Belt and Road in Africa: Opportunities and Challenges

China’s „One Belt One Road “Initiative has been allocated as its most determined project ever in trying to shape and influence behavior in the international system in line with her growing figure. At the same time, mounting Sino-Africa relations have been the subject of scholarly debate with supporters taking an optimistic view, also presented by China herself, of this relationship being a win-win partnership. Critics led by the US argue China is just using Africa to extract resources for its use, an allegation she disproves. The authors therefore sought to look at Sino-African relations but focusing on the implementation of One Belt, One Road, in the African continent.

OBOR is a mixture of two outward-facing notions introduced by Mr Xi in late 2013 to uphold economic engagement and investment along two main routes. To date, reports suggest that the first route, the New Silk Road Economic Belt, will run westward overland through Central Asia and onward to Europe. The second route, the 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road, will probably circle south and westward by sea towards Europe, with proposed stops in South-east Asia, South Asia and Africa. Being the center of china’s foreign policy since 2013 study on OBOR in Africa will give an understanding and fully answer some questions surrounding these relations.

China’s approach to international diplomacy is growing. Having long sought to maintain a “low profile” on the global stage, it has in recent years begun to advocate a greater role for itself in the international order. Chinese companies are also leaving the comforts of their home-based market and going overseas, seeking to blow new markets and acquire new machineries. China’s president, Xi Jinping, is ramping up efforts to reinforce China’s global position. He has proclaimed a number of high-profile multilateral initiatives intended to advance China’s international existence and promote closer ties with more countries. The main initiative under this impulse, “one belt, one road” (OBOR), promises to be among the widest-reaching of these. It not only represents a renewed, stronger and better co-ordinated push to expand China’s influence overseas, but it is also coupled with a domestic investment drive, in which nearly every Chinese province has a stake.

In a period of three decades, China has transformed from an agricultural, self-contained and inward looking state into a global economic capital second only to the United States (Cheung & Lee, 2015). In line with her growing stature in the international system, China has sought to exert influence on the global stage, from Latin America, Middle East, South East Asia, to Africa. One way of achieving this and as part of China’s „global grand strategy‟ is the 21st Century Silk Road Economic Belt Initiative, informally known as One Belt, One Road‟. In the same vain, Sino-African relations have grown exponentially since the 1955Bandung conference. The original „Silk Road‟ was established over 2100 years ago during the Han Dynasty to promote trade and cultural development between China, Asia, Africa. The „New Silk Road Economic Belt‟ launched tenderly as “One Belt One Road‟ initiative or Yídàiyílù was introduced by china’s President Xi Jinping as the centerpiece of his foreign and economic policy in 2013. It is by far the most significant and far-reaching project China has ever embarked on however  the One Belt One Road project or is fundamentally comprised of two interdependent and interrelated concepts; the „Silk Road Economic Belt‟ and the „Maritime Silk Road‟. Essentially, the „belt‟ is comprised of a network of roads, rails, power grids and gas pipelines that run over land from Central China in Xi‟an, the capital of Shanxi Province through Central Asia, to Moscow, Rotterdam and Venice. This corporation of infrastructural projects will consequently pass through a number of countries. The Maritime Silk Road on the other hand is its oceanic counterpart. This involves the construction of a network of sea ports in the South China Sea, Indian Ocean and the South Pacific Ocean. It will essentially connect South East Asia, Oceania, East Africa and North Africa through the Mediterranean. the essential pillars of the initiative are „promotion of policy coordination, facilitating connectivity, unhindered trade, financial integration people-to-people bonds and the African section of the belt and road is of concern for this article. It covers three countries; Kenya, Djibouti and Egypt.

According to Xinhua News Agency, three countries in Africa are directly involved in the belt and road initiative; Kenya, Djibouti and Egypt. However, the extent of their involvement is unclear, with many documents indicating Egypt as the sole African state to be involved in this initiative. Various factors have been attributed for the inclusion of these exclusive three African states into the center piece of china’s 21st Century diplomacy;

According to the realism theory of international relations world politics has been characterized by power politics. In the context of security and global geopolitics the horn of Africa region and the Suez Canal has been traditionally a Western-controlled zone with the US and her allies being the primary guarantor for maritime security. Any powerful state controls the security of that region, also controls the maritime trade routes between Asia, Europe and Africa. Egypt and Djibouti, two of the three African states part of the OBOR are strategically located at the heart of global geo-politics playground. Djibouti is quite unique as it now hosts military bases for the US, France and now China. While the fight against pirates has often been cited as the propellant behind this, one can’t quite push the power struggles as being the true variable for these great power shaving such a heavy military presence in the region. The entry into Djibouti and the region by China could slope and re align security partnerships that have underpinned global order since 1945 but For Egypt, its strategic geographical location at the Suez Canal gives it an indispensable status, explaining why it’s the only African nation to officially sign bilateral agreements with China on One Belt, One Road.

The initiative simply cannot afford to exclude Egypt. On the other hand, the inclusion of Djibouti has been a result of logical‟ assumptions than from official statements. This can purely be explained under the quest for global dominance and the geopolitics of the horn of Africa as stated earlier. With 30% of world shipping going through the entrance of the Red Sea from the Indian Ocean and on to the Suez Canal, Djibouti and Egypt are very critical.

