Wang Yi’s visit underscores value Beijing attaches to Africa

Chinese Foreign Minister has embarked on the traditional start of year trip to Africa with Wang Yi visiting Eritrea, Kenya and Comoros.

Such visits by Chinese top diplomats have been taking place since 1991, and this trip is no doubt of huge significance, more so, as it once again demonstrates the extent to which Beijing values its relations with the continent.

China has constantly described Africa as a true friend citing the continent’s solidarity with Beijing especially in safeguarding her economic, political and security interests.

In return, China has pledged to help the continent free itself from the shackles of poverty and underdevelopment, just like it has done within its boundaries. Not only that, Beijing believes Africa’s development can be fast-tracked. This is how China wants its engagements in the continent viewed.

Besides, China’s policy of non-interference on other countries domestic affairs further endears her to African countries.

This explains why a majority of African heads of states and governments has embraced the East Asian economic giant. In Beijing, they see a valued development partner open to carry out major investments whose net effect is to benefit the people.

Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) is a platform currently aiding actualization of this dream. Wang’s visit comes barely a month after the FOCAC ministerial meeting in Dakar, Senegal, where China made a raft of commitments to the continent.

During the meeting, China endeavored to work with Africa in nine broad programs for the next three years, including in areas of healthcare, poverty alleviation, trade promotion, investments, digital innovation, green development, and security among others.

Chinese President Xi Jinping announced a package in excess of $45 Billion to meet these obligations. This is on top of a pledge to provide an additional 1 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines to the continent and other interventions to aid the continent’s post-covid economic recovery efforts. There is also an undertaking by China to initiate and finance 10 interconnectivity projects in the continent, besides 80 other projects in different sectors during this that period.

President Xi’s administration has indicated it is going to implement these programs through consultation with individual countries and on the basis of their most pressing needs. The onus is on Africa governments to engage China on areas requiring her intervention and support. This means Beijing is not imposing initiatives or projects on the continent. She needs prompting to offer the much-needed funding.

And this is why Wang Yi’s visit is important. The three countries hosting the Chinese FM have an opportunity to spotlight their development needs and make a case for support that has been made available by Beijing.

China Kenya relations

In the case of Kenya, the visit by the Chinese top diplomat further demonstrates the strong relationship between the two countries. That Beijing views Nairobi as a key strategic partner in the region is not a secret.

Undeniably, Kenya has been one of the major beneficiaries of Chinese project financing especially in the area of infrastructure such as roads, railways, and ports among others.

Under the Chinese-sponsored Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) which Kenya is a member, the world’s second largest economic power has financed a number of infrastructural projects in the country, the highlight being the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR). There has also been the development and expansion of Lamu and Mombasa Ports respectively, all done with Chinese support.

Over and above this, the number of Chinese companies investing in Kenya has been growing over the last few years. According to a report released at the end of 2021 by the Kenya China Economic and Trade Association (KCETA), 107 of these companies now operate in the country and are having a major impact when it comes to empowering local communities economically.

These companies have aligned their operations towards attainment of Kenya’s economic and social development programs under the Big Four Agenda and Vision 2030.

Among many other projects, China is finalizing construction of Kshs.65 Billion Nairobi Expressway being implemented through a PPP model. Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for Transport and Infrastructure James Macharia has indicated that the country is keen to execute majority of planned big projects through a similar model.

It is expected therefore that the visit will also give fresh impetus to projects Nairobi hopes to execute in the next couple of years with the help of Communist Party of China-led administration.

During an interview with Xinhua News Agency and China Media Group ahead of the tour, Wang reiterated that ‘China will increase trade and investment, and expand practical cooperation to support developing countries in enhancing capacity for sustainable development.’

While in Kenya, the Chinese FM is expected to hold talks with President Uhuru Kenyatta. The President has hailed the impact of Kenya-China bilateral cooperation describing the relationship as hugely productive.

“I take this opportunity to thank the Chinese government. A lot of people have told us that our relationship with China is not beneficial. For those who say that, I request them come and see.” He said recently during an inspection tour of the upcoming Expressway.

The President has also spoken of the need to accelerate Kenya’s industrialization agenda and sees China has an important player in this regard.

But this is happening in the middle of a cloud of skepticism surrounding the motive behind China’s extensive engagements in Africa. Amid the raging narrative that China is a ‘predatory actor’ in Africa, Beijing has vehemently rebuffed these claims noting that China is not interested in luring poorer nations into heavy debts in form of aids and loans.

Just like in previous occasions, Wang will without a doubt seek to assure Africa that there are no strings attached to Chinese activities in the continent.

There is also the important question of funding extended to Africa by China. Recently, there have been widespread reports alleging that Beijing is cutting back on its financial support to the continent, something China has strongly termed untrue.

In fact, before he left for Africa, Wang Yi sought to clear the air saying “no matter how the international situation may evolve, China will unswervingly stand on the side of the developing world and unswervingly deepen mutually beneficial cooperation with other developing countries.”

This is the assurance which the Chinese top diplomat is likely to convey during his latest visit. This is especially so, given that Eritrea, alongside Guinea Bissau, recently signed up for Belt and Road Initiative and expects to develop its infrastructure with Chinese support.

Eric Biegon is a Multimedia Journalist at the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC)


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