What you need to know:
- China has since made significant contributions to Africa’s healthcare and response to humanitarian emergencies.
- The summit has to draw from the outcomes of the Extraordinary China-Africa Summit on Solidarity against Covid-19 held on June 17, 2020.
The agenda of the forthcoming 2021 Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) summit in Dakar, Senegal, will be forged in the crucible of the Covid-19 pandemic. FOCAC and the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), established in 2000 and 2013 respectively, are two frameworks of China-Africa development cooperation that will guide the Senegal summit in hewing a post-Covid blueprint and road map.
After 21 years of triennial summits, the virus is stridently shifting the axis of cooperation to healthcare diplomacy and local manufacturing as key planks of a post-Covid blueprint. Combating the virus to secure peaceful growth and shared prosperity demands greater solidarity across cultures and civilisations – FOCAC’s raison d'etre.
The 2021 Senegal summit builds on the long history of China-Africa health cooperation, which goes back to the arrival of the first China medical team in Algeria on April 6, 1963. China has since made significant contributions to Africa’s healthcare and response to humanitarian emergencies.
The summit also builds on the promises made in the 2018 FOCAC Beijing Summit. In 2018, healthcare was at the tail-end of the eight FOCAC priorities – industrial promotion, infrastructure connectivity, trade facilitation, green development, capacity building, people-to-people exchange, healthcare, peace and security.
More than 70 per cent of these promises have been met. Focus should now be on placing the summit’s outcomes and plan of action within the wider canvas of forging a post-Covid order.
FOCAC has to help Africa rise from the economic ashes of the pandemic. The virus pushed the hospitality industry to the ropes. Hotels were closed and tourism, which generated about 8.8 per cent of Africa’s GDP and employed an estimated 24 million people, plunged. The virus greatly eroded the gains made in the 2018-2019 implementation period of FOCAC’s 2018 agenda.
The summit has to draw from the outcomes of the Extraordinary China-Africa Summit on Solidarity against Covid-19 held on June 17, 2020.
Recognising Africa’s vulnerability to the ravages of the virus, China committed to making its Covid-19 vaccine available to the continent as a global public good. Beijing has provided technical, financial and humanitarian assistance to enable Africa to contain the pandemic. The summit recognised digitalisation as central to the continent’s recovery.
China’s BRI is the anvil on which the new post-Covid regime of China-Africa cooperation is being forged. The partners are implementing more than 1,100 projects supported by nearly 100,000 Chinese technicians and engineers. Under BRI and FOCAC, China needs to share technology to boost Africa’s local manufacturing and value addition of especially agricultural raw materials.
When the virus struck, Beijing moved to ease Africa’s debt through bilateral steps and the G20 Debt Service Suspension Initiative. The Senegal forum has to consider a strategy to counter the anti-debt populism, which erroneously depicts China’s support as “debt imperialism”.
Recognising that the pandemic has disrupted controls of major high-burden diseases such as HIV, tuberculosis and malaria and increased maternal and child mortality in Africa, FOCAC has to agree on measures to ensure a return to normalcy. These include giving Africa access to Covid-19 jabs, mass vaccination and enhancing the continent’s capacity for testing the virus and other diseases.
Priority must shift to local manufacturing of personal protective equipment, medicines and other consumables and boosting capacity to produce vaccines through private-public partnerships.
Emphasis should be on promotion of pharmaceutical industries to manufacture drugs in Africa to reduce the costs and increase the supply chain of medicines used to curb the spread of communicable and non-communicable diseases.
Digital cooperation in health through sharing of technologies such as tele-health will advance medical technology in Africa. Focus should also be on improving the healthcare system through training on response to future emergencies.
The Senegal summit comes on the heels of trade uncertainties resulting from the Brexit and China-US “trade wars” in 2019. The pandemic disrupted both global demand and supply chains while measures to contain it slowed down production, in some cases leading to shortages of goods and closure of business operations.
FOCAC’s 2021 agenda should enable Africa’s inclusion in the financial connectivity and the emerging global digital economy. This will close Africa’s digital gap and enhance its connectivity and access to Chinese and global markets, free trade and development finance.
As a lynchpin of Africa Union’s Agenda 2063, infrastructure and digital connectivity will also enhance the free flow of goods, capital and technology within Africa following the coming to force of the Agreement Establishing the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) in February 2021.
It will also connect small farmers with the market, artificial intelligence and block chain technology to ensure food security in Africa, where more than 100 million people faced hunger in 2020 due to Covid-related challenges. The forum needs to stress the strategic importance of deepening ties in green infrastructure, energy and finance and combating the effects of climate change to build a green Africa as part of the global ecological civilisation where the imperatives of development and sustainable development are in harmony.
FOCAC’s post-2021 blueprint and road map should be firmly anchored on knowledge-sharing. It should promote think tank cooperation to improve exchange of knowledge and research to strengthen Sino-Africa relations and tighten people-to-people ties through cultural exchanges and inter-cities cooperation in the fields of culture, arts, sports, and tourism.
Finally, FOCAC should adopt measures to ensure sustainable peace and security through China-Africa military and security cooperation, promote political settlement of conflicts, strengthen peace-keeping and counter-terrorism capacity.
Professor Peter Kagwanja is the co-author of Paving Africa’s Silk Road: The Development Turn in China-Africa Relations in the 21st Century.(Tafiti House Publishers, 2015)