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Russia-Africa Summit: Welcome to Sochi!

photo credit: Kremlin website

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Russian President Vladimir Putin has sent warm greetings to African leaders, business people and participants early October, signaling that everything is set for the first Russia-Africa Summit in Sochi, southern coastal city of Russia.

The message reads, in part: “Today, the countries of Africa are well on their way towards social, economic, scientific and technological development, and are playing a significant role in international affairs. They are strengthening mutually beneficial integration processes within the African Union and other regional and sub‑regional organizations across the continent.”

In recent years, the traditionally friendly ties of partnership between Russia and Africa have gained new momentum, both at a bilateral level and in various multilateral formats. In addition to preserving past experience of successful cooperation, have also managed to make significant new steps forward.

Trade and investment are growing dynamically, and new joint projects are under way in extractive industries, agriculture, healthcare, and education. Russian companies are ready to offer their scientific and technological developments to their African partners, and share their experience of upgrading energy, transport and communications infrastructures, according to President Putin.

It is, broadly, expected that the Summit will help identify new areas and forms of cooperation, put forward promote collaboration between Russia and Africa to a qualitatively new level and further contribute enormously to the development of bilateral relations between Russia and Africa.

According to the Organizing Committee, some 50 African heads of state have already confirmed their participation. It will feature more than 200 CEOs, ministers of key industries, and representatives of the expert community from Russia and Africa. The events will be attended by more than 3,000 representatives of African businesses.

The main event are the plenary session “Russia-Africa: Uncovering the Potential for Cooperation” during which the Presidents of Russia, Vladimir Putin, and Egypt, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, are expected to speak. A final declaration of the Summit titled “For Peace, Security, and Development” has been prepared and it includes items on the global and regional agendas that are important for Russia as well as comprehensive proposals on diverse ways to develop the full scope of future Russian-African relations.

In addition, at least 23 intergovernmental and interagency agreements and other agreements between African and Russian companies will be signed on the sidelines.

Under the theme “Russia and Africa: Uncovering the Potential for Cooperation” here are the key areas the Summit will discuss:-

*The Role of Media in Russian-African Relations

The African continent is becoming ever more important in today’s international order. Russian-African relations are adding an additional dimension to developments, especially with the boost provided by rapidly expanding links across a vast range of areas.

The media can, and indeed must be a decisive factor in building effective ties. Africa is frequently portrayed in the media as suffering from numerous intergovernmental, religious, and ethnic conflicts; political and economic instability; and an array of demographic and social problems. Knowledge of today’s Russia and the steps being taken by its political leaders to tackle global challenges is also given little space in the continent’s media landscape.

*Contribution of Nuclear Technologies in the Development of Africa

Today, African countries face major challenges. Rapid population growth and the worsening energy crisis are constraining economic growth on the continent. The poor transport infrastructure, access of the population to health services, low level of education and food supply insecurity are severely hampering Africa’s efforts to improve the quality of life in the region. It is clear that to solve these problems a large-scale development programme is required, including a strategy based on achieving the UN sustainable development goals. Nuclear technologies can become a driver for socio-economic development and a comprehensive solution to the systemic continent-wide problems.

*Humanitarian cooperation: Development Goals and Corporate Social Responsibility

Humanitarian partnership between Russia and African countries is becoming increasingly important. It is an area covering the development of human capital (education and culture), social programmes, healthcare, and access to essential benefits supporting people’s lives and national development in countries across the continent.

*Current Objectives in Developing the Housing Construction Market on the African Continent

Access to housing is one of the most pressing issues facing most African countries. Modern housing and a comprehensive approach to spatial planning can help ensure sustainable urban development and socioeconomic growth. We must now determine the needs of the housing construction market in African countries and identify joint solutions and ways of working together to achieve the most effective results in the shortest possible time. Practical steps aimed at identifying, supporting, and implementing joint projects are vital to such partnerships.

*Investing in Africa

In 2050, Africa’s total GDP will reach $29 tn, exceeding the combined GDP of US and Euro zone in 2012. Pan-African and national growth strategies as well as global thinktanks’ forecasts highlight the following growth areas and potential key drivers of the continent’s rise in the medium and long term: commodities; infrastructure (utilities and roads) and industrialization; demography; education; expanding middle class; access to financial services. These factors will define the continent’s investment outlook: future investment climate, current investments and their diversification. They have potential either to bolster or hamper the capital inflows.

