China-Africa historical ties continue to flourish as the continent marks Africa Day

By Tafara Mugwara (Xinhua) 16:38, May 26, 2022

HARARE, May 26 (Xinhua) -- From helping Africa free itself from the claws of colonialism by supporting some of the continent's liberation movements to the current struggle for economic development, China's role in Africa has evolved with the continent's needs.

The remarks were made by Donald Rushambwa, a researcher at the Harare-based China-Africa Economic and Culture Exchange Research Center.

"China played a pivotal role in Africa's fight for independence. When Africa was fighting for independence from colonial powers, China would give a helping hand, giving arms and training to their brothers so that they can liberate themselves from the colonial masters," Rushambwa told Xinhua.

As the continent marks Africa Day on May 25, China is still playing a pivotal role in Africa's development.

"It's still playing that role again in today's Africa's struggle for economic development because when we gained our independence, the colonial masters didn't really give us the economic independence," Rushambwa added.

Writing his weekly column in the government-controlled Sunday Mail newspaper this week, Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa said while the West was trying to hamstring Zimbabwe's independence, China had come back to join in gainful partnerships for economic development in the second phase of Africa's struggle of economic development.

"Apart from generous grants, interest-free or light loans, they have now come back to the continent they helped liberate as new, non-traditional investors. Read against time and historical circumstances, they are new and latecomers in this domain, unlike Western interests which have been exploiting our continent even well before its formal occupation," Mnangagwa said.

He said China had brought value and employment to local economies and societies through mutually gainful partnerships, adding that Chinese capital is supporting landmark and iconic infrastructural projects across Africa.

"Here in Zimbabwe, China has helped fund and implement several projects in the sectors of energy, air transport, water, real estate, industrial value addition, mining and defense. All these have secured and bolstered our independence while changing the structure of our economy in this season of punitive Western sanctions," he said.

Mnangagwa said the West, which still sees Africa as its colonial dependence, has been left feeling challenged by alternative capital which provides new opportunities to Africa.

Historical experts say contact between China and Africa predates the era when the Asian country supported Africa's liberation movements.

Cornelius Mushangwe, an archaeologist, said vast evidence of foreign items like glass beads and Chinese porcelain have been unearthed by archaeologists at the Great Zimbabwe ruins as a sign that the locals were in contact with foreign traders from the East. The Great Zimbabwe was a medieval city near modern-day Masvingo in Zimbabwe.

"Probably the eastern coast was the trading harbor where people from Southern African hinterland could exchange goods and come back home. However, you must remember that this trade was a pass-on thing where people from closer regions could pass it on to other regions until it reached the final destination," he added.

Today China is actively involved in Africa's battle for development, particularly in infrastructure.

According to Deloitte, a consultancy, investment in African infrastructure is a global public good in the context of the worldwide significance of Africa's demographic evolution and its necessary productive transformation.

The report notes that the largest addition to the workforce in the 21st century will be in the African continent.

Improved infrastructure would facilitate domestic and international trade, reduce the cost of doing business and enhance Africa's competitiveness both as an exporter and a destination for investors, according to the African Development Bank (AfDB).

China continues to play a significant role in building Africa's infrastructure projects. In 2020, Chinese firms were responsible for 31 percent of all infrastructure projects in Africa with a value of 50 million U.S. dollars or more, according to Deloitte.

Shared Future for Mankind

China has emerged as Africa's biggest bilateral trading partner, one of the continent's biggest bilateral lenders, as well as one of the biggest foreign investors.

Trade between China and Africa reached an all-time high in 2021 of 254 billion U.S. dollars, from about 10 billion U.S. dollars in 2000.

China's partnership with Zimbabwe began with its support for the country's liberation struggle against British rule in the 1960s.

The relationship further strengthened during the early 2000s when Western countries imposed sanctions on Zimbabwe following its land reform program that aimed at addressing colonial land ownership imbalances.

In response to increased economic isolation and capital flight, Zimbabwe in 2003 adopted the Look East policy, which pivoted the country economically toward the Asia-Pacific region, with an emphasis on closer trade relations with China.

Since that time, China has taken a leading role in modernizing Zimbabwe's agriculture, telecommunication and mining sectors.

Cooperation in other fields such as education, science, culture, and health has also made significant progress.

Godfred Sowah Khartey, an international relations expert and Teaching Assistant at Xiamen University's School of International Relations said China has emerged as the preferred development partner due to various reasons.

"Africa's quest to realize and attain a respectable developmental status has seen her moving and looking East, mainly to China for infrastructure and other developmental projects.

"The gradual shift from traditional developmental partners namely and largely, Western countries is as a result of the nature of conditionalities placed on loans and grants which in so many ways seek to question the sovereignty of such borrowing nations," he said.

(Web editor: Zhong Wenxing, Liang Jun)


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