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China’s transforming Africa by the rail or off the trail

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Authors: Joseph Ndungu & Wang Li

[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] A [/yt_dropcap]lthough China highly spoke of its first African built railway from Tanzania to Zambia during the Cold War heydays, it is a rare occasion for China to link a railroad to a grand design, such as “the Belt & Road Initiative” proposed by President Xi Jin- ping in 2013.

Recently, after the completion of the railroad from Nairobi, the capital city of Kenya, to its key port city Mombasa, a three-part documentary produced by Xinhua News Agency in a title of “My Railway, My Story” made its debut on Kenyan television on 29th and 30th May respectively and on Chinese international television New China TV. The major public state broadcaster in Kenya, the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation also showed the two parts “Bridges” and “Stations” documentary which revolve around the 79 bridges and many stations along the 480-km long railroad with stories of people who were dedicated to its construction during prime time slots. Kenyan observers lauded the initial two part documentary which aired and showcased spectacular Chinese workmanship in the construction of Standard Gauge Railway. For sure, the legacy of the railway line would live on, as the SGR is set to transform the country’s socio-economic bearing for many years to come. However, the question that comes into focus in the many minds of many and the subject of this article is why did China invested 3billion US$ into the huge East African rail-network and how does the world perceived the railroad in East Africa within the backdrop of Chinese-initiated “Belt and Road” strategy?

Politically, 2017 marks a seminal year for the implementation of the outcomes acceded to at the Johannesburg Sino-Africa summit held in 2016, for China its plans to promote her comprehensive ties with Africa en bloc to proximate a strategic partnership are on course. Due to this, the primary purposes of the railroad from Mombasa to Nairobi marked the attainment of consensus with African countries in view of further advancing long-term cooperation between China and Africa. Though, the first Chinese-built railroad in Africa was the Tanzania—Zambia Railway Authority (TAZARA) which was completed as a turn-key project between 1970 and 1975, and the project was financed through an interest-free loan of RMB 988 million (equivalent to US$ 500 million) from China then. Actually, it was Premier Zhou En- lai’s Safari during 1963-1964 that laid down the key tenets of China’s aid programs to Africa. Due to China’s decades-long development programs, the majority of newly- independent African states not only extended recognition to Beijing as the legitimate government of China, but also demonstrated unwavering endorsement of Beijing’s ascension as a permanent occupant of a seat in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). Since then, with its burgeoning power, China has become proactive and more ambitious in attempts to expand Chinese engineered infrastructure in Africa with the feature projects of building railroads and high-speed highways.

Accordingly, the railroad from Nairobi to Mombasa and the subsequent transformation of African-Chinese cooperation are not only essential but also inevitable. Yet, unlike Western foreign-aid policies, which generally prioritize political issues and social values, Chinese external aid have been primarily driven to the economic issues. On one hand, this is consistent with China’s adherence to non-intervention in the domestic affairs of other states, since China and its African friends have worked closely with the enhancement based on terms of “mutual trust, win-win and cooperation”, as reiterated by the Chinese government. On the other hand, Kenyan officials are looking forward to a future of unprecedented transformation upon the launch of the Nairobi–Mombasa railroad. As stated, the newly–built railroad line not only revolutionized the transport sector of the country, but more important in expanding to stimulate investments in advanced manufacturing in Kenya and the region involved. It is widely hold that this modern railway has already boosted Kenya’s capacity, prestige and attractiveness to investors. Upholding the sentiments, Munene Mungai, a senior assistant director for infrastructure in Kenyan government, hailed the launch of SGR project for setting a precedent for other Africa countries aspiring to achieve middle-income status. ‘’Now Kenya is to enter a critical milestone in its history since the first modern railroad has been in operations’’. As Mungai told Xinhua news during a recent interview, “This is a new dispensation in our transport sector and Kenya will experience rapid transformation as the SGR is operational from the first day of June.” As an economically strong state in East Africa, Kenya is banking on the SGR to ease congestion at the port of Mombasa and reduce cost of transporting bulk cargo and passengers to the hinterlands and the neighboring states.