In addition the opportunities can be eye from different aspects firstly the 1,780km Tanzania Zambia Railway line (TAZARA) has symbolized china’s presence in Africa since the 1970‟s. Currently China is involved in numerous mega infrastructural projects in Africa. For purposes of this paper, some of those which lie within the mandate of OBOR will be highlighted. Top on the list is the 2,700kmEast African Railway line. This includes Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and South Sudan. As indicated earlier, extent of involvement of OBOR affiliated institutions in financing the Kenyan part are not clear, though China‟s Exim bank has been linked. 8Another major railway project is the 1,315km Kano-Lagos railway line in Nigeria, the 1,302km Bengue railway line in Angola (which brings to total 4,000km railway in Angola constructed by China), 560km Belinga-Santa Clara railway in Gabon, 172km railway in Libya and 430km rail in Mauritania to name but a few. To put this into perspective, the entire African rail network is 50,000km.On the other hand, China is constructing port facilities in Kenya, Tanzania, Gabon, and Djibouti among others, with most road construction being handled by Chinese contractors, using Chinese financing. The 1302km Angola railway line will be linked with Angola-Zambia and TAZARA in future. On port construction, China is involved in construction of the Lamumega port in Kenya, Bagamoyo port in Tanzania, Santa Clara deep water port in Gabon amongst others9. It’s safe to say even without OBOR therefore, China is heavily involved in opening up Africa.

What Can OBOR Offer On Infrastructure?

Firstly, with China involved in all these infrastructural projects in Africa, coupled with OBOR‟s vision for improving connectivity among countries, the initiative will offer a centralized, clear vision, and concerted effort in streamlining infrastructural development in Africa. A case in point is the railway line in Angola which is complete on their side of the border, but under-utilized because neither Democratic Republic of Congo nor Zambia have linked up to connect to the port, hence hindering efforts to export their products. Secondly, capital for infrastructural development in Africa comes from various Chinese bank loans under individual bilateral agreements entered into by these countries. Through OBOR, the capital inflow can be clearly centrally monitored through the AIIB and the SRF. This need is further strengthened with China signing a memorandum of understanding with the African Union (AU) in January 2015 to connect all 54 countries with high speed rails, ports and roads. The traditional „equatorial land bridge‟ which is the natural trade route between East and West Africa can be a good starting point for OBOR in Africa expansion. This route begins in Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, the Congo’s, Central African Republic, to the West in Douala Cameroon.

Increase China’s Soft Power

China’s fellow competitors in global influence, enjoy considerable advantage in Africa due to colonialism and history that exists between Africa and the West. Joseph Nye (1990) defines soft power as when „one country gets other countries to want what it wants‟. This means, the country uses attraction to get support by other states rather than the traditional use of military force and pressure. China has over the years strived to increase its soft power over other competitors. Through her slogan of „peaceful development‟ (hepingfazhan) she has sought to create a niche for herself as a peace loving, development minded global citizen, who has noble intention in her relations with other states.

Undeniably, this rhetoric has been repeatedly cited by Chinese diplomatic officials, and has earned China many friends. OBOR as a grand strategy squarely falls within the realm of peaceful development as espoused, with its commitment to peace and economic prosperity along the belt and road, and amongst all states involved. In a world dominated by the US hegemony and influence in virtually all the compasses, perhaps building soft power is the only way China can earn the trust of her neighbors, while at the same time building a modern state both in terms of her people, economy, and military. Any other strategy other than a soft peaceful rise might trigger US counterbalancing measures and perhaps destabilize Chinese society, leading to civil unrest and other issues that might curtail accumulation of power and her rise. Assigning primacy over economic matters therefore is designed to prevent drawing attention to her military pursuits, which would attract counterbalancing measures leading to a Soviet-style collapse, while earning China allies both regionally and globally. This is essentially, one goal of OBOR. In essence, through OBOR, china’s vision of a new modernity, characterized by free flowing ideas, goods, services and people to people engagement, and that shared economic future, common prosperity, would replace doubt, competition and power play. The Belt Road Initiative and the new regional order‟ that Beijing is using new ideas like „China dream‟ and„ Asian dream‟ to build what Chinese leaders call a „community of shared destiny.‟ this community begins in Asia which China at the epicenter, and would gradually aim to conquer the global order. This is the gist of china’s new vision of global governance to replace the Western fronted status. Compared to the US, UK, Germany and Japan, China has less soft power abilities in Africa. These countries have for many years used language and culture (largely due to colonization), and through aid and donor agencies ,the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has acted to impart democratic ideals of the US in Africa, the Bretton woods institutions have propagated Western free-market policies, while United Kingdom Agency for International Development (UKAID) and Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) have served to further UK‟s and Japan‟s soft power aspirations. China on the other hand has risen largely on a different path. It has none of these organizations to further her soft power in Africa. OBOR as a source of soft power is not on the projects themselves being implemented in Africa, but the „Beijing consensus‟ which offers an anti-thesis to the„ Washington consensus.