*Economic Sovereignty for Africa: Problems and Solutions

In order to fulfil their development objectives and meet the needs of their citizens, countries in Africa are compelled to turn to foreign sources of financing. However, these mainly take the form of credit from international financial institutions and direct loans whereby the creditor imposes socioeconomic and political requirements which limit a country’s sovereignty. Sovereign bonds and other forms of borrowing on the capital market account for just a small proportion of African debt, but some countries on the continent are still unable to access this form of financing. As a result, more than USD 100 billion of borrowing potential is going untapped. More than USD 200 billion of existing debt could be refinanced under less stringent conditions.

*Russia and Africa: Energy for Development and Cooperation

Africa today has a population of over one billion people, huge resource potential and a platform for development. The continent has the potential to become one of the world’s largest economies and most populated regions by 2050 through organic growth and reform. Creating a foundation for growth at the very outset and using the continent’s mineral wealth in the most effective way possible requires the right energy policy.

*Transport Infrastructure on the African Continent: Opportunities to Implement Joint Projects

The transport sector in Africa possesses excellent potential for development. The continent’s railways offer great promise, as do joint ventures. Several African nations have prioritized the development of their transport infrastructures, particularly given transport’s ability to spur growth in key industries. The expansion of transport links brings with it additional jobs and expertise, and improves quality of life for the local population. Russia is able to offer technology and expertise at the very forefront of construction, planning, engineering, and equipment supplies. However, there remain a number of barriers to the market, as well as a lack of financing and country specific risks.

*Financing as an Essential Instrument of Economic Growth in Africa

The African continent has enormous economic potential and is actively integrating into the system of international economic relations. Prospects for Russia to increase its trade with African countries are directly linked to the diversification of its merchandise exports. However, this is only a realistic aim if international financing channels are put in place to facilitate growth in trade. Given the interest in Russia and Africa increasing economic cooperation, new solutions need to be found to implement ambitious trade projects.

*Russian–African Collaboration in the Diamond Industry

The diamond mining industry is key to the economies of several African countries, accounting for a significant portion of income from exports. Today, diamond mining faces a number of industry-wide challenges, attempts to tackle which will determine its future.

*The Future of the African Continent: Sovereignty and Traditional Values as Crucial Elements of a Development Strategy

In an era of globalization, protecting national values and priorities is a pressing concern. Economic and political sovereignty are the foundation of development in a polycentric world, and African countries are no exception. The African Union’s strategic framework Agenda 2063 highlights the importance of preserving African values and Pan-Africanism.

*Collaboration in Industry: Potential Areas of Growth

The development of high-tech and export-oriented industries in the Russian manufacturing sector has laid the groundwork for expanding areas of collaboration and launching ambitious long-term projects. What needs to be done to bring about a substantial improvement in collaboration between Russia and Africa? Which areas of cooperation are of most interest to Russian businesses and African nations? What projects and forms of Russian-African partnership are in need of financial support from parties such as Afreximbank?

*Doing Business in Africa: Challenges and Opportunities

Today, Africa is one of the most promising and fastest-growing regions of the world, with leading powers actively competing with one another. However, the continent should not be viewed as a single, monolithic market. Its economy varies from place to place in terms of type, scale, and structure. Africa today is a place of great political, cultural, ethnic, and religious diversity. As a result, each country has a unique business culture, requiring an individual approach from any company wishing to enter its market.

*Biosecurity: Current Projects and Opportunities for Cooperation

Global threats in today’s interconnected world, such as epidemics of infectious diseases, have a huge impact on the development of African nations. Robust healthcare systems and the ability to react to these threats can boost prosperity and help countries to thrive. Over the past few years, the African continent has had to tackle outbreaks of dangerous infectious diseases affecting thousands of lives and costing national economies millions of dollars. Russia has a great deal of experience in reacting to health threats, and today is implementing large-scale projects in countries around the world.

*Digital Transformation as a Driver of State Development

Today, digitalization is a major driver of state development. Effective e-government simplifies communication between people and the state, and helps create an effective system for departments to interact with one another. As a result, people gain quicker access to government services. In turn, this leads to greater user satisfaction, and substantial monetary savings.

*The Eurasian Economic Union and Africa: Trends and Opportunities to Develop Integrated Processes and Collaborate

Over the past few decades, economic integration processes have become an overarching trend in regional development throughout the world. They have helped member states to successfully embed themselves in the global economy and minimize the risk of crises occurring in various industries. Economic integration provides a new perspective on crucial projects related to infrastructure, logistics, energy, trade, agricultural and industrial development, digitalization, migration policy, and employment.

It offers additional opportunities to form common approaches to issues concerning the environment, renewable energy, and other factors determining scientific and technological progress. In view of the substantial expertise that regional associations offer, the next logical step is to foster dialogue between them and exchange experience at the forefront of integration, with the aim of optimizing economic integration processes and collaborating on the widest possible range of issues.

