Today, China plays a new role in the international system, garnering increasing attention around the globe. In its expedition to develop and improve its image, China has focused on maintaining good relations with Africa as a whole and has committed itself to several projects in different African countries. Some researchers have concluded that Africans generally view China as a positive influence. They argue that there is no single African perspective on China, but the number of people who view China as a positive influence in African countries is very close to (and in some cases surpasses) those who consider the United States as a positive influence. China’s assistance to Africa is growing but is dwarfed by the United States. Since the first Forum on China-Africa Cooperation in 2000, China has made a systematic effort to expand and give a greater profile to its soft-power policies in Africa. Although explicit soft-power commitments in health; humanitarian assistance; and academic, professional, and cultural exchange are growing, they are not yet anywhere near the United States’ commitments in these areas. The main source of China’s soft power in Africa is, therefore, the strength of its economy and its economic engagement. The expansion in China-Africa trade and investment, as well as the proliferation of Chinese-led infrastructure projects, reflect a fundamentally more optimistic view of Africa’s future as compared to the Western engagement, which remains driven primarily by humanitarian programs and, to a larger extent, security interests. Many Africans see China’s economic engagement in their countries as more practical and realistic and also in line with the African continent’s priorities. This, in the long run, gives China an important interest in seeing the continent grow economically.
Apart from the actual trade and investment aspects, the reputation of China as a rising power is profoundly appealing and drives a desire to tie African economies more closely to China’s rise to global economic preeminence. The financial crisis of the United States is seen in many ways as a powerful outcome of the Washington consensus and it may continue to seriously undermine the power of the United States’ economic model. China’s respect for sovereignty rhetoric still gives a boost for China to many Africans. China constantly emphasizes respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity and its policy of noninterference resonates for obvious reasons with many African leaders. But it also agrees with many Africans who regard the Western lecturing on human rights, economic liberalization, and democracy as condescending and hypocritical. Besides, China attaches less or no conditions or broad to their assistance and loans and this allows projects to be implemented quickly, with visible and often immediate results.
Diplomatically, as a result of the increase in trade and investment with Africa, China has fostered closer ties with many African governments, and in doing so, it has won its worldview and managed to reassure Africans as well as the rest of the world of its friendly intentions. China’s public diplomacy emphasizes the notion of solidarity and win-win cooperation. Chinese officials have always taken pride in pointing out that as far back as the fifteenth century when Admiral Zhen He made his famous voyage to the East African coast, China never took this as an advantage to subjugate, colonize, or enslave Africans. They constantly relay and emphasize China’s record of support for African liberation movements and the common interest of the developing world in creating a just and equitable global economy. China seeks to present itself as a champion of developing-country interests in international forums, and actively aims at ensuring that the sense of solidarity will be mutual with other countries. This is illustrated in Minister Shi Guangsheng’s speech at the first FOCAC meeting in 2000 when he declared:
“China will unswervingly side with African countries and peoples to safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of the vast number of developing countries and push for the establishment of an equitable and rational new international political and economic order. Here, let me take this opportunity to express my heartfelt thanks to African countries for your support for China’s accession to WTO. China’s accession to WTO will be beneficial not only to China and world economic and trade development but also to the economic and trade cooperation between China and Africa. We hope that African countries will continue to render us your precious support so that China’s accession to WTO will be realized at an early date”.
Politically, China accentuates the notion of “respect” for African countries, which is embodied in its policy of non-interference in the domestic affairs of sovereign countries. This approach is less confrontational than the Western interventions and it resonates with many African governments and indeed with many (but not all) African citizens to whom Western intimidation and condemnation seem patronizing and unimpressive. A good example is when China disinclined to sanction President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe in 2008 at the United Nations Security Council. Chinese officials and analysts explained that they were simply following the approach of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and that if SADC changed its stance they would reconsider.
Economically, China steadily points out its initiative on the win-win aspect of its engagement in Africa. This approach is welcomed by many African nations for several reasons. First, African nations value the practicality of this approach considering that China comes to Africa as a business partner, not to persuade or offer charity. Second, the perception is that economic self-interest is believed to bring about more sustained engagement as compared to humanitarian impulse or intermittent crisis diplomacy. Finally, the win-win concept implies that there is flexibility which gives room for negotiations on the terms and conditions of the arrangements between China and Africa and that the former will be available to respond to the demands of the latter.