Doubtless, they are asymmetrical in views of the territorial sizes and economic capacity, but the Chinese government regards as advantageous, African states’ potential assumption of non-replaceable participants in the “Belt & Road initiative”. For this consideration, China and Africa have provided as joint statement declaring the establishment and promotion of bilateral relations based on a “comprehensive and win-win strategic partnership”. Among many other strategic measures and bold reform initiatives discussed at the multilevel talks between the two sides, China evidently expects that the railroad from Nairobi to Mombasa would be able to involve certain, if not all, African states into the new silk road economic zones and the 21st century maritime silk road, linking China to Africa through the Kenyan port of Mombasa. Eventually that would link both China and Africa to many other ports on at least three continents. In so doing, the great potential of sub-global if not global interaction would be achieved.

In a long-run, the vision of the project, encompassing its land and maritime aspects, is a remarkable one to the community of participating states. Even at the concept stage, Kenya, especially on the coast region, greeted the collaboration with China with excitement, looking to seize the gargantuan opportunities offered by the “Belt and Road Initiative”. As the project of the century, the “BRI” is expected to open up vast opportunities for Kenya and Africa as well. Now, with the completion of the first phase of the Standard Gauge Railway funded by China and Kenya, Africa is well positioned to reap from benefits that will be realized. To that ends, local government officials, scholars and trade lobby groups are optimistic that cooperation based on the win-win principle will open new frontiers of progress in Africa’s various fields, and the development of further trade linking the Kenyan port of Mombasa with those in Europe, Middle East and China. As a part of this vision, China has been the main guarantor in the construction of mega infrastructure projects in East Africa including the standard gauge railway linking Mombasa in Kenya and Kampala in Uganda. Likewise, China is behind the development of Lamu Port and various projects on the Lamu Southern Sudan–Ethiopian transport corridor (LAPSSET). When fully completed, these infrastructure projects will position Kenya as a regional economic powerhouse. As a result, Kenyan policy makers continue to support the concept of a 21st Chinese Maritime Silk Road and have realigned it with the country’s long term socioeconomic blueprint.

With the construction of the second Chinese trans-African railway and China’s 21st Maritime Silk Road, Kenya seeks to position herself as the gateway to east and central Africa while at the same time positioning itself as a point of exit for all products destined to Asia and Europe through port of Mombasa. Given this, China on her part as a rising power with the second largest economy in the world takes more responsibilities in the world affairs. It is true that potentially the transformation of Africa by high-speed transport and communications that will lift large parts of the continent out of under development, as China sees the matter. But, building up the transnational rail lines, though, demands the suppression of security threats that could disrupt trade flows and even mutual trust. It is widely held that “BRI” stems from China’s confidence in its rapidly-growing economic strengths while it also requires making long-term political stability possible. As African states have shown the strong and sincere desire to draw on Chinese expertise and financing to alleviate critical infrastructure bottlenecks, China as usual sizes up African states as strategic partners. True to this China’s policy-making is careful, conservative and consensus-driven, for its overriding concern is its economic growth which has been seen as the fundamental issue to the security of the country and the legitimacy of the ruling party.

For China the pace of transformation of Africa has been remarkable. Even though China’s short-term intension remains economic and diplomatic, it seems inevitable that China’s basic interests will eventually lead it to far greater involvement in the continent. Though diverse in both economics and politics, Africa remains sided with China on international issues, and this quasi-alliance strictly delimits the scope of Sino-African collaboration and the opportunity to assist in the formation of Chinese conceptions and strategy in the world politics for decades to come. It is unmistakable that Chinese leaders are well-aware of this advantage.

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Africa

Scaling Up Development Could Help Southern African leaders to Defeat Frequent Miltant Attacks

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Terrorism

Leaders of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) are now considering, without foreign interference, tackling frequent insurgency devastating regional development, causing havoc to human habitation and threatening security in southern Africa. This collective decision came out after the Extraordinary Double Troika meeting on 8th April in Maputo, Mozambique.

