One of the defining African principles of the modern age is the principle of Ubuntu- a deep appreciation of our common humanity. This age-old African principle and defining characteristic has always appreciated the importance of connectivity and the value in creating linkages.
The process of connecting people has always been valued highly by African people and has been a backdrop of our development attitude. We need to be connected to each other so that we can develop not only industry and commerce but also develop tolerance towards one another and learn lessons from each of our very particular development conditions.
The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is one such initiative that seems to reverberate and amplify the above-mentioned African principle of Ubuntu. The BRI is a program by China to accelerate its investment into much needed infrastructure that will be used to connect Africa with Africans, businesses with other businesses and people across the world with one another.
At the heart of the initiative might be very real economic benefits that will be accrued through the acceleration of networks and trade lines, but the initiative is also about fostering an appreciation of one another as a people. With the world over starting to appreciate our interconnectedness as a result of the common pandemic we are confronted with, one can only hope that we also appreciate the opportunities that a focus and progress effort to create linkages is just what we need at this moment of common economic hardship and distrust.
The Belt and Road Initiative by China is also equally an initiative that is about building a, “Community of Common Destiny for Mankind”. It looks at a future where we must all appreciate one another’s role in the others development and is intentional about creating the necessary linkages, infrastructure and networks that will set the field for trade lines, cultural exchange and many other initiatives that will build understanding and tolerance of one another.
The BRI is an open and inclusive process that neither targets nor excludes any party, country or people. It is about opening up the world and it aims to help China and the rest of the world jointly seize opportunities and pursue common development. It is intended to avoid ideological demarcation, zero-sum games, or any of the “traps”. The Initiative is not about geopolitical posturing or military alliances, it is about economic cooperation and the development of value chains for common interests.
The Silk Road Economic Belt establishes six land corridors connecting China’s interior to Central Asia and Europe. It includes railroads to Europe, oil and gas pipelines from the Caspian Sea to China, and a high-speed train network connecting Southeast Asia to China’s eastern seaboard. The Maritime Silk Road establishes three “blue economic passages” knitted together through a chain of seaports from the South China Sea to Africa that also direct trade to and from China. The vision of the initiative seems to suggest the same as Ubuntu and embraces the need for common prosperity.
In order for Africa to fully address the very real challenges she is confronted with; we need to ensure that we invest in the creation of an environment that is conducive for the cultivation of value and trade. Infrastructure is the bedrock for development and investment and is one of the foremost needs for Africa to develop into its full potential. It is no wonder that China moved from once being the largest borrower of the International Development Association to being the leading development finance lender in the world. With the onset of the African Free Trade Area- the ability to connect with one another will be a central and defining issue for the success of the program.
The BRI is a global infrastructure plan conceptualized in China in 2013 and which has been implemented in more than 70 countries. Under the BRI, China works with partner countries to design and implement large infrastructure projects. The reason this is important is the fact that whatever the conditions and agreements, Africa stands to benefit in perpetuity off the use of the infrastructure to be built and that has been built.
The is an urgent need for us to develop the necessary infrastructure, the BRI gives us this opportunity to exploit the urgency of our development challenges. To point this out let us look into road infrastructure in Africa. In African approximately 45% of our roads are tarred road and 30% of those roads are in South Africa. A road is important for many reasons but central to those reasons is the fact that it makes it easier to stimulate trade and as such it stimulates growth and development.
China has proven to be an open and warm partner across the continent when it comes to development and now more than ever, we need to be focused on who are our historic friends and as the balances of forces shifts, we need to act pragmatically and advance a position that speaks to the real development challenges we are facing. With the Africa Free Trade Area taking effect soon, we need to look at Initiatives like the BRI for hope and much needed development that will enable the African Free Trade Area to achieve meaningful, sustainable and common prosperity.