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The African Union and China: A constructive partnership towards the implementation of Agenda 2063

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Picture: Tiksa Negeri/Reuters file photo – The African Union logo seen outside the AU headquarters building in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

By Gert Grobler

The African Union (AU) was officially launched in Durban in July 2002 and is therefore celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. The establishment of the AU, followed a decision by its predecessor, the OAU, in September 1999, to create a new continental organisation to build on its realization of its goals. This decision was the outcome of a consensus by African leaders that, to realise Africa’s potential, there was a need to refocus attention from decolonization towards increased cooperation and integration of African states to drive Africa’s growth and economic development agenda.

The AU was guided from the outset by its vision of the promotion of unity and solidarity of African states towards “An Integrated, Prosperous and Peaceful Africa, driven by its citizens and representing a dynamic force in the global arena.”

The contact between Africa and China has evolved over several thousand years. It was, however, only after the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, with the Communist Party of China ( CPC ) at the helm, and after Africa had begun to rid itself of the burden of colonialism in the 50s and ’60s, that relations between Africa and China actively took off, with cooperation gaining significant momentum in the ensuing decades.

In the wake of the historic Bandung Asian – Africa conference in April 1955, Africa and China embarked on” a new type “ of partnership, characterized by political equality, mutual respect and trust, win-win economic cooperation and cultural exchanges.

Throughout this period the CPC Increasingly reached out to Africa displaying a strong sense of friendship and solidarity towards the continent. From the 1950s onwards an increasing number of exchanges between the CPC and African political parties also began. Many African national liberation movements sent delegations to visit China to seek political, moral and material support.

China consistently expressed its strong commitment to supporting Pan African institutions such as the OAU and its successor, the AU.

Although substantial progress was made regarding Africa and China cooperation in the ensuing decades, it can be said that the year 2000, initiated a new vital and “ game-changing “ phase of Africa and China cooperation, taking it to a higher, strategic and more comprehensive level.

The major stimulus was the joint creation of the Forum on China and Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) in October 2000 in Beijing.

Africa applauded China’s progress in eliminating absolute poverty and was furthermore aware that China stood ready to strengthen exchanges and cooperation with other countries on development and poverty reduction

In fact, China’s growth model and economic successes have inspired and given confidence to African and other developing countries in their quest to achieve development and progress.

In 2021, total trade between Africa and China reached US$254.3 billion, up 35.3 per cent year on year, reinforcing China’s role as Africa’s biggest bilateral trading partner. To balance the trade gap, China has also pledged in the meantime to import USD 300 billion of African products by 2025.

Since the inception of the Belt and Road Initiative ( BRI ) eight years ago, Africa and China have increasingly pursued high-quality projects with concrete economic benefits. A growing number of key BRI projects have been completed. Among others, more than 6000 kilometres of railroads, 6000 kilometres of highways, 20 ports, more than 80 power facilities, 130 medical facilities and close to 200 schools have been built on the African continent.

To ensure the realisation of its objectives and the attainment of the Pan African Vision of an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, “Agenda 2063 “ was adopted by the AU Heads of State and Government in January 2015. “Agenda 2063 “ is Africa’s development blueprint to achieve inclusive and sustainable socio-economic development over 50 years. It called for greater collaboration and support for African-led initiatives to ensure the achievement of the aspirations of African people.

The AU knew from its growing cooperation with China that the latter would be prepared to share its knowledge and expertise of its development with Africa towards realizing the continent’s dream of implementing the AU’s Agenda 2063, which spells out the continent’s priorities in the areas of infrastructure development, agriculture, industrialisation, energy and health, education, climate change, peace and security.

The spread of Covid 19 not only put health systems in African countries increasingly under pressure but also contributed to the slowing down of the commendable political, economic and social progress that Africa has made over the last few decades.

In times of crisis, further compounded by the negative implications of the current conflict in Ukraine, many governments in Africa are experiencing increasing economic challenges and indebtedness. According to the African Development Bank earlier this month, African nations needed $424bn (R7.13-trillion) this year to manage the devastation caused by the Covid 19 pandemic, plunging 30 million Africans into “extreme poverty” in 2020 and 2021.

It is against this background that Africa and China have renewed their commitment to jointly seek enhanced cooperation on FOCAC, the Belt and Road initiative and the Global Development Initiative, to elevate China-Africa cooperation to an even higher and more strategic level.

China and Africa’s cooperation has been significantly enhanced by several momentous events over the last year or so which indeed auger well for future cooperation:

-The first was the release by the Chinese government of its 1st comprehensive and constructive White Paper on China and Africa cooperation, titled “China and Africa in the New Era: A Partnership of Equals “ on 26 November 2021 which reflects the successes of China-Africa cooperation.

-This was followed by the productive 8th Ministerial Conference of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation held in the Senegalese capital of Dakar on November 29 and 30, 2021 which assessed and discussed the Africa – China response to the COVID-19 pandemic and which charted the way forward for African – China relations over the next three years and beyond.

– President Xi Jinping’s commendable recent proposals of a common vision and dream to build a community of a shared future for mankind linked to the implementation of the “Global Development Initiative “(GDI) and the “Global Security Initiative “(GSI) have furthermore led to growing consensus between China, its African and international partners on growing cooperation on all these constructive Chinese initiatives which would contribute to the further deepening of South-South cooperation, synergize economic, development and security strategies and the improvement of global governance. The GDI, like FOCAC and the BRI, is effectively aligned with the UN 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda as well as the AU 2063 Agenda which bodes well for future practical Africa and China cooperation.

-The signing of the Agreement between China and the AU on the “Cooperation Plan on Joint Promotion of the BRI “ in January 2021 has injected fresh impetus into expanded BRI cooperation with Africa.

-Also of particular significance is that the African heads of state and government approved the opening up of an AU Permanent Mission to China at their Summit in February 2022. In taking this step, which was welcomed by Beijing, the AU has signalled its strong desire to further enhance Africa-China cooperation. Equally, Beijing’s decision to open its own Chinese Permanent Mission to the AU in Addis Ababa demonstrated its intention to increasingly work with Africa in a coordinated and focused manner.

– The new AU headquarters in Addis Ababa which was inaugurated in 2012, also represents a symbolic gesture and gift from China to Africa, further solidifying Sino-Africa relations. In addition, the close cooperation between the AU and the AU on the current construction of the Headquarters of the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) also in Addis Ababa is highly appreciated by Africa. It illustrates the cooperative spirit of friendship between Africa and China which will continue to contribute significantly to strengthening pandemic prevention and control in Africa.

President Xi Jinping sent a message to the 35th African Union Summit on 5 February 2022 extending his heartfelt congratulations to African leaders on the 20th anniversary of the founding of the African Union (AU). This much-appreciated message reiterated that China, as in the past, stood ready to work with Africa to actively implement the AU’s Agenda 2063 inter alia the promotion of the vital African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA ).

These momentous AU and China developments indeed auger well for the long-standing and growing friendship between Africa and China, based on mutual respect, equality, and a win-win situation which continues to bring tangible and lasting benefits to both the continent and China.

Grobler is a former Ambassador and Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Africa Studies at the Zhejiang Normal university, Jinhua, China.