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China helps Africa move along sustainable development path

By Getachew Engida (People's Daily Online)    14:51, September 06, 2018

Tsinghua excels at the art of balancing tradition and history with innovation and creativity. Tsinghua is helping to chart the course of the ever-expanding China and Africa space. Today China and Africa not only have good friendship but forged enduring strategic partnerships. President Xi Jinping has launched the visionary Belt and Road Initiative, an extraordinary project with the potential to connect China and Africa in this new era of globalization.

China-Africa relations dates back to the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) when a series of expeditions reached East Africa.

The formal political relations were forged during the early years of the founding of the People’s Republic of China in (1949), which intersected with the first wave of African independences.

The contemporary relations between China and Africa were reinforced by the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, launched in 2000. FOCAC just concluded its leaders’ summit here in Beijing.

The China-Africa ties have expanded beyond the trade and investment in extractive industries to engagement in telecommunications, infrastructures, manufacturing, finance, media, agriculture as well as peace and security issues.

Africa is a vast continent with a population size similar to China. Africa is a rich continent with lots of poor people. China was a poor developing country only four decades ago. Africa is endowed with abundant natural resources including 65% of arable agricultural land capable of feeding the entire world population of 9 billion by 2050. Africa may be one of the oldest continent but has the youngest population in the world. The median age of Africa’s population is only 19.5 years. By 2055, Africa’s youth (aged 15-24) is projected to be over 500 million. According to the African Development bank, 12 million young people entered the labour market in 2015 and only 3.1 million jobs were created. This is one of Africa’s major challenge. With visionary leadership, the right level of investment in its youth and learning from successful experiences of China and others, the demographic dividend could be Africa’s salvation.

Let’s take my own country, Ethiopia, as an example. Both China and Ethiopia take pride in their cultural heritages, strong histories of civilizations, fast economic growth, and optimism for the future their next generation could inherit. China and Ethiopia’s win-win relationship is an example to global partners. In 2011 construction of the Addis Ababa – Djibouti railway begun and it became operational on January 1st, 2018. Through this joint endeavour China and Ethiopia cemented their commitment to the Belt and Road Initiative.

There is also a growing tradition of aspiring African leaders pursuing tertiary education in China. Ethiopia is now the fastest growing economy in Africa and dubbed as the ‘China of Africa”.

Higher learning institutions have the responsibility to equip their students with the skill-sets and competencies necessary to navigate the ever-changing global arena. Herein lies the importance of training students and leaders. Culturally sensitive and forward-looking leadership training is a crucial ingredient to achieving peaceful and sustainable development.

The world we live in is under extreme stress. While humanity has made tremendous progress since the advent of the 1st industrial revolution of the 18th century, we are faced with unprecedented challenges. The current world population is around 7.2 billion, a 9-fold increase since 1750. This has huge implications for economic development, social inclusion and the environment.

We also live in an era of environmental crisis, which are largely man-made. We are faced with climate change, fresh water stress, changes in ocean chemistry and loss of biodiversity. In short, we are testing the limits of our Planetary Boundaries.

The rule based international order is on the verge of breaking down. Multilateralism is under attack. Trade wars are looming. Extreme nationalism, xenophobia, hatred, etc. are on the rise. Conflict and wars are devastating many parts of our world. Forced migration and modern day slavery are centre stage in the battle for dignity. Violent extremism is taking its toll in many societies.

Of course, all is not gloom and doom. The glass is half-full. We have lifted millions of people out of poverty. China’s remarkable achievement in this regard is exemplary. China was growing on average at around 10% per year. Since China’s opening up in 1978, the economy has doubled every 7 years (rule 70 = 70/g=years of doubling). China has lifted millions out of poverty; the provision of basic services including health, education, and infrastructural services – roads, rails, ports, air transport, etc. has been extended to many parts of the country. China may have been the workshop of the world for some years. It is now moving to higher value added products and services. This is backed up by Research & Development. China now graduates more PhDs than any other country in the world. Of course, China’s spectacular growth, never seen in history before, is not without its challenges. Environmental issues loom colossal. Closing the equity gap between the rural/ urban remains.

According to Business Insider, “China is on a mission to become the next green superpower. The country is the largest investor in renewable energy, sinking $126.6 billion into the industry in 2017, a 30% increase from the year prior.

China's shift away from coal and other fossil fuels has accelerated in the last decade. This is a clear testament to China’s leadership role in many aspects of Sustainable Development.

