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Extending a helping hand to Africa
Date:2018-03-13 Readers:

China's assistance praised for boosting continent's connectivity ambitions through financing and technical capacity

Engagement with China has boosted Africa's infrastructure development ambitions by offering much-needed financing and technical capacity. Describing this as win-win cooperation, Jean-Jacques Bouya, the minister of spatial planning and major projects for the Republic of Congo, says the cooperation has resulted in tangible benefits that are driving African economies forward.

"The standard gauge railway in Kenya is a game-changer in the regional transportation sector. Government estimates indicate that it will help grow the economy by at least 1.5 percent annually and have a multiplier effect on other sectors. This is critical for Africa to meet the rising demand of a growing population," says the minister, riding the Nairobi-Mombasa train on March 11.

He says the continent has been lagging behind in industrialization because of its infrastructure deficit. "We need partners to help us accelerate regional integration. China has pursued a stronger cooperation model with Africa, and we are definitely on the right path," he says.

According to the African Development Bank, the amount needed to close Africa's infrastructure gap is $93 billion annually until 2021. The continent needs this to achieve sustainable economic growth and generate jobs for young people, says Bouya.

The minister spent five hours traveling on the $3.8 billion (3 billion euros; £2.71 billion) railway line and admired the solutions it offers. "It has cut the traveling time between the port city of Mombasa and the capital, Nairobi, thus injecting vibrancy into the local economy," he says. "Moreover, it has generated at least 30,000 jobs directly and indirectly, mainly for young people, who are also benefiting from technology transfer. African leaders have a vision and they are implementing it."

He said he hopes to replicate the line's success in his country. "Kenya has undertaken the initial steps and has set targets to link it to Uganda, Rwanda and then to the Democratic Republic of Congo and finally Congo. We expect the railroad to link Mombasa to the port of Pointe Noire, thus building a belt across the continent."

His government has no qualms about awarding mega-infrastructure projects to Chinese companies, saying that uniform standards will ease their use across borders. China Road and Bridge Corp developed the standard gauge railway and currently has a presence in his mineral-rich country.

To push forward these ambitions, the minister says, plans are underway to discuss financing and implementation of such a project during the forthcoming Forum On China-Africa Cooperation scheduled to be held later this year in Beijing.

His remarks come barely a week after a top United States official warned Africa against Chinese loans, saying they encourage dependency and compromise governments' sovereignty. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who has since been replaced, made the remarks before embarking on a five-nation visit to Ethiopia, Djibouti, Kenya, Nigeria and Chad.

"Sino-African engagement is pragmatic and hugely skewed toward business," says Bouya. "We will engage with partners who align their assistance to our national priority areas. Currently, we want to diversify our economies and develop industries. For this to happen, we need funding."

According to Anzetse Were, an economist and independent consultant based in Kenya, China is taking Africa's proposals more seriously and over time has realized that Africa is an attractive investment destination due to its high returns. "China continues to be open to proposals forwarded by Africa on infrastructure development. Chinese loans have changed the narrative around the viability of these projects and encouraged other foreign investors to relook at their investment plans," she says.

On Africa's growing debt level, the economist believes the conversation is skewed. "Africa is taking up loans from different countries, such as the US, Japan and the European Union, and therefore I think it is intellectual dishonesty to point to China-Africa engagements alone. African governments have an aggressive appetite for debt and expenditure plans and are thus sourcing finance from all over. The conversation should instead center on its sustainability and productivity"

Africa's economic outlook for this year is robust, and experts are more optimistic, projecting growth to hit 5.5 percent as the continent emerges from the effects of drought and a slow commodity market.

Nevertheless, Were says the continent needs to prioritize and align projects with Chinese mega programs such as the Belt and Road Initiative. "It is time for Africa's loan appetite to cool and for governments to plan around existing infrastructure to encourage growth in the private sector and shorten the period for return on investment in these projects."


source:http://europe.chinadaily.com.cn/epaper/2018-03/16/content_35861258.htm

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