*Technological Sovereignty and Security in a Digital World: Solutions to Tomorrow’s Challenges

Africa’s fast-growing commercial sector is making rapid inroads in the virtual space. African companies are overcoming problems related to communication and financial infrastructure and choosing to immediately build their business online, implementing modern mobile solutions as they do so. However, the cyber security measures used by these fast-growing companies cannot keep up with their rapid development, leaving the companies vulnerable to cyber criminals.

In terms of governmental information systems, a monopolization of global IT markets by a handful of major Western corporations could result in financial losses in Africa, threatening citizens’ personal safety and Africa’s sovereignty at large. Russian companies are global leaders in digital security and are capable of protecting African businesses from cyber threats while ensuring digital sovereignty for African states. Success can be guaranteed through building partnerships between African and Russian companies and training up an IT security workforce in each country.

*Using Minerals in Africa for the Benefit of Its Peoples

There is a long history of Soviet and Russian specialists participating in and supporting the systemic geological study of a number of countries in the African continent. Their work on natural resource bases has done a great deal to aid mineral extraction. These countries now have the opportunity to leverage modern means of geological research and exploration, and in doing so, continue the comprehensive study of subsoil resources. This could lead to new and globally unique sites being developed, both on land and the continental shelf.

*Business Associations in Russia and Africa: A Starting Point for Long-Term Business Partnership

A major barrier hindering greater cooperation between the Russian and African business communities is a lack of awareness regarding the current state of markets, along with trade and investment opportunities. There is also an insufficient level of trust towards potential partners. These issues can be solved through establishing an effective system of communication between public business associations in Russia and African nations. These organizations can both serve the interests of entrepreneurs, and also guarantee their reliability and integrity.

*Russia and Africa: Science, Education, and Innovation for Economic Development

The accelerated development of both Russia’s and Africa’s economic potential is inextricably linked to scientific output and the improvement of general education and professional training. The 21st century has heralded the rise of the knowledge economy. Scientific research and development results in new products and industries, and is able to make a vital contribution to tackling current social and economic challenges facing our countries. The Soviet Union made an invaluable contribution to developing the scientific and educational potential of a number of African countries.

*A Safe Africa

Illegal migration, contraband, and criminal activity are all too frequent problems facing the African continent. The biggest threat of all though is terrorism. Experts agree that to ensure a country’s national security, a set of measures needs to be taken, along with preventative action to combat possible threats. The biggest vulnerabilities in this regard include weak border control, unprotected industrial facilities, and large urban areas where it becomes easy to disappear into a crowd. An effective set of measures has been developed in Russia to counter terrorism, curtail illegal activity, and provide dependable protection for citizens. Russian organizations and companies are ready and able to share their experience with African partners.

*Drivers of Growth in National Healthcare Systems

National healthcare systems are simply unable to cope economically with the burden of disease in Africa. Particular attention is given to infectious diseases; however, there is a growing need to fight against cardiovascular disease, cancer, and diabetes. What’s more, the high cost of medicines and services, together with a shortage of vital modern equipment, is hindering access to medical care in African countries.

The lack of medical personnel is a particularly pressing problem. Cutting-edge technologies, such as mobile phones, blockchain, 3D printing, UAVs, and others clearly need to be applied as drivers of growth in this area. If used correctly, they could significantly improve the quality of medical services while cutting costs. The high number of people in Africa suffering from chronic diseases and requiring remotely administered care and treatment will spur the development of telemedicine.

*New Forms of Cooperation between Russia and Africa: Opportunities for Special Economic Zones Based on the Project to Establish a Russian Industrial Zone in Egypt

A new model for the development of production lines is based on closing the gap between production and delivery to the end consumer, minimising logistical and technical expenses and facilitating projects with a social dimension to successfully develop the local economy. Based on this logic, creating and facilitating conditions conducive to competitive production, including the production of quality hi-tech products, can be done most effectively through the use of points of entry.

Such points draw on the advantages of special (free) economic zones, which provide additional competitive advantages when gaining access to local markets. The project to create a Russian Industrial Zone – devised and implemented at the interface between governments, state development institutions and business communities – is a unique step toward ensuring state investment and implementing the industrial zone mechanism to support access to foreign markets for relevant companies.

*Digitalization in the Mining Industry: New Opportunities, Robots, Artificial Intelligence

Africa is a world leader in volume of reserves and the extraction of many valuable raw materials and fuels, over 90% of which is then exported. The mining industry forms the basis of many countries’ industrial capacity and exports and accounts for around 75% of all foreign investments. Traditional field development methods are becoming increasingly expensive. Productivity is dropping due to high maintenance costs, unreliable equipment, reactive troubleshooting, low capacity factors, and incidents related to safety violations.

