Since last year, African countries have sought more of a voice in the international arena. In particular, smaller countries on the continent have more say on matters about Africa, and that’s posed new challenges for the Belt and Road (B&R) initiative.
There are several instances of African countries seeking more global influence. For example, on the diplomatic level, the African Union (AU) is on good terms with the UN and is seeking permanent membership on the UN Security Council. When dealing with partnership relations with other regions, African countries are more insistent on proceeding at their own pace.
On economic issues, Africa has shown an increasing awareness of development strategy planning, and the continent has also taken steps toward financial independence. The pursuit of more independence has had both positive and negative impacts on the B&R initiative.
More independent diplomacy by Africa can provide stronger political motivation to extending B&R construction on the continent. It also helps to deflect external criticism and ease resistance to connecting the B&R with African development strategies.
More financial independence could support B&R projects by providing more resources. A rising presence from Africa could bring more third parties in as partners and put the B&R initiative into wider practice.
The negative effects have also come. Africa is underdeveloped and its growth has been restrained in recent years. The idea of “Africa rising” is questioned. Moreover, although Africa is taking a more independent stance, that might not last. There are potential challenges in this process. The AU is intended to represent the whole continent, but it lacks the ability to coordinate with some countries that are reluctant to be represented.
The demands involved in connecting the B&R initiative with African development strategies will be higher. It is not connectivity between two countries any longer – instead, it involves many layers, including global, regional and sub-regional.
Further, connectivity in different fields must take political, security, environmental, public health and social effects into consideration.
Since the beginning of the 21st century, African independence has gained momentum, and AU Commission Chairperson H.E. Moussa Faki Mahamat has pushed for even more independence for Africa.
But because such trends have had mixed effects on B&R construction, some thought should be given in advance on how to cope with it. Both strategy and policy responses should be prepared, to better navigate upcoming opportunities and challenges for the B&R initiative.
First, as to future B&R construction, coordination mechanisms need to be built on African regional, sub-regional and country levels, so that the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) can follow up more effectively.
Second, FOCAC, AU and sub-regional organizations can cooperate and develop evaluation systems for the B&R initiative and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
Third, special projects should be set up with the AU and sub-regional organizations. Projects can focus on regional and sub-regional capacity building, peacekeeping, infrastructure construction, technology transfer and projects for youth and women.
Fourth, infrastructure construction cooperation should continue to be stepped up. China will help Africa push forward connectivity on some focal points, among African countries, sub-regional areas and different states within individual countries.
Here, infrastructure comes into play. That involves not only connecting similar types of infrastructure – highways to highways and railways to railways – but also linking different types of transportation. This will require joint effort in different fields, such as connections between power grids and highway networks, or between water resource facilities and power facilities.
The author is director of the Institute for Foreign Policy Studies at the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies.
Source: Global Times