The violence unleashed more than three years ago in Cabo Delgado province took a new escalation on March 24 when armed groups attacked the town of Palma. The attacks caused dozens of deaths and forced thousands of Palma residents to flee, worsening a humanitarian crisis that has affected some 700,000 people in the province, according several reports.

Many international organizations and foreign countries have responded with humanitarian support and with financial aid aimed at alleviating situation, specifically in Mozambique and generally in southern Africa.

For example, the European Union (EU) pledged to send almost €7.9 million in response to the humanitarian crisis caused by terrorism in northern Mozambique, part of a package totaling €24.5 million for the entire southern Africa and Indian Ocean region. EU humanitarian aid to Mozambique “seeks to provide a response to the humanitarian consequences of the conflict in northern Mozambique, where €7.86 million of EU funding will be directed,” a statement from the European Commission details.

Beside horrific attacks, drought is also currently affecting Angola, Eswatini, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe. For instance, the EU will provide assistance to address a severe food and nutrition crisis in Madagascar. A further €6.00 million for helping children across the whole region gain access to education, and €8.00 million to improve the region’s disaster preparedness.

Now Southern African leaders are looking at pulling their resources together to improve the deteriorating security situation, supporting vulnerable displaced and affected people with shelter, food, protection and access to healthcare, especially in northern Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado province, and further widely in southern Africa.

As a first step, SADC has called for cooperation in cross-border surveillance as essential to stem the flow of foreign fighters fomenting terrorism in Cabo Delgado, and further warning the spread of violence throughout southern Africa. Among other measures, SADC suggested that southern African police and judicial systems must consistently work to combat trafficking and money laundering that funds terrorism.

Despite these collective measures, there are still a few more questions as to whether SADC could, in practical terms, control frequent violent extremist attacks using available resources in the southern Africa.

SADC, among others, mandates for enforcing collective security in the region. While the presidents of Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa, Tanzania and Zimbabwe have called for “an immediate technical deployment” to Mozambique ahead of another high-level meeting at the end of April, Mozambique has so far been unreceptive, according reports.

There have been various suggestions from experts. “What we have here is a human rights and humanitarian crisis that has left hundreds of thousands displaced, insecure and unable to return to their homes because of the attacks that have been ongoing,” said Dewa Mavhinga, the Southern Africa director for Human Rights Watch. “So, the lack of security then spills over to affect everything else, including in terms of stability and economic programs that might be taking place in Cabo Delgado.

Historian Yussuf Adam, a retired professor at Maputo’s Eduardo Mondlane University, told VOA the problems dated back way beyond the start of the insurgency in 2017. He attributed to sharp disparity in development in the region.

He believes that Mozambique’s government, most importantly, has to tackle systemic poverty and inequality, in addition to resorting to a military solution. “There is no military solution. People have to be heard, and things have to be negotiated, and also people’s right to land,” he said. “People have to benefit from whatever it is will come out, is coming out, from this mining, oil, petrol and gas operations. That’s something which has to be seen and done.”

Mavhinga says, the government needs to take responsibility for its own policy failures. While militants have committed grievous acts – including rapes and beheadings – rights groups have also documented abuses by Mozambican security forces, including torture and extrajudicial killings.

South African lawyer and scholar Andre Thomashausen has also indicated that the Southern African Development Community (SADC) has its own internal differences. He anticipated that this SADC summit would not be able to take concrete measures, due to the division of opinions that exists within SADC, the lack of means and manpower resources could obstruct any positive results.

Thomashausen, however, said that the previous meeting did not express any solidarity, intervention and appeal to the African Union, regional and international community, explained further that SADC clearly indicated it prefers to deal with the crisis at the regional and without foreign interference. Therefore, the countries of the southern region “continue to bet on their own initiative, on their own commitment from region.”

The final communiqué from the summit condemned the terrorist attacks “in the strongest terms” and declared that “such heinous attacks cannot be allowed to continue without a proportionate regional response” but it did not suggest what such a regional response might consist of.

It further expressed “SADC’s full solidarity with the government and people of Mozambique” and reaffirmed “SADC’s continued commitment to contribute towards the efforts to bring about lasting peace and security, as well as reconciliation and development in the Republic of Mozambique.”