*Russian Geological Exploration in Africa: Looking to the Past and to the Future

Africa is exceptionally rich in mineral reserves, although these have not yet been studied comprehensively. Compared with other continents, it boasts the largest ore reserves of manganese, chromite, bauxite, gold, platinum, cobalt, diamond, and phosphorite. It also has substantial oil, natural gas, graphite and asbestos reserves. Russian companies, for their part, have a wealth of experience leading exploratory work and are interested in working on the African continent.

*Creating a New Quality of Life in Africa

Africa has the fastest-growing population in the world. Over 50% of people living in Africa are under the age of 26. At the same time, the quality of life in the African continent is one of the lowest in the world.

*Women in Russian-African Relations: Gender Balance in Politics, the Economy and the Social Sector

Developing female entrepreneurship and leadership is currently of interest in every region of the world and is discussed at platforms of leading international organisations and associations. According to forecasts, women’s full involvement in the economy will allow global GDP to reach 28 trillion dollars by 2025, which is equal to that of the Chinese and US economies combined. On average, a woman in Europe currently earns 15% less than a man working in the same position. This gender gap is even more pronounced in Africa and Asia. In 2019, Russia presented an integrated systemic development model entitled ‘Women and the economy’ at UNIDO, which was formed on the basis of best practice in Russia and beyond.

*The Contribution to Global Sustainable Development Made by Young People in Russia and Africa

It is crucial that young people play a role in international cooperation and efforts to build an environment allowing young leaders and entrepreneurs to be fully involved in efforts to tackling global challenges. These aims also tally with the African Union’s Agenda 2063 and the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Collaboration between young people in Russia and Africa can be strengthened by exchanging best practices and working together on specific projects. Leadership and startup communities play a particularly important role in establishing partnerships, as these are the most effective mechanisms for enacting a structural shift in the socioeconomic sphere.

*Oil and Gas Projects in Africa: Implementation Prospects

The African continent’s oil reserves are estimated at 129.2 billion barrels, or 7.5% of global reserves, and it produces 8.2 million barrels per day, representing 8.6% of global production. There is significant potential for the continent to increase production and monetize reserves. At the same time, Russian companies currently have a limited presence in the region. Broadening Russian-African cooperation could boost competition and efficiency in field development, and provide an additional stimulus for efforts to localize equipment and strengthen technological partnership.

*Sustainable Partnership in Agriculture: Institutions, Tools, and Guarantees

The steady development of African countries in the last few years, together with growing populations and income levels are all factors helping to boost agricultural production. However, a deficit of modern technology, lack of land suitable for farming, and a shortage of qualified personnel mean that the needs of the African market have not been fully met.

Russia’s unique geographic conditions, together with its vast land and water resources, provide the country with enormous agricultural potential. In the past few years, Russian companies have taken active steps to increase exports of agricultural products and food. Indeed, Russia is already one of the ten largest food suppliers to Africa. However, a range of barriers related to infrastructure is currently hindering effective trade. Removing these could help collaboration reach an entirely new level.

The Roscongress Foundation, a socially oriented non-financial development institution, is the organiser of the events, and the Russian Export Center and Afreximbank are the co-organisers of this first Russia-Africa Summit. Welcome to the first Russia-Africa Summit in Sochi and Modern Diplomacy also wishes you All the Best !

MD Africa Editor Kester Kenn Klomegah is an independent researcher and writer on African affairs in the EurAsian region and former Soviet republics. He wrote previously for African Press Agency, African Executive and Inter Press Service. Earlier, he had worked for The Moscow Times, a reputable English newspaper. Klomegah taught part-time at the Moscow Institute of Modern Journalism. He studied international journalism and mass communication, and later spent a year at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations. He co-authored a book “AIDS/HIV and Men: Taking Risk or Taking Responsibility” published by the London-based Panos Institute. In 2004 and again in 2009, he won the Golden Word Prize for a series of analytical articles on Russia's economic cooperation with African countries.

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Review: As Coronavirus Rise Past Three million, Africa Hopes for Vaccine

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Migrant women and their children quarantine at a site in Niamey, Niger. © UNICEF/Juan Haro

With its large population and fragile health systems, Africa has recorded more than three million Covid-19 cases, still less deadly as compared to other regions in the world, according to the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC). According to Africa CDC, Africa’s coronavirus tally was 3,021,769 as of January 10. The death toll was 72,121 and the number of recoveries was 2,450,492. The biggest number of coronavirus cases were reported from South Africa, Morocco, Egypt, Tunisia, and Ethiopia.

