As China and Africa are looking forward to 2019, after almost two decades of close strategic partnership in the 21st century, there are a few wishes that citizens and policymakers from both sides are aspiring to, and in my opinion, as an African living in China, the greatest of them would be the convergence between the Chinese culture and economy and the African potential and future.
Economic players and legislators from both sides have an opportunity to deliver a deep transformation on the cooperation landscape using Chinese excellence in knowledge transfer policies and experience in merging key growth sectors into a unified infrastructural drive.
The future of Sino-Africa interaction lays with internet, communication infrastructure and e-commerce sectors.
In today’s global economic environment, there cannot be any further development without a strong internet base, communication networks and a strong e-commerce platform.
The traditional trading concept based on mere physical infrastructures linking the market place no longer fits the 21st century economic drivers, and if Africa wants to be part of China’s new opening-up, and meets the needs of Chinese consumers, there is a need to re-think our trading partnership to increase engagement on the virtual market place.
A look at the African internet penetration shows us growth potential and a promise of a sector to invest in, however it is still low compared to the rest of the world. By 2017 less than 25 percent of the population have used internet, and there is an equal gap of those with access to internet. With more than half of the overall online activity in Africa found in South Africa, most of the remaining internet users are in Morocco and Egypt.
And this is a significant issue for Africa, in that it needs to be dealt with at a strategic level with China, as there can be no solution for the African microeconomic development, especially market access, without strong e-commerce platforms being able to reach the Chinese market on a equal footing, and meeting the Chinese consumer digital purchase habits.
The step forward is by bringing a new push into the strategic partnership with China, the establishment of an e-commerce alliance between local chambers of commerce and a newly established entity through the Belt and Road initiative and the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), merging all trading information into one e-platform that serves Africa – China trade as a whole, and being able to combine data from suppliers and buyers information in a way that it converges into a shared economic future.
While it is important to seal Africa-China confidence through internet and e-commerce, there are other sectors that must also be pursued and enhanced.
There can be no lasting economic ties without a permanent reminder for the future generations about the special bond that links China to Africa.
There is so much to learn culturally from both sides, and as Chinese are becoming global travelers with an estimate of more than 150 million overseas trips by 2019, seeking not only adventure but also experiencing the world, the cultures and to be part of something greater. African nations should take advantage of this. There is a push by many countries to attract Chinese tourists and we have some success there. However we do not yet have a comprehensive strategy to go beyond increasing tourist nights and tourist numbers. China is a civilization, not just a country; Chinese appreciate art, life style, history and culture.
So far there is a lack of a tourism strategy based on the characteristics of Chinese travelers. Africa needs to enhance its cultural and education cooperation at a deeper level, beyond the simple linguistic interaction.
Sending not only young students, but actually investing in African educators, tourism executives, and cultural authorities at local, national and regional level to exchange views with counterparts and Chinese partners, receive training on the nature of the cultural tourism capacity in China and promote domestic tourism characteristics.
This leads us to question the future of FOCAC as a mechanism to put China-Africa relations on the right track. Yes, China supports Africa. Yes, China has always seen Africa as a strategic partner, and it did allocate a large investment portfolio to the continent, supported institution building in Africa through African Union and Economic Community of West Africa State funding and established a permanent peace-keeping force to mitigate any crisis. However the truth is that we lack a comprehensive strategy to coordinate a systematic integration of China’s efforts to one front, one strategy. The paradox that we see today, is that China has a unified vision for its Africa mission, while Africans do not.
Africans want Chinese investment, political support, and security guarantees to spur their local economies, and be part of the economic Chinese drive, though the reality is that policy-wise, we do not offer any definitive China strategy, we hesitate.
There must be a break from the past. We are at the tipping point of a shift in global affairs, China is a major power, a major partner, we need a real strategy to converge, merge beyond the typical ideological message, only then will we see real progress and sustainable interaction in Sino-African relations.
Let us wish that 2019 will be the moment where Africans have seized the initiative to bring their China partnership to a new level of coordination and integration that meets the aspirations of their citizens.