The summit ordered “an immediate technical deployment” to Mozambique, and the convening of an Extraordinary Meeting of the Ministerial Committee of the Organ by 28 April 2021 that will report to the Extraordinary Organ Troika summit on 29 April 2021.

SADC, an organization of 16 member states established in 1980, has as its mission to promote sustainable and equitable economic growth and socio-economic development through efficient, productive systems, deeper cooperation and integration, good governance and durable peace and security; so that the region emerges as a competitive and effective player in international relations and the world economy.

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Africa

SADC Summit Ends With Promises of More Meetings

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The Southern African Development Community (SADC) held an Extraordinary Double Troika meeting on 8th April in Maputo to deliberate on measures on addressing terrorism and its related impact on the current development specifically in the Mozambique and generally in southern Africa. The Cabo Delgado crisis started in 2017 with insurgents taking control of parts of northern Mozambique.

One of the two troikas consists of the current, incoming and outgoing chairs of SADC (namely Mozambique, Malawi and Tanzania), while the second is formed by the current, incoming and outgoing chairs of the SADC organ for politics, defence and security cooperation (Botswana, South Africa and Zimbabwe).

South African president Cyril Ramaphosa and the ministers of international relations, defence and state security attended the meeting. It was also attended by Mozambique, Botswana, Malawi Zimbabwe and Tanzania.

The summit was called in the wake of the terrorist attack of 24 March against the town of Palma in the northern Mozambican province of Cabo Delgado, but the leaders did not pledge any immediate practical support for Mozambique.

SADC Troika heads however said the acts of terrorism perpetrated against innocent civilians in Cabo Delgado, Mozambique, could not be allowed to continue without a proportionate regional response and reported that 12 decapitated bodies have been found behind a hotel in the region.

Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi has called for cooperation in cross-border surveillance as essential to stem the flow of foreign fighters fomenting terrorism in Cabo Delgado, warning of the spread of violence throughout Southern Africa.

Among the measures that the SADC countries should implement to combat terrorism is strengthening border control between Southern African countries, he said, and further added that Southern African police and judicial systems must consistently work to combat trafficking and money laundering that funds terrorism.

Nyusi stressed that the organization should implement practical acts to combat this scourge of terrorism to prevent its expansion and destabilization of the region, and warned of the risk that the actions of armed groups with a jihadist connotation could hinder regional integration.

According official reports, SADC fends off United States / European Union anti-terror intervention in Cabo Delgado. It further said no to another Mali / Somalia / Libya / Syria disaster on the African continent, adding that the global Anti-Terror lobbies are frustrated.

Deeply concerned about the continued terrorist attacks in Cabo Delgado, especially for the lives and welfare of the residents who continue to suffer from the atrocious, brutal and indiscriminate assaults, the leaders decided at their meeting to deploy a technical mission to Mozambique. It’s not clear what action the region will take but the deployed technical mission will report back to heads of state by 29 April.

The final communiqué from the summit condemned the terrorist attacks “in the strongest terms” and declared that “such heinous attacks cannot be allowed to continue without a proportionate regional response” but it did not suggest what such a regional response might consist of.

The Summit expressed “SADC’s full solidarity with the government and people of Mozambique” and reaffirmed “SADC’s continued commitment to contribute towards the efforts to bring about lasting peace and security, as well as reconciliation and development in the Republic of Mozambique.”

The summit ordered “an immediate technical deployment” to Mozambique, and the convening of an Extraordinary Meeting of the Ministerial Committee of the Organ by 28 April 2021 that will report to the Extraordinary Organ Troika summit on 29 April 2021.

The extremely brief communiqué mentioned no other specific measures.

The violence unleashed more than three years ago in Cabo Delgado province took a new escalation about a fortnight ago when armed groups attacked the town of Palma, which is about six kilometres from the multi-million dollar natural gas, according to United Nations data.

The attacks caused dozens of deaths and forced thousands of Palma residents to flee, worsening a humanitarian crisis that has affected some 700,000 people in the province since the conflicts data. Several countries have offered Maputo military support on the ground to combat these insurgents, but so far there has been no openness, although reports and testimonies are pointing to security companies and mercenaries in the area.