South Africa, with more than 1.2 million reported cases, including 32,824 deaths, accounts for more than 30% of the total for the continent of 54 countries and 1.3 billion people. The high proportion of cases identified in South Africa, were attributed to more tests carried out than many other African countries.

African countries are expecting to get medical equipment, most especially vaccine, to help them out of the pandemic. These they expect from external sources. During January 4-9, Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi paid official visits to Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Tanzania, Botswana and Seychelles. Wang Yi emphasized that China is willing to deepen mutually beneficial cooperation in diverse spheres with Africa. For example, China’s efforts to create a new image in Africa through China-European Union Cooperation in vaccine.

Both China and the EU vow to work as a global collaboration under the World Health Organization in terms of accelerating the development and manufacture of Covid-19 vaccines, and assuring fair and equitable access for every country in the world. It’s about making the vaccine a global public good.

Last December, during his annual media conference, President Vladimir Putin made it known that Russia’s readiness to help foreign countries including Africa. With regard to cooperation with other countries, it would boost the technological capabilities, enterprises to produce the vaccine, foreign countries would invest their own money into expanding their production capacities and purchasing the corresponding equipment, he explained.

Foreign countries would be investing in these projects: the enlargement of production facilities and the purchase of equipment. “As for cooperation with foreign countries: nothing is stopping us from manufacturing vaccine components at facilities in other countries precisely because we need time to enhance technological capacities of our vaccine manufacturing enterprises. This does not hinder vaccination in the Russian Federation in any way,” Putin said.

According to January report from the Tass News Agency, the Russian Direct Investment Fund has only registered the first Russian vaccine Sputnik V in Africa. “Russian Direct Investment Fund announces the first registration of Sputnik V in Africa. Ministry of Pharmaceutical Industry of Algeria registered Sputnik V on January 10th,” as follows from a post on their official Twitter account.

According to the Russian Direct Investment Fund, the registration was done under the accelerated Emergency Use Authorization procedure. This procedure was also used to register this vaccine in Argentina, Bolivia, and Serbia. The Fund said that supplies to Algeria would be possible thanks to its international partners in India, China, South Korea and other countries.

Writing under the headline “Africa’s Road to Recovery in 2021 Is a Fresh Start” published originally by Chatham House, Dr Alex Vines, the Director for the Africa Program at Chatham House, said many African countries would be much more seriously affected by the socioeconomic consequences of the global economic slowdown triggered by the pandemic. Even before Covid-19 hit, an increasing number of African countries were indebted and financially stressed.

He wrote that African debt would become a greater global concern in 2021 as many African states remain the world’s poorest and most fragile and have been hard hit by the economic and financial costs imposed by the pandemic.

In his analysis, Dr Vines further pointed out that 2021 will also see increased geopolitical rivalry for influence in Africa. This will include competition over generosity, ranging from positioning over debt cancellation to providing Covid-19 vaccines. China has its Sinopharm vaccine and has already signed up to Covax, the international initiative aimed at ensuring equitable global access. The Russians have their Sputnik V vaccine, the UK has its AstraZeneca and University of Oxford vaccine, and the US the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech (with Germany) vaccines.

Reports from Quartz also said Africa appears not part of the supply priorities of the Pharmaceutical companies producing the foremost Covid-19 vaccines. While Pfizer-BioNTech has offered to supply just 50 million Covid-19 vaccines to Africa starting from March to the end of this year, Moderna and AstraZeneca have not yet allocated supplies for Africa. AstraZeneca directed the African Union (AU) to negotiate with the Serum Institute of India for its vaccine to see if they can get a deal. Serum Institute of India has earlier obtained the license to produce the AstraZeneca vaccine.

The Quartz report said most African countries mainly relied on the COVAX co-financing public-private facility backed by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to enable rapid and equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines for lower income countries. The facility promised access to vaccines for up to 20% of participating countries’ population with an initial supply beginning in the first quarter of the year to immunize 3% of their population. However, COVAX is underfunded, and these countries must look for other avenues to access more doses to vaccinate the 50% of their population in order to reach immunity.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, several countries around the world have been making efforts to facilitate local vaccine development, clinical trials, and some had made upfront payments for vaccines to encourage early production. Outside of South Africa, most African economies have played too little or no role at all in the development of Covid-19 vaccines and had likewise made little or effort to secure vaccines while other economies around the world were doing so.

For instance, a globally respected genomic and infectious disease laboratory in Nigeria announced the development of a Covid-19 vaccine in September that is 90% effective against the virus in the preclinical trial but it has not been able to carry out clinical trials due to lack of support and funding.

