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The Forum on China Africa Cooperation

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The Forum on China Africa Cooperation, or FOCAC for short, is an official forum between Communist China and African states. This forum is very important in as far as china Africa relations are concerned because of a host of reasons. The major reason is that both China and Africa stand to benefit economically from this relationship, as China gets raw materials from the continent, in return largely for concessionary loans and assistance in rehabilitation or construction of infrastructure of various magnitudes. Another area where the importance of FOCAC is seen is China’s political support for the ruling elite in Africa, and diplomatic support for regimes usually under pressure at forums like the United Nations, as in the case of Zimbabwe and other countries accused of various shortcomings. It is clear from this therefore that relations between China and Africa are those of feeding off each other, or principally a relationship of friends in need of each other. However, as shall be seen in this essay, there are also various problems that arise with this FOCAC, not least of which are accusations that China turns a blind eye to human rights violations in Africa as long as it benefits.
For the purposes of analysing the issue of relations between Africa and China, the conceptual framework of interdependence shall be pursued. This theory argues that countries relate to each other because there is dependence on each other for various strengths. For instance, China needs African resources, while African countries need investment and loans with no political strings attached, or simply put, African leaders generally prefer investors who generally see no evil in Africa.
For the purposes of this essay, the term concessionary loan shall be used to mean loans that attract negligible interest rates and/or will start to be repaid after a period like 12 months.
One major importance of the FOCAC on relations between Africa and China is that it has allowed African countries to get huge loans with very few or no political strings attached. At the third FOCAC Summit held in Beijing in November 2006, the Chinese President Hu Jintao rolled out $5 billion worth of concessionary loans to Africa. At the next Summit held in 2009 in Egypt, the low cost loan was doubled by Hu to $10 billion. This was of utmost importance to Africa because for the first time in over a decade, Africans were getting loans from outside the confines of the Paris Club, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund which all generally give stringent conditions before giving out loans. In this case, for African states to get the loans they simply had to have diplomatic relations with China, and have resources that it needed. This allowed African states to thumb their noses at the West without incurring any wrath in return. Zimbabwe is one such beneficiary of the loan, as in 2012 the government acquired a loan of $100million for the construction of the Defence College. Many other African countries have also benefitted from Chinese largesse in the form of loans they may not have to repay for years to come, at no or minimal rates of interest. To that extent it can thus be argued that the Forum of China Africa Cooperation is very important in China Africa relations. This brings an aura of mutually beneficial economic relations between the two. If Zimbabwe had had to look for loans from private funders or from the West, it would probably take years for approval and for the Defence College referred to above, to be completed.
Although China has been into infrastructural development in Africa for a long time, it can also be argued that this has been accelerated as a result of FOCAC. In the 1990s for example, China was responsible for building a railway link between Tanzania and Zambia, the so-called TAZARA. More recently, there have also been infrastructural projects pursuant to the FOCAC Summits. At the 2006 Summit, the Chinese president Hu Jintao announced the creation of the China-Africa Development Fund to further Chinese investment in Africa, worth $1 billion but expected to grow to $5 billion. Zimbabwe has again benefitted from such investment. A Chinese company, China Africa Sunlight Energy has signed contracts to invest $2,1 billion in coal mining, and also building a 2,100MW power plant fuelled by gas and possibly coal in Lupane. The Chinese have also been awarded a tender for $350 million to expand the Kariba South station on the Zimbabwe side. The loan to build comes from China, as so does the expertise for that expansion.
Besides loans to governments and government agencies, the Chinese have also through FOCAC made provision for a billion dollar special loan for small and medium size African businesses. This is useful to the investment by the private sector within Africa itself. Again these loans are useful to the relations between China and Africa as they lead to the creation of jobs, and also help in the expansion of the economies. China has also made a promise to write off debts for some of the poorest nations like Gambia, Zambia, Mozambique and the Central African Republic. This helps a lot because their economies are no longer weighed down by debts they cannot service. At the 2009 Summit China also pledged to construct 100 new clean energy projects on the continent, covering solar power, biogas and small hydro-power.
This relationship has also extended to trade partnerships. In Zimbabwe, Zambia and Malawi, which are top tobacco growing countries in Africa, Chinese companies are buying the golden leaf at high prices compared to those generally offered by western companies. The 2009 Summit between Africa and China saw the Chinese offering to gradually lower customs duties on 95% of products from African states with which it has diplomatic relations. At the same time, China has also benefitted to a greater extent from this trade relationship as their exports of clothes and footwear to Africa contributes a large percentage of their finished exports into the continent. Most of these goods arrive in Africa at very low customs duty rates. A BBC report for 2012 showed that since 2009, China has been Africa’s largest trading partner. In 2009 alone, trade between Africa and China hit $166 billion. This shows that the Forum has been very important to the relationship between China and Africa.
