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,"
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
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
"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
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
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
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