Home OPINIONS The BRI has transformed Africa’s socioeconomic development model

The BRI has transformed Africa’s socioeconomic development model

Africa perennially yearns for socioeconomic transformation just like the rest of the developing world. However, most of the development initiatives have been undermined by serious challenges due to lack of the wherewithal to lay out the necessary infrastructural vehicles to deliver goods and resources, as and where they are needed.

According to an article published by the United Nations, only 38 percent of Africa’s population has access to electricity. Further, the penetration rate for internet is less than 10 percent, while only a quarter of Africa’s road network is paved. Research has shown that poor road, rail and port facilities add 30 percent to 40 percent to the costs of goods traded among African countries. The African Development Bank says that the estimated cost of implementing all crucial infrastructure in the continent by 2024 is US$360 billion.

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The establishment of China-Africa cooperation has positively impacted Africa’s development, both at bilateral and regional levels. Virtually every African country, especially members of the Forum on China–Africa Cooperation, can attest to transformation of its economic development emanating from China’s practical contribution.

China revived and upgraded the old Silk Road to the intercontinental Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Initially launched in September 2013, the BRI has changed the development dynamics of many developing countries through the restructuring of their economies. By August 2023, more than 150 countries had signed up to the BRI. These countries comprise almost 75 percent of the global population, with more than half of the world’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Due to its hitherto huge infrastructural gaps, particularly in the roads, railways and energy sectors, Africa has been one of the early adopters of the BRI. By August 2022, 52 African countries had officially signed a memorandum of understanding with the BRI. The project has created more than 3,000 projects and 420,000 jobs for participating countries globally.

The third Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation held in mid-October 2023 in Beijing was also a celebration marking the constant unfolding of Africa’s socioeconomic development. An array of African leaders trooped to the Chinese capital for the occasion, which also marked the 10th anniversary of the BRI.

The BRI is today a one-stop comprehensive project encompassing infrastructure, trade and telecommunications. Kenya, East Africa’s largest economy, is one of success stories of BRI’s boost to struggling economies. The 293-mile six-year-old Standard Gauge Railway (SGR), for instance, replaced the colonial era track, reducing the travel time to and from the Mombasa Port city and capital Nairobi by half. The SGR has not only enhanced trade between the coast and upcountry, but has also spawned new businesses along the route.

Another game-changing BRI project in Kenya is the 27.1 km Nairobi Expressway which cuts through the city’s previously notorious gridlock, helping vehicle owners save millions in fuel costs, as well as eradication of the inordinate number of hours spent on the highway. There are also thousands of kilometers of roads, bridges, expanded oil terminals and, sea and air ports at various stages of construction.

Through the BRI, Africa is plugging into China’s push towards high-quality development and modernization. The offshoot of the country’s unprecedented investment in infrastructure in the last couple of decades has formed a strong foundation from which to propagate the BRI and mentor participating countries on economic transformation.

The transport networks and systems – roads, railways and ports – established in Africa have opened up resource rich hinterlands that were previously overlooked due to poor transport networks. The transport of resources and goods from these lands to both domestic and overseas destinations or markets has opened up and catalyzed economies, positively affecting livelihoods and increasing government revenue.

Anecdotal evidence suggests generally increased economic growth in the BRI participating countries as a result of value addition of agricultural produce and basic manufactured goods. Experts say that sustaining this trend can lead to industrialization of African countries through enhanced value addition of raw materials and increase in both intra-Africa and international trade. BRI has boosted trade, increased job creation, improved transport services and education and health among African countries.

The BRI has not been without challenges. One is the West’s ‘debt trap diplomacy’ conspiracy theory that discouraged developing countries from it termed as China’s predatory loans. Fortunately, economic experts have since debunked this narrative by explaining both the sustainability and favorable cost-benefit analysis of the BRI projects in developing economies.

The COVID-19 pandemic also slowed down the pace of implementation of BRI projects around the world. This was expected due to the virtual slowdown of economic activities globally as a result of restrictions on mobility to contain the pandemic. But the continuous economic recovery both in China and in other BRI participating regions has also restored the impetus of BRI’s implementation.

Through the BRI, Africa will be a focal point in the emerging multipolar world with its decentralized geopolitical influences. The ease of trade and communications will enable the continent to choose development partners and diplomatic allies on its own terms, contrary to the manipulation it has suffered from the West, whose sole objective was to serve its hegemonic interests.

Stephen Ndegwa
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