By  Charles Onunaiju

The 8th Ministerial Conference of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) will hold in the Senegalese Capital of Dakar on the 29th and 30th of November 2021. The 21 year old cooperation mechanism between Africa and China founded at the turn of the century has become a model of international cooperation, famous for delivering measurable, tangible and practical outcomes even with less bureaucracy and glamour. The theme of the 8th ministerial conference “Deepen China-Africa partnership and promote sustainable development to build a China-Africa community with a shared future in the new era” would certainly build on the  phenomenal outcomes of the immediate two summits of the heads of state and government that held in Johannesburg , South Africa (2015) and Beijing, China (2018), respectively. Both summits though, drawing from the FOCAC cherished tradition of outlining specific areas and contents for deepening cooperation, were however, major turning  points and  historic new starting points for the FOCAC mechanism.

 President Xi Jinping on assumption of office in 2013 left no one in doubt that Africa genuinely constitutes the cornerstone or foundation of China’s foreign relation by making his first ever foreign trip as president, straight from Moscow to Africa, specifically in Tanzania, where he affirmed that “unity and cooperation with Africa countries is the foundation of China’s foreign policy. This will never change even should China grow stronger and enjoy a higher international standing”  In an outline that is pivotal to the current trajectory of China-Africa engagement, president Xi Jinping pointed out in his speech in Tanzania that “similar historical experience, common development tasks and shared strategic interests have bound us together. We both view the other’s development as our opportunity, and we both seek to promote mutual development and prosperity through cooperation.”  The Forum on China-Africa Cooperation(FOCAC) is the essential mechanism that drives the mutual opportunity that China and Africa represents to each other. With a three yearly ministerial conference or summits between each other, the FOCAC process does not brook complacency as follow ups activities, ranging from projects implementation, dialogues and consultation at both intergovernmental and non-governmental levels involving broad range of actors at various platforms, culminating in the drawing up of agenda and building consensus on key issues of common concerns majorly characterize the times between a summit or a conference and the other. The basic feature of the FOCAC mechanism is the follow-up process, whose key element is to deliver tangible and practical results on the outcomes of heads of states’ summits or ministerial conference. The two heads of states summit held in Johannesburg and Beijing respectively before the 8th ministerial conference scheduled for the end of this month in Dakar Senegal were phenomenal milestone and landmark in the history of the FOCAC process. At the Johannesburg summit in South Africa, president X1 Jinping outlined the ten (10) cooperation plans and backed it with a 60 billion U.S dollar funding support. The range of the outlined cooperation plans which included Industrialization, Agricultural modernization, Infrastructure, Trade and Investment, Poverty Reduction, Public Health, Peace and Security among others clearly and objectively aligned with  the key and major requirements of Africa to accelerate growth, and drive sustainable and inclusive development. Between the period of the Johannesburg summit and its Beijing counterpart, up till  now, Africa’s infrastructure profile and its industrialization pace has grown phenomenally, generating top notch jobs in the real sector and massively enhancing capacity building and skill acquisition among the continent’s bourgeoning youth population. 

In 2017, the U.S based international management and consultancy firm, McKinsey and Co published a report from its survey and field work of Chinese enterprises in Africa and reached the conclusion that it generate tens of thousands of jobs and also breeding top and medium managers from among Africa workers. The report put China ahead of others in such strategic sectors to Africa as infrastructure financing and construction, trade and investment.  At the Johannesburg summit, president Xi Jinping has said that the ten cooperation plans would “help accelerate Africa’s Industrialization and Agricultural modernization and thereby help Africa to achieve sustainable development on its own”. From the period of the summit and now, the first electrified railway connecting Ethiopia’s Industrial heartland to the port of Djibouti, cutting travel times and costs by less than half has been fully operational. The Mombasa-Nairobi nearly 500 km standard gauge railway in Kenya, Abuja-Kaduna 167 km and its Lagos-Ibadan counterpart in Nigeria have all become fully functional, improving passenger and goods freighting more efficiently.  Special economic zones and industrial parks invested by Chinese enterprises as the pivotal hub for Africa’s Industrialization are springing up across  the continent, and  equally Sea ports, Airports, power plants and road networks assisted by China through concessional loans and grants, are putting unprecedented dynamism and energy as Africa races to fill the historic deficits of infrastructure connectivity that have previously made the concept of pan-African Unity and Integration, a hollow rhetoric. 