While Kenya recently announced that through the COVAX facility, it ordered 24 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, with supply expected to start arriving in the second week of next month, several African countries are opting for vaccines from India, Russia, and China. This is despite skepticism about the vaccines from Russia and China in particular. Both countries rolled out their vaccines without phase 3 clinical trial results that confirm the vaccine effectiveness.

South Africa said it made a deal with Serum Institute India and will be getting 1.5 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccine for its health workers starting this month. The country, which is going is also in talks with Russia and China to procure vaccines. Currently, Guinea is testing the Russian vaccine, Sputnik V and has ordered 2 million doses.

Morocco has ordered 65 million doses of the Sinopharm vaccine from China, and AstraZeneca vaccine from Serum Institute India. Egypt plans to buy 40 million doses of the Sinopharm vaccine, has already received 50,000 doses of the vaccine in December, and expecting another 50,000 in the second or third week of this month when vaccination will commence. Nigeria says vaccine access was in its discussions this week with the Chinese foreign minister during his visit to the county, according to the report from Quartz.

Besides the fact that Africa has registered its three million cases, Africa still behind the United States and European countries, and Asian countries such as China and India when it comes to the Covid-19 outbreak. For many African countries, it is still the time to reflect on African countries’ responses to Covid-19. Although it has abundant resources, Africa remains the world’s poorest and least developed continent, and worse with poor development policies. It is time to prioritize and focus on sustainable development.

Significantly, the global pandemic has exposed the weaknesses in Africa’s health system, adversely affected its economic sectors, it is therefore necessary for African leaders, the African Union (AU), regional organizations and African partners be reminded of issues relating to sustainable development and integration. It sets as a reminder to highlight and prioritize the significant tasks set out by the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the African Union’s Agenda 2063.

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China’s Diplomacy in Africa: Being a civilian great power

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Authors: Xu Guoying & Chen Yiling*

During January 4-9, Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi paid official visits to Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania, Botswana and Seychelles. According to the media reports, the visits is in line with China’s 30-year tradition of choosing Africa as the destination of all Chinese foreign ministers’ first overseas visit each year and demonstrated China’s close attention to its ties with African countries as well as its firm friendship with African people.

Noting the year 2021 marks the last year for the implementation of Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) Beijing Action Plan (2019-21), FM Wang’s visits aimed to deepen coordination and communication with the African side to cement the important consensuses and facilitate economic recovery in African countries while fighting the virus. Since the outbreak of the pandemic in 2020, the close cooperation between China and Africa in fighting the pandemic has indicated the two sides’ firm determination to step up relationship with each other. This is more necessary because the traditional friendship between China and Africa would have reached new heights in the post-pandemic era while they also expected to exchange views on a new round of forum during this visit.

There is no doubt that China’s diplomacy has always adhered to the principle that all countries, large or small, are equal and that has advocated multilateralism, opposed power politics, promoted general democratization in international relations, and supported the United Nations to play its due role in international affairs. To that end, China needs the consensus and diplomatic supports from the countries in the Third World, particularly the African states. Given this, Chinese FM Wang reiterate that big countries should take the lead in abiding by the basic norms of international relations, not interfering in other countries’ internal affairs, helping small and medium-sized developing countries, and assuming their international responsibilities in dealing with climate change and promoting sustainable development. Today, as the largest developing country, China is willing to fulfill its international obligations since its development is a growing force for peace, justice, and other developing countries as equal members of the international community.

This is not a lip-service but a solemn promise to play a more active role in international affairs and is willing to work with the country to safeguard world peace, stability, and prosperity. As a matter of fact, most states of Africa have admitted that China has adhered to the principle of equality between large and small countries, and made all the efforts to safeguard the interests of small and medium-sized countries and developing countries. Morally and practically, China has always stood with developing countries in international affairs. During his trip to Africa, Wang praised China’s close ties with the African states like the important members of the international community where all the members should treat each other as equals and achieve fruitful results in practical cooperation.

It is obvious that the leaders of the African states welcomed FM Wang’s visit and vowed to continue to support Beijing on the issues concerning China’s core interests, and inclusive of taking the opportunity of jointly building the Belt and Road and implementing the outcomes of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) Beijing Summit with the view to taking mutual cooperation to a new level and building a community with a shared future for both sides in light of the economic and social development needs of the African people. Considering the huge African population and rich natural resources, China is willing to deepen mutually beneficial cooperation with Africa in many traditional and new areas such as green environmental protection and blue ocean economics. Meanwhile, China fully understands the urgent desire of the African states to cope with climate change. The two sides agreed to sign the implementation agreement on the construction of low-carbon demonstration zones in South-South cooperation.