The „Beijing consensus‟ is one which does not give a standard solution to all situations, but which encourages development based on the unique circumstances of individual states, and a „ruthless willingness to experiment and innovate‟. While for very long the US and her allies pushed the rhetoric that economic freedom is intertwined with political freedom (Washington consensus), over the years, the Chinese model has earned many admirers all over the globe.

Nevertheless OBOR‟s focus on trade between Africa and China, and the inclusion of the continent in this initiative will boost further the commitment China shows to Africa, not due to any hidden motives but as a true ally of Africa, thus furthering the narrative in support of the „Beijing consensus‟ as the best for Africa to replace the failed„ Washington consensus‟ fronted by the Bretton woods institutions and the West for many years. While the West emphasized on governance, political and economic reform along what they thought was acceptable to them in order to access development funds in the 1990‟s (through the Structural Adjustment Programs by World Bank and IMF), OBOR and affiliate financial institutions are cognizant of the fact that one-size-fits-all solutions are not realistic. Hence, they let states handle their own internal matters while helping them access the funding they require for their infrastructural development. The immense „soft power‟ that will arise from this will propel China into great heights in global politics.

Challenges to OBOR in Africa Intra and Inter-State Conflicts

The biggest challenge to OBOR in Africa is the state of continuous warfare experienced throughout the continent. War and conflicts have exacted a heavy burden to Africa’s development since time immemorial. As cited by Ndlovu-Gatsheni (2012) highlighted the five different types of conflicts that have plagued Africa; anticolonial, imperial, international, intra-state and inter-state conflicts. At present, many countries in Africa are experiencing wars of „regime change‟ with the Democratic Republic of Congo being a perfect example, while the Greater Sudan „War of Decentralization‟ led to splitting into north and south. In time however, South Sudan has also started experiencing its own war, what can be called „inter-communalinsurrection‟.17Conflicts are not limited to these, with Somalia, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Congo Brazzaville, Angola, Nigeria, Liberia, Kenya, Libya, Central African Republic, just a few of the African states to get into warand violence within the last decade or so. Greig, Mason and Hamner (2016) have identified and geo referenced over 73 different civil conflicts in Africa. In their paper, they argue that, conflicts begin, continue and end from depending on the logic behind the war.18 the potential gain from these wars is mostly control of massive natural resources which motivates parties to engage in long and drawn out wars. These wars have come with massive economic and infrastructural damage to the countries affected. In South Sudan alone, China imports 5%of its oil when operations are at full capacity.

However, the civil war within South Sudan itself, and conflict with the neighboring Sudan, has disrupted oil production from the oil fields, and subsequent shipping of this oil to China. Zhou (2014) goes further to posit that, the war in Sudan means production was reduced by over 30%capacity from 245,000 barrels of oil per day, to less than 160,000 barrels per day. Operations in oil blocks 1, 2and 4 were completely shut down in December 2013 following outbreak of war, and Chinese oil personnel evacuated from site. This is aside from the shutdown occasioned from conflict between the two Sudan’s with regards to transit fees between the two Sudan’s. While Sudan was demanding a fee of 30 USD per barrel of oil pumped through its pipeline, South Sudan wanted to pay the standard worldwide fee of 3USD per barrel on the physical infrastructure, conflict has a damaging impact on roads, railway lines and other infrastructural developments. A case in point is in Angola where over 4,000km of its rail network was destroyed in conflict and had to be repaired before it could be operational again. As an example therefore, the success of OBOR expansion in Africa would depend on how China navigates the conflict land of the African jungle for full potential to be realized. With conflicts experienced in DRC, CAR, Burundi, instability in Egypt among other countries, china’s resolve will be tested in launching and sustaining the OBOR initiative in Africa.

In conclusion China continues to be an important ally for the African continent to date. And the One Belt One Road Initiative offers an opportunity to deepen Sino-Africa Relations and should be explored further by the leadership of both China and Africa. The current status of OBOR in Africa is minute. As it is, OBOR in Africa, when looked at in terms of the importance that China puts in Africa does not mirror the optimism that Sino-African relationship has attracted in the recent past. It shows a discord between the rhetoric about the significance and growth in the relationship, vis a vis the reality, which is that Africa remains a cross-reference in china’s plans globally. 3 countries out of 67 involved in the project do not give an optimistic picture. However, the opportunity for further cooperation is still there.PRC can seize the opportunity presented by OBOR to streamline its foreign direct investment in the continent to leave lasting foot print. Indeed, successful implementation will result into firmly entrenching China as a „true friend‟ for Africa. China has global ambitions, while Africa is in dire need of capital for infrastructural development, and OBOR offers the best platform to pursue this.

David Ceasar Wani
David Ceasar Wani
David Ceasar Wani Suliman is a Doctoral Fellow (Ph.D.) in the school of Political Science and Public Administration at Shandong University China, Majoring in International Politics. He worked as a Research assistant at Jilin University China; He Achieved Master’s degree in International Relations from Jilin University China, and correspondingly graduated with honors from Cavendish University Uganda with bachelor degree in international relations and diplomatic studies.