Nevertheless, China’s increasing engagement in Africa has provoked a range of reactions in both Africa and the West. In Africa, some of the reactions are based on the anticipation of what hopes China can bring to the continent in trade, investment, and alternative development partnerships; in other cases, the reactions are instilled by fears of what a seemingly greedy demand for energy, resources, and export markets will mean for growing economies, weak governments, and deprived populations. In the West, China’s mix of economic engagement and soft power has stirred up some fears and insecurities that Western influence in Africa will eventually be diminished and that investments in issues of governance, transparency, and accountability will be damaged and weakened in the eyes of the African States, particularly those that are rich in natural resources but have poor governance and lack legitimacy or national vision. On the other hand, this would imply a healthy competition for trade and investment, and soft power may ultimately benefit Africa’s economic and developmental growth provided that African states utilize the opportunity wisely. Ultimately, the challenge will be whether African governments and their people will make use of this external engagement by China as well as other key players to their eventual national benefit.
In this new expanded phase of engagement in Africa, China has placed special emphasis on its soft-power strategies, while at the same time playing both to African audiences and to the international system. In the process, China seeks to portray itself as a non-threatening and responsible global power to the rest of the world. Since China is involved with multiple audiences, it requires a complex mix of strategies to go forward, and it may also have to avoid employing some of its soft and hard power approaches towards some states concerning their norms and ideals. Some of the approaches may be challenging in African countries especially those with weak and unpopular governments, particularly as opposing nongovernmental forces become increasingly powerful and vocal. Chinese officials and academics often point out that in its engagement with Africa, China is “crossing the river by feeling the stones,” and to date, there have been adjustments of approach in response to popular African reactions.
SADC Summit Ends With Promises of More Meetings
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.
African agriculture is ready for a digital revolution
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.
*Patrick Verkooijen is CEO of the Global Center on Adaptation.
Towards the Second Russia-Africa Summit
Following the instruction of Russian President on the preparation of the second Russia-Africa Summit in 2022, a working meeting between Adviser to the President of the Russian Federation and the Association of Economic Cooperation with African States (AECAS), the Secretariat of the Russia-Africa Partnership Forum and the Roscongress Foundation was held in Moscow.
Among the participants of the meeting were Adviser to the President of the Russian Federation Anton Kobyakov, Ambassador-at-Large of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Head of the Secretariat of the Russia-Africa Partnership Forum Oleg Ozerov, Chairman of the Board, Chief Executive Officer of the Roscongress Foundation, Head of the Coordination Council for Russia-Africa Partnership Forum Alexander Stuglev and Head of AECAS Alexander Saltanov.
They discussed the prospects for further development of relationships with African countries in accordance with the decisions of the first Russia-Africa Summit that was held in Sochi in October 2019, as well as the key aspects of preparation for the next top-level Russian-African meeting in 2022, including the need to establish efficient information cooperation with African countries.
Adviser to the President was presented with the interim results of the work done by the Secretariat that was created in 2020 for coordination and preparation of events within the Russia-Africa format, as well as advances made by AECAS, the establishment of which is an important achievement on the way to efficient and fruitful preparation for subsequent events of the Russian-African track.
The day before Russian President Vladimir Putin informed the participants of the International Inter-Party Conference Russia-Africa: Reviving Traditions about the preparation for the second Russia-Africa Summit in a telegram and noted that the first Summit «gave a strong momentum to the development of friendly relationships between our country and countries of the African continent.»
Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov, who took part in the Inter-Party Conference, said that the Summit is already being prepared and filled with meaningful content, and roadmaps of Russian-African economic, scientific and humanitarian cooperation are to be drafted in the near future. Minister also noted that African issues are supposed to be included in the programme of the upcoming St. Petersburg International Economic Forum. These topics will be further discussed at the next meeting of foreign ministers of Russia and the African Union trio that is scheduled for 2021.
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