Since China’s relationship with Africa has been never exclusive, it calls on the cooperative programs with all the countries, in particular the European Union. For example, China’s efforts to create a new image in Africa through China-EU Cooperation in vaccine. This is the good chance for both sides because they all want to bring the coronavirus pandemic under control and then it’s going to require a major, global effort to do so. As a matter of fact, China has reiterated that the virus knows no borders and has no interest in the nationality of its victims. As a result, it will overcome all barriers if we do not work together to counter it. In the face of the virus, we are without doubt a global community. But the key question is: Are we able to act like one? The answer is yes, but China and the EU need to work together to play a pivotal role in dealing with what is called the political, social, and ethical issue. It requires that political leaders manage to explain convincingly that it is advantageous for all of us if as a first step some people are vaccinated in all countries instead of all people in some countries?

Both China and the EU vow to work as a global collaboration under the World Health Organization in terms of accelerating the development and manufacture of COVID-19 vaccines, and assuring fair and equitable access for every country in the world. It’s about making the vaccine a global public good. This should be in Chinese and Europe’s interests too. There is a consensus between China and the EU that nurses in African countries be vaccinated as a first step, and soonest—needs a big PR push.

There’s little doubt that most Europeans want the vaccine as soon as possible. But the EU should also move fast to vaccinate especially doctors and nurses in as many affected and vulnerable African countries as possible. There are several compelling reasons to do this. First is the destructive nature of the virus. The longer it flourishes, the greater the chance of it mutating in ways that make it even more deadly, contagious, or just difficult to vaccinate against. Getting it rolled out quickly across Africa is crucial. Second, a World Bank study in last April showed that if the EU and European governments are really serious about their soft power, this is the time to share the vaccine in a way that equals to the global influence of China as it has already been sending vaccine for trials in Bangladesh, Indonesia, Pakistan, and the Philippines.

Now as for China’s relations with Africa, where it has built huge infrastructure projects on the back of loans to several countries and is extracting much-needed raw materials, the Chinese leadership has gone on the offensive. In June, Chinese President Xi Jinping told a meeting of African leaders that “African countries will be among the first to benefit” from a coronavirus vaccine, once its development and deployment is completed in China. Moreover, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi has pledged that Beijing would extend $11 billion (€9 billion) in loans for vaccines to Latin American and Caribbean countries. In light of this, China and the EU should cooperate with each other in Africa rather than excluding the other side. For sure, all the more reason for China and the EU to seize the opportunity to boost their mutual soft power with a combination of philanthropy and a big dose of self-interest.

To that end, China has reiterated that it is not a military threat to the status quo since it has reaffirmed the defensive nature of its national defense policy as Chinese top legislative body adopted new revisions to the National Defense Law, renewing tasks and goals as well as cementing policies. Accordingly, it is quite sure that China will be more like to act as a civilian great power which is compatible with the goal of the European Union. Considering this, China and the EU would be able to continue their cooperative partners in trade and economics, transparent and open competitors in high technologies and possibly the systematic rivals.

*Chen Yiling, MA, a research fellow at the Center for International Relations, SIPA, Jilin University

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Somalia: My Nostalgic, Childhood Visit to Grandma’s Village

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At twelve noon, the old man whispers to himself as he counts his prayers with a rosary. He strokes his goatee beard, streaked with grey. He hitches up his sarong and sits under a shady tree on a mat made from a deerskin. On the mountains behind him, I see a mirage as the sun bakes the scenery. He is a popular imam among the villagers. They hold him in great reverence throughout the village, which is located twenty miles west of Erigavo, Somalia.

I see my grandma sharpening a big knife. For the past three months, this knife has been handy for my grandma. She uses it for countless purposes, from cutting fresh little sticks off the acacia trees to slaughtering animals for a feast. She chews on the tip of one of those sticks to make it soft enough to brush her teeth. I watch the rolling eyes of this restrained ram as its ears wiggle and listen to the clatter of the sharpening. Two women lay the ram on its back, one holds the front legs, and the other holds the rear ones, and grandma walks calmly towards the ram, grabs the chin, presses the head down and slits the throat, and blood gushes out on the steep ground and runs down to the outsole of her shoes. The ram’s eyes do not move now, and they stare at the sky, motionless.

This is Ismael. He seems to have done enough physical exercise, not in an urban gym, but by tending the camels, drinking camel milk, and running around in the bush from dawn to dusk. His bones are thick, and his muscles are strong. He is a real nomad and can walk miles and miles without breaking a sweat. Look at me. I’m a city boy who barely walks a mile a day. And grandma sends me to fetch firewood with this boy. Look at him. He walks well, but to me, his steps are so fast. I have to keep up with his unusual pace where he zigzags, jumps over thorny cactuses, changes direction unexpectedly, and avoids clear paths. As I chase him, I cough because of the dust strewn in my face by his stamping feet. Sandy grains are in my eyes and my vision is blurry. It takes us five miles to arrive at a place where firewood abound. I sit to rest, panting, cleaning my teary eyes with a handkerchief. Not only does he scale a tree like a monkey, he gathers some firewood, breaking every dry branch there with the swift blows of his axe and tossing it down. For him, a village life is a walk in the park.

