The COVID-19 is posing challenges for public health and economics worldwide. At this time, however, cooperation between China and Africa has not been disrupted. Compared with previous joint efforts between the two sides, is there anything new in China-Africa collaboration to fight the pandemic this time?

How is continued Cooperation under the Chinese Belt & Road Initiative going?

Alain Aime Nyamitwe, Special Adviser to the Executive Secretary & Head of the African Union Liaison Office in Addis Ababa and Burundi’s Former Foreign Minister, shared his views over these issues.

Q. You noted recently that the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) could play a key role to develop manufacturing in Africa. How do you evaluate the current development of the BRI projects on the continent? In the post-pandemic era, which sector of manufacturing do you expect to be enhanced by China and Africa cooperation?

Nyamitwe: Your question is two-fold. On one hand, it is true that African countries participating in the BRI have an opportunity to advance Africa’s integration agenda through manufacturing. This brings significant benefits to the continent.

For example, Chinese companies supported the construction of three major economic zones in sub-Saharan Africa, including Zambia-China Economic and Trade Cooperation Zone, Eastern Industrial Zone in Ethiopia, and China-Nigeria free trade zone. These all help create jobs and develop local capacity for the industry.

However, it is important for such investments to focus on: 1. productive infrastructure identified through a stringent review and consultation process; 2. strategic priorities to ensure alignment with key national and continental initiatives and; and 3. building institutional and human capacity for sustainability.

On the other hand, it would be good that in the immediate post-pandemic era, both sides reflect on the clear priorities identified at the continental level through the AIDA (Accelerated Industrial Development in Africa) framework. Moreover, this must also reflect national context and resources available to ensure they maximise the use of local capacity and inputs, to create jobs, and to facilitate technology transfer.

The AIDA framework has identified priority sectors, including the following: 1. food processing; 2. textiles and garments; 3. leather and leather products; 4. processing of mineral and metal products; 5. wood and wood products; 6. automobile equipment and assembly; 7. pharmaceuticals; and 8. building materials.

More than ever before, for these priority sectors to be developed, they must be anchored with human capacity assistance: investment in education and training, developing human capital in manufacturing, and strengthening institutional capacities for innovation, as well as knowledge transfer to accelerate progress in manufacturing.

There is a need for support and the improvement of productivity in existing areas, such as food, textiles, clothing, and footwear. These must improve to be regionally and globally competitive, create more jobs in the continent, diversify the manufacturing sector, and to evolve into high-value manufacturing/industrial processes.

Q. Apart from the manufacturing industry, which fields of China-Africa cooperation do you think have the greatest potential to be explored or boosted?

Nyamitwe: There are several other areas with great potential for deeper China-Africa collaboration. During the 2018 Ministerial Conference of Forum on China-Africa Cooperation in Beijing, Chinese President Xi Jinping announced eight major initiatives in collaboration with Africa for industrial promotion, infrastructure connectivity, trade facilitation, green development, capacity building healthcare, people-to-people exchange, and peace and security.

As said in the June 17, 2020 Extraordinary Africa-China Summit on Solidarity against COVID-19, a key area of cooperation between China and Africa is strengthening the health systems of African countries.

Other areas will include improving Africa’s capacity for green, low-carbon and sustainable development. This could include clean energy, and climate-smart and eco-friendly agriculture.

There is a vast potential for renewable clean energy in Africa with many countries facing significant gaps in energy availability. Agriculture is also a critical area for Africa with close to 60 percent of the world’s uncultivated land with the potential to become one of the world’s bread baskets.

It is very important to note that the focus should be on value chain development to ensure more jobs are created locally, increased participation of Africa’s small and medium-sized enterprises, and improving quality by supporting climate-smart agriculture.

Finally, it is highly important to note that there will be a need for capacity building in whatever sectors that are targeted or agreed to. Capacity building includes technical skills and developing productive capacities. This is critical to maximise the benefits of BRI so that African firms are strategically positioned in the international value chains of Chinese firms for win-win cooperation.

Q. China & Africa have remained in close cooperation during the ongoing pandemic. Compared with previous joint projects between the two sides, is there anything new in China-Africa collaborations to fight the coronavirus at this time?

Nyamitwe: Africa can benefit significantly from the experience of China in fighting the novel coronavirus. China is currently supporting Africa in addressing our continent’s challenges in public health systems. Clearly, there is scope for more collaboration to address the urgency to build resilient health systems through a review of Africa’s health infrastructure and institutional structure, building capacity in key areas, speeding up virus detection, increasing availability of medical supplies, and training of Africa’s health workers. It also involves building manufacturing capacity for the production of personal protective equipment, as well as for quarantine centres and emergency planning and response.

Chinese tech companies such as Alibaba provided significant help in the delivery of key supplies to African countries. Africa can benefit further from technologies employed in the fight against COVID-19 in China through support in building up Africa’s digital infrastructure for future pandemics.