In November 2012, President Xi Jinping stated that “By taking a scientific approach to development, we have focused on transforming our economic growth model. … We have seen positive results in many areas, including steady economic growth, adjustment of the economic structure, reform to a deeper level, and improvement of the people’s well-being.” He further stated, “The conflicts between the environment, natural resources and economic growth are becoming more serious.” (Xi Jinping, The Governance of China, 2014, pp123)

In January 2014, President Xi Jinping stated “We should make safeguarding social stability our basic task, promote social fairness and justice as core values, and ensure a happy life for the people as our fundamental target. We should enforce the law strictly, administer justice impartially…” (pp 163)

This is far-sightedness. This is leadership by example.

South Asia and Africa, particularly Sub-Saharan Africa, is were extreme poverty and hunger are concentrated. Without tackling the development challenges in these vast regions, it will be a pipe dream to assume that the rest of the world will move to sustainable development and peace.

Strategic partnerships involving governments, the private sector and civil societies are fundamental. Partnerships must be built in creative ways. South-South and North-South-South cooperation is the way to go.

In this regard, Chinese and African Strategic Partnerships must be encouraged for the benefit of both parties. The partnership must be multi-faceted including cooperation in capacity building. I commend Tsinghua for taking the lead in establishing China-African Leadership Development Institute (CALDI) to help build leadership and management capacities both at individual and institutional levels in Africa and promote cultural understandings between these two great civilizations. 

According to African Economic Outlook 2017, despite a decade of progress, 54% of the population in 46 African countries are still living in poverty. It is essential to double efforts to empower Africans with the necessary skills to promote development from the bottom up, driven by domestic innovation and investment.”

We must support African countries to deal with the challenges of low human development and social exclusion. This is consistent with the African Union’s policy of industrialisation as the main strategy to promote inclusive economic transformation.

One of Africa’s major challenges is youth employment. Creating productive employment for Africa’s rapidly growing young population is an immense challenge, but also the key to future prosperity. Africa must address bottlenecks to employment growth, while helping young people obtain the skills needed to succeed in a competitive job market.

In spite of the many challenges, Africa has changed dramatically since the creation of the Organization of African Unity.

“Over the past decade, six of the world's ten fastest-growing countries were African. In eight of the past ten years, Africa has grown faster than East Asia, including Japan.”

These are not my words – they are from The Economist’s special report on “The Hopeful Continent – Africa Rising,” in March 2013.

The picture is hopeful, but as The Economist cautioned – the big question is whether Africa can sustain the rise.

It is clear that we need to invest in human capital development, to transform Africa’s youth bulge into an opportunity for all. This is why Tsinghua’s decision to establish CALDI and collaborate with UNESCO, the African Union Commission and others is visionary and timely.

In this new age of limits and austerity, we need to invest much more in the boundless opportunities and energy that lies in human creativity and ingenuity.

This is why it is so important for Governments to resist cutting back on education.

There is no more powerful way to develop the innovation potential of all members of society than through education.

Not just any education – I mean, quality education, accessible to all, led by trained teachers, imparting relevant knowledge, diverse content and skills. Training and developing leaders at all levels is a critical ingredient for success.

The facts speak for themselves.

171 million people could be lifted out of poverty if students in low-income countries left school with basic reading skills. This is an equivalent to a 12 percent cut in world poverty.

Education is a driver of growth that brings sustainability to development. The leadership gaps are serious limiting factors for many societies, particularly in Africa.

We must pull together, in the same direction – Governments, donors, international organizations, civil society, and the private sector.

Experience shows the importance of private-public partnerships for success.

The time is just right to rethink leadership, beyond heroism and charisma, to bring it into everyday life and to recognize that we all need to lead, and at the same time to follow, because the world we need is one that will be built together.

Effective leadership is as important in business as in guiding states, the direction of wars, and the development of communities in various spheres of life.

It is absolutely clear that the world needs more leaders and managers at different levels. Universities like Tsinghua can contribute enormously by training our future global citizens with the right mix of skills. This is the vision for CALDI to help Africa move along the sustainable development path and benefit from the rich experiences of China’s development. Let’s join hands to make it happen.

The author is a distinguished Visiting Professor & co-President of China-Africa Leadership Institute (CALDI) at Tsinghua University. 

(For the latest China news, Please follow People's Daily on Twitter and Facebook)(Web editor: Liang Jun, Bianji)

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