SIX years after it was announced as a new strategy of international cooperation that would engage the practical issues of connectivity within and across nations of the world, the “Silk Road Economic Belt,” and “21st Century maritime Silk Road,” otherwise known as the “Belt and Road Initiative,” which negating the revisionist “end of history” mantra opens humanity to new historical process of not only inclusion but harnessing extant achievements in science and technology to fill the gaps of developments needs across all countries and regions in the world.
Africa is at the epicenter of the emerging global trends where resources will be put to fill the existential deficits of critical development needs such as transport, power and telecommunication infrastructures. Africa also stands at the historical juncture of leveraging China’s excess industrial and production capacity that would constitute a major shake-up of global industrial value chain. The Belt and Road strategy of international cooperation already up and running and phenomenally redrawing the global development map with outlaying economic corridors and tremendous added value is also putting Africa in the front-line of emerging global economic hubs.
Since the action plan of the Belt and Road strategy was rolled out, key infrastructure projects have sprung up in Africa taking shape from its concessional funding support and inspirations of facility connectivity.
In respect of overland construction, Chinese companies through concessional financial support have built Addis Ababa – Djibouti Railway in Ethiopia which is the first electrified railway in Africa, Mombasa – Nairobi Railway in Kenya, Abuja – Kaduna Railway in Nigeria and Benguela railway in Angola and many others, including Lagos-Ibadan-Kano-Abuja under construction.
With regards to the maritime component of Belt and Road initiative, Africa features eminently in the key infrastructure projects. So far, Chinese companies have constructed port of Bagamoyo in Tanzania, No 19 berth of port Mombasa and three berth of port Lamu, both in Kenya, New port of Pointe- Noire in the Republic of ongo or Congo Brazzaville, Lekki Deep Seaport in Nigeria, Kribi Deep seaport in Cameroun and port of Tamatave in Madagascar.
Under the framework of the Belt and Road strategy of international cooperation port of Cherchell in Algeria has been built and under operation while the Port of Iuanda in Angola is under construction. The distinct feature of each of these ports is that they either have access to major road connections or seat near the sites of industrial parks, thereby having significant impacts on economic development of the coastal areas of Africa.
Still under the auspices of the Belt and Road International development strategy, a number of power generation plants have been built in Africa. Another core area of Belt and Road initiative which is strategic to Africa’s economic recovery and sustainable growth is the construction of industrial parks. By the end of 2016, China has set up 20 industrial parks in 15 African countries, including Nigeria, with accumulated investments of 5.38 billion U.S dollars, attracting more than 450 enterprises with accumulated value output of 19.35 billion U.S dollars that contributed 1.62 billion U.S dollars to the revenues of the hosting countries in taxes and fees. These activities have created over 33, 534 jobs and brought about industrial clustering in pertinent area. Through the construction of industrial parks in Africa, China has made significant contributions to the host countries in helping them attract direct foreign investment in real strategic sectors of manufacturing, promoting industrialization process, increasing revenue, creating jobs, improving living standards and generally spurring socio-economic development.
The Belt and Road framework of International cooperation brings dynamism and opens a fresh vista in the already phenomenal cooperation between China and Africa. The historic deficit in Africa’s regional efforts to build economies of scale and find a niche in the global industrial value chain has found complementary response in the mechanism of the formidable Forum on China Africa Cooperation but would more strategically absorb the opportunities of China’s global distribution of industrial production capacity under the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative. The African and Chinese leadership that gathered in Beijing last September, captured very succinctly the strategic vigor unleashed in their extant cooperation by the dynamic component of the Belt and Road Initiative and therefore, went on, to integrate it in their existing mechanism of multilateral engagement.
But the Belt and Road Initiative is beyond the tangible connectivity. It offers to systematically and inclusively channel global disparate trajectories to more coherent, intelligent and optimal use for the benefit of humankind through networks of mutually aligned national priorities, synthesized and blended to common global public goods that redefines the international system not just as a platform of the “games, nations play, but as framework for joint efforts to find a common ground to tackle humanity’s most existential challenges. Combining the ideal with the practical, Belt and Road Initiative offers a practical framework to inclusively negotiate the outcome of international cooperation on the basis of extensive consultations, joint contributions and shared benefits
Since the announcement of the “Silk Road Economic Belt and the “21st Century Maritime Silk Road in 2013 and followed subsequently with the release of the “vision and action plans in 2015, it has considerably evolved. The scope has moved beyond the initial over 70 countries in the original Silk Road across Asia, Africa, Europe and Oceania. As President Xi Jinping said in his keynote speech at the first Belt and Road forum for international cooperation in 2017, “the BRI is rooted in the Ancient Silk Road. It focuses on the Asian, European and African continents but is also open to all other countries,” adding that “all countries, from either Asia, Europe, Africa or the Americas can be international cooperation partners of the Belt and Road Initiative,” and pledged that “the pursuit of this Initiative is based on extensive consultation and its benefits will be shared by all.”
As an international framework of cooperation to be driven by “extensive consultation” and whose beneficial outcomes “will be shared by all,” many African countries have become cooperation partners of the BRI. At this second Belt and Road forum, nearly 40 African countries participated and worked with other international partners to “shape the brighter future” which BRI offers. The issues at the core of the Belt and Road International cooperation ranging from infrastructure connectivity, industrial cooperation, financial integration, policy coordination and others are already well known and are now subjects of intense scholarly and political analysis with all details been critically examined.
With the Belt and Road Initiative emerging as core subject of international relations and studies, its central paradigm of cooperation, consultation and consensus-building will struggle with the traditional theoretical approach of international studies that focus on conflict-management and power politics of the so-called realist school.
The Belt and Road framework of international cooperation is not just a happenstance but a scientific response derived from acute theoretical exploration and innovations of the vexed contradictions of the accelerating convergence of human interests across national borders and the iron-clad national sovereignty by State actors. It therefore, seek to harness the contemporary convergence of human shared aspirations across state boundaries towards a community of shared future, without disrupting or harming the core value of the international system which is the sovereign status of State actors.
For a traditional international system where historically, no powerful nation has extended benevolence without drawing her beneficiaries into its orbit or spheres of influence, China’s initiated Belt and Road, with which China has expressed readiness to share the fruits of her development and engage her over-capacity to where it can contribute optimally to the improvement in the quality of lives, naturally draws concerns and curiosity about Beijing intentions.
Onunaiju is the director, Center for China Studies, Utako, Abuja.