Examples includes the Zambia-China Economic and Trade cooperation zone, , the first of its kind established in Africa. it conducts upstream mining of the Chambishi copper mine and downstream smelting of the output and at the same time introduces more Chinese enterprises that do business in construction  in the local market. Eastern industrial zone in Ethiopia where textile processing, footwear manufacturing and garment processing industries concentrate, Suez canal economic zone in Egypt focuses on petroleum equipment, auto parts and some high tech industries. The Mauritius-Jinfei Economic Trade and cooperation zone develops commerce and trade logistics, tourism and financial services. These and several others, including lekki free trade zone in Nigeria are some of the critical and high end outcomes of China Africa cooperation promoting Africa as the next world industrial frontier .

China and Africa cooperation has been robustly enriched and made more proactively functional through the vigor of the FOCAC multilateral process. In the era of beguile nationalism, China and Africa through the mechanism of the FOCAC has reaffirmed multilateralism as the trend of the times. 

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The Beijing summit of the Forum on China Africa cooperation further boosted the profile of FOCAC as steps towards an even stronger China-Africa community of shared future in  the new era, was taken when effort was made to consolidate on the ten cooperation plans outlined in Johannesburg, three years earlier by the launch of eight new initiatives, which  president Xi Jinping said , “was in close collaboration with Africa countries in the next three years and beyond”. The Eight initiatives included industrial promotion, infrastructure connectivity, capacity building, Health care, people to people exchange and peace and security. China also offered another 60billion USD for as funding support for the Initiatives. The progress of these initiatives along with the ten cooperation plans, an integrated framework to drive the tangible outcomes of the FOCAC process was on course when the once in a century disruption of the Covid-19 pandemic occurred. But in the face of the common affliction inflicted by the pandemic, China-Africa cooperation proved resilient and stood as exemplary of international cooperation in the face of a rampaging pandemic, whose profile as equal opportunity killer was clearly established when it ravaged both the poor and rich in equal measure.

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 In practical terms president Xi Jinping said that China will put down what it takes to support Africa in its fight against the pandemic and efforts to develop the African continental free trade Area, enhance connectivity, and strengthen industrial and supply Chains”, would be scaled up. The only known international summit held amidst the rampage of covid-19 pandemic, China-Africa relation through the FOCAC process proved itself a model of international cooperation and solidarity that stood, unbowed even in the face of a strange pandemic. The FOCAC process has brokered the most fruitful and productive cooperation in which a traditional friendship and solidarity has been transformed to a platform that yield  concrete and measurable outputs, culminating in tangible and practical value addition to the national aggregates of participating countries. 

The addition of the exponential driver of the Belt and Road initiative(BRI) to the FOCAC process has further accelerated the pace of China-Africa development cooperation, multiplied its value inputs and given it a considerable quality scope, that mainstreams green development and all the key concerns of the contemporary issues of climate change.

The 8th ministerial conference in Dakar Senegal this month will be both introspective, reflective and forward looking. The pandemic has slowed down people to people contacts between China and Africa even as e-commerce and other aspects of digital economy has soared. But as the people is the foundation of China-Africa cooperation, the Dakar ministerial conference should engage ideas that would help in the early re-start of people to people to contacts.

Post covid-19 economic reconstruction would obviously be high on the agenda and new cooperation drivers would likely be announced. It is however, imperative to strengthen the existing mechanism.  Africa and China as a pacesetter of the community of shared future in the new era, must take practical measures to safeguard multilateralism, deepen its mechanisms and practice by remaining unwavering in their commitment to dialogue, consultation and cooperation.

The 8th ministerial conference in Dakar is a historic turning point as it came against the background of its predecessors, the highly successful summits before it and would no doubt take FOCAC mechanism a notch higher as both sides explore new opportunities to bring tangible additional values to their respective national aggregates  and consolidate multilateralism as the most effective mechanism  for broad and extensive  international cooperation.


Mr. Onunaiju, is the Research Director, Center for China Studies, Abuja