I tie a firewood load into a bunch and heave it to my back. The Ismael’s load is three times bigger than mine. He walks swiftly and disappears from view with a lightning speed. With resting intervals, I reach home forty minutes later than him, with my feet blistering and my nose bleeding slightly. I fling the firewood away from my back to the ground and descend to a sitting position. I pull off my sturdy boots, and something smell ammonia.

The women start a three-stone fires in three different spots, and the flames lick the enormous cooking pots whose outer form dark and hardened flakes from years of use. I sit there wreathing in a haze of clouds of smoke, trying to strike up a conversation with this girl in her teen years.

 “How can you guys cook all this meat without messing up something in the process?” I dub my nose.

“What makes you think we will cook all the meat?” she swaggers past me, putting more firewood into the fire.

“I’m just asking,” tears roll down from my eyes.

         “Please don’t trip,” she says as I get up suddenly.

“What?,” I step back, stumbling over a head.

“That belongs to the second ram,” she explains. “I am Sophia, by the way.”

“I’m Ahmed,” I glance at the ram head, freaked.

Two muscled men dig a square hole in the ground and use it as an underground oven to cook lamb stuffed with rice. Look at them. They are in a perfect shape. They fight off lions and hyenas at night when these predatory carnivores attack the herds, Ismael tells me. One of them is wearing an eye patch. His name is Hussein. His back has scars that resemble the shape of the African continent, his left fingers suffer from physical deformity. The other man has a silky dress and a black shirt on. He wiggles the white-faced Seiko watch on his wrist into place, checking the time repeatedly as he flips the meat. He yawns and I glimpse that he is missing all his lateral incisors. His name is Hassan, and he is in love with the imam’s daughter. Her name is Amina. Despite Hassan’s declared love, Amina was not forthcoming with being in love with Hassan.

“How did he afford that watch?” I ask curiously.

“He sold a bull last year to buy that watch and a new wardrobe,” Ismael answers.

“By the way, one day Amina told him to remove all his lateral incisors to prove his love,” he adds.

“Wow, poor man!” I yell softly.

“Probably, she said that jokingly,” Ismael smiles.

“Love is a strange thing,” I check my broken shoelaces.

“You know nothing about love,” he raises his voice. “You are barely sixteen.”

“You know more than me about how love works in this village,” I blow my nose.

“Anyway, the wedding is tonight, and I am two years older than you,” he puts peanuts into his mouth.

“ Whatever,” my eyes settle on a Billy goat flirting with a goat.

My mouth waters with the delicious sight of the meat and the rice, readied on those big stainless still plates. The women pour the soup into several glass jars as well. Sophia hands me the largest plate for the imam. As I walk towards the tree, I see six meditative men with the imam. Each man is sitting on his own deer-skin mat and holds a rosary. My hands shake with the weight which propelled me to put the plate hastily in front of the closest man, the imam. He opens his eyes, nodding. Then, I hear thuds under the nose of each man. I feel amazed at the synchronization of the women for bringing the brimming plates and placing them down at the same time. And the rest of the food, from tropical fruits to freshly squeezed juices, keeps traveling on its way to the tree as if carried by ant colonies.

At nine o’clock pm, everyone gets engrossed in the wedding’s climax. The groom and the bride wear exquisite traditional dresses. Sophia gazes at me, blushing, and I gaze back at her, feigning shyness. I virtualize the two of us in those dresses. Maybe she envisages that too. Many villagers attend the event and enjoy the feast. Out of the blue, a lion purrs in midair and attacks the imam. Hussein lifts his spear and hurls it at the beast, killing it. The imam sustains slight injuries. Hussein becomes the hero of the night, takes off his shirt in celebration with his continent-shaped scars showing.

 I am in a school uniform, heading to the kitchen for breakfast. It is a beautiful morning. After a few months in the village, everything looks tidier than the village, and my sense of smell detects the difference. All the city scents lingering in the air are rich and exotic in a novel way. The people are gentler and more polite. But I remember the innocence and lack of political correctness of the village people. Unlike the city people who seem to harbor grudges, they get everything off their chest. And in my mind’s eye, I see Sophia’s face as she waives at me goodbye. I look forward to a second visit next year when school is closed.

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