able to train a significant number of civil servants in a multitude of fields.
The author is principal of National School of Government, South Africa