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Africa

African agriculture is ready for a digital revolution

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Authors: Akinwumi Adesina and Patrick Verkooijen*

After a dark 2020, a new year has brought new hope. In Africa, where up to 40 million more people were driven into extreme poverty and the continent experienced its first recession in 25 years, a brighter future beckons as the economy is forecast to return to growth this year.

Africa now has an opportunity to reset its economic compass. To build back not just better, but greener. Particularly as the next crisis—climate change—is already upon us.

Africa’s food systems must be made more resilient to future shocks such as floods, droughts, and disease. Urgent and sustainable increases in food production are needed to reduce reliance on food imports and reduce poverty, and this is where digital services come into play.

With mobile phone ownership in Sub-Saharan Africa alone expected to reach half a billion this year, digital services offered via text messaging can reach even the most remote village. And at least one-fifth of these phones also have smart features, meaning they can connect to the internet.

We can already see how digital services drive prosperity locally and nationally. In Uganda, SMS services that promote market price awareness have lifted the price farmers receive for bananas by 36 percent, beans by 16.5 percent, maize by 17 percent, and coffee by 19 percent. In Ghana, services that cut out the middleman have lifted the price for maize by 10 percent and groundnuts by 7 percent.

But digital services don’t just raise farmgate prices, they are the gateway to farm loans, crop insurance, and greater economic security, which in turn enables farmers to increase their resilience to climate change—by experimenting with new, drought-resistant crops, for example, or innovative farming methods.

Text messages with weather reports help farmers make better decisions about when and what to plant, and when to harvest.

In Niger, a phone-based education program has improved crop diversity, with more farmers likely to grow the cash crop okra, while an advisory service in Ethiopia helped increase wheat production from one ton to three tons per hectare.

The data footprints phone users create can also be analyzed to help assess risk when it comes to offering loans, making credit cheaper and more accessible.

Phones and digital services also speed up the spread of information through social networks, helping farmers learn about new drought-resistant crops or services that can increase productivity. Free-to-use mobile phone-based app WeFarm, for example, has already helped more than 2.4 million farmers find certified suppliers of quality seeds at fair prices. They can also connect farmers to internet-based services.

Examples of digital innovation abound, sometimes across borders. In Ghana, Kenya, and Nigeria, equipment-sharing platform Hello Tractor is helping farmers rent machinery by the day or even hour, while in Ethiopia, AfriScout, run by the non-government organization Project Concern International with the World Food Programme and the Ministry for Agriculture, provides satellite images of water supplies and crops every 10 days so problems can be spotted quickly to aid remedial action.

Transforming food systems digitally has demonstrably excellent results: the African Development Bank, which has allocated over half of its climate financing to adaptation since 2019, has already helped 19 million farmers in 27 countries to lift yields by an average 60 percent through applying digital technology, for example.

This is why the Global Center on Adaptation and the African Development Bank have launched the Africa Adaptation Acceleration Program (AAAP) to mobilize $25 billion to scale up and accelerate innovative climate-change adaptation across Africa.

Once developed, the digital nature of these services often makes such projects easy to replicate elsewhere and scale, even across large rural areas with little existing infrastructure.

Further, adaptation projects are proven to be highly cost-effective, often delivering value many times the original investment and so helping African economies grow faster and create many more much-needed jobs.

This makes it imperative that the global resolve to rebuild economies in the wake of Covid-19 is harnessed in the most effective way. We must not simply replicate the mistakes of the past. We must build back stronger, with a more resilient and climate-smart focus.

Funding and promoting disruptive business models in which digital technologies are embedded to increase productivity without using more land or more water will create a triple win: increased production, a more resilient climate and more empowered farmers.

We have the means and the technical capability to put Africa well on the way to achieving food self-sufficiency and greater climate resilience. In doing so, we can help millions move out of food poverty. We must not squander this opportunity to create truly historic and lasting change.

AfDB

*Patrick Verkooijen is CEO of the Global Center on Adaptation.

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