A crucial pillar of the relationship between Africa and China is the exploitation of non-renewable resources by China from Africa. Africa is an important source of raw materials to feed China’s economic boom and a market for cheap Chinese products. Since the turn of the century, the expansion of Chinese industries has demanded that they find new sources of raw materials. China is now buying over 60% of their petrochemical requirements from Angola, South Sudan and Nigeria. At the time of the split of Sudan and South Sudan, China owned 40% of oil in Sudan. They are also making frantic efforts to get their hands on the newly discovered oil reserves in Uganda and Tanzania. From Gambia and the CAR they are also getting uranium. The Chinese have also helped in the boom in copper trade, investing in mines and related infrastructure in Zambia since 1999. This has also helped the copper-dependent Zambian economy recover since the turn of the millennium. According to the Brookings Institute, FOCAC serves to reinforce China’s image of an emerging commercial and diplomatic power in Africa.
Another area where the importance of relations between China and Africa is seen is the area of technical co-operation. China has since the establishment of FOCAC increased the number of agricultural technological demonstration centres to twenty, trained about 2000 agriculture technical personnel to help Africa’s ability to ensure food security. China has also pledged to provide medical equipment and anti-malaria materials worth 500million yuan to the 30 hospitals and 30 malaria prevention and treatment centres built by China. On top of that, China has provided scholarships to Africa amounting to 5,500 by 2012, and also trained doctors and nurses for various African countries. This is a very important investment in the health sector of Africa, which in most cases has been underfunded.
Chinese infrastructure construction has also been very important of late, in Africa. According to the Xinhua News agency, in 2012 alone Chinese enterprises completed construction contracts worth 40, 83 billion dollars in Africa, 45% more than 2009. There was a railway rehabilitation project in Angola and a project for building a fibre optic transmission network in Tanzania. China also worked with some West African countries in building hydropower stations and power grids. The Malabo gas plant in Equatorial Guinea is expected to improve local power supply while promoting agricultural irrigation and ecological tourism. Large Chinese communication companies in Africa have cooperated with 1200 local sub-contractors and indirectly provided more than 10,000 job opportunities.
On the other hand however, the China Africa relationship has been lampooned for being generally exploitative on the ordinary people. This is because the Chinese choose not to meddle in local human rights violations issues. China provides African countries with diplomatic and programmatic options. When they deal with Africa in terms of trade or investment the Chinese don’t ask questions about human rights violations. They simply invest or lend money. This means that African countries which fail to get loans from the West simply knock on China. The most recent example is that of the Egyptian generals who deposed that country’s elected president, Muhamed Morsi in July 2012. When threatened with suspension of military aid by the US they simply warned that they would turn to Russia, which is reportedly eager to assist. After recently signing an anti-gay bill into law, Uganda’s president has faced pressure from the west, which has withdrawn aid and other financial support, but Yoweri Museveni has been on record as saying that the gap can be filled by China and Russia.
Herein lies the problem in the relationship between China and Africa. China has been accused, somewhat correctly, of turning a blind eye to corruption and human rights abuses. As seen in the argument above, most African countries are no longer making any effort to ameliorate abuses because they know they will be backed by China at all international forums where it has any clout. Even Chinese companies themselves have been accused of labour abuses in Zimbabwe, Zambia and elsewhere, either underpaying workers or using archaic punishments for workers like corporal punishment or slaps in the face. On top of that, despite claims that Africa has benefitted from Chinese job creation, in most instances the Chinese prefer to come with their own nationals when they undertake projects in Africa.
Be that as it may, it can be concluded that the Forum of China Africa Cooperation has been very important to China Africa relations as both sides have benefitted from that relationship. Africa has benefited from investment by Chinese firms, free or concessionary loans and in some instances outright grants. China has also funded construction and infrastructural projects in Africa, like the Malabo Gas project in Equatorial Guinea, and the Kariba South power station expansion. The Chinese have also availed a number of scholarships for African learners, about 5, 500 students to date on full scholarships at Chinese universities. On the other hand the Chinese benefit from their political relationship with Africa as they are getting a lot of raw materials, in some instances for a song. However, the relationship has its dark side, because the Chinese prefer to give loans and also nominate their own companies to undertake projects they are funding, and also bring in their workforce from China itself, which benefit the host country little.

BBC, 19 July 2012 – China pledges $ 20 Billion in Credit for Africa at Summit.
Barney, J and Jamil, A. ( Nov 2009) “China pledges $10 Billion in low-cost loans to Africa.” The Washington Post.
Brookings Institute. The FOCAC and the Prospects for “Trilateral” Development-accessed online 3 Feb 2014.
Clive Samvura, Economy: Radical Options for growth.
Global Times 29-8-13, “China to further support Africa Infrastructure Construction.
Kawakami, O., China Rivalry marks TICAD IV “Government seeks African support on Climate Change, UNSC membership” Daily Yomiuri, 20 Nov. 2013
“The first Ministerial Conference”, 26 October 2006, Originally published by Xinhua News( accessed 19 Feb 2014.

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