The rich, historic friendship between China and Africa began long ago before the current buzz of investments. Because of the partnership, which deepened further after independence - more than a century ago - African countries' economic landscape has undergone a major turnaround.
The benefits of China's investments in African development run far deeper than a mere trade relationship based on extraction and export of commodities. Indeed, China's experience of success has offered crucial lessons to Africa. It has informed the continent how to sustain its growth that is founded on inclusivity. Inevitably, learning from China, Africa has been able to figure out how best it can get its people out of poverty.
Fairly, so far, the China-Africa cooperation cannot be said to be something to look back and regret. The ongoing vast infrastructural investment, increased agricultural output and expanded services sector offer renewed hopes to the continent of growing by more than 6 percent annually. The boom in commodities exports from the continent, spiked by the emergence of China as one of the key trade partners, has also translated to increased job opportunities for the surging youth population.
Sadly, some media outlets continue to be one-sided in their reporting on China-Africa ties. While it is their duty to report the facts and hold power to account, media outlets, particularly the Western ones, have failed on this front. Time after time, they have claimed that China-Africa ties are parasitic in nature, with China exploiting Africa's rich resources. They have further alleged that China is piling up Africa with debts, creating a trap that spells a new form of colonialism. Worse, to Western media, Chinese firms operating in Africa do not even help in the transfer of skills to locals.
Yet, this is not true. China's economic growth continues to offer a unique opportunity to boost development in Africa. It is through China's concessional loans and assistance that many African countries are today financing many of their development projects.
The leadership of African governments must be applauded for strengthening domestic policies and governance. The ongoing harmonization of regional investment policies, coupled with the birth of a giant $3 trillion continental free-trade bloc early this year, has upgraded the continent's bargaining position with China. Undoubtedly, this would ensure that the China-Africa relationship contributes to sustainable growth and poverty reduction.
As part of the realization that it is knowledge transfer that made it one of the major economies in the world, China is employing training as one of the immediate means of skills transfer to Africans. In many African countries, Chinese firms are providing training to their local workers, mostly through formal programs, on-the-job training and mentoring.
In Madagascar, for instance, a China-based agricultural firm Hunan Agri has launched an agro-technology demonstration center near Antananarivo to coach local farmers how best to produce a new variety of rice. So as to firm up its knowledge transfer plans to the locals, the firm also produces learning and training material in the local language, Malagasy. Tianli Agri, another Chinese firm, has also set up tutoring centers run by Chinese technicians to teach cotton planting and farming techniques to locals.
The transfer of knowledge from the Chinese to the locals has been more vibrant in Kenya. Here, the most common strategy is on-the-job training, normally carried out during the first three months. The training helps the locals to acquire the critical skills that can help shape the development of their countries.
But it is not knowledge transfer alone that Africa is gaining from China. Of late, the continent has been witnessing technology transfer of vital aspects of knowledge diffusion from Chinese firms to host African countries. This has been in the form of machinery, equipment, production processes, organizational processes and models. For example, in Zambia, CAC International, a Chinese firm, has contributed to technology improvements and upgrade through the introduction of improved seed varieties and cost-efficient chemical products that have seen increased productivity in cotton production. A similar development has been witnessed in Madagascar where Chinese firms have brought in new biotechnology for rice and cotton cultivation.
While it may be too early to measure the significant role knowledge transfer from China to Africa is playing in shaping its development agenda, experiences in Kenya, Zambia, Ghana, Nigeria and other growing economies offer a bright prospect.
The challenge now is for the policymakers to create a conducive environment that would see Africans gain as much as possible from the cooperation they have with the Chinese. This may call for regular appraisals to gauge the impact such a plan is having on Africa's development. In the meantime, as Western media dwells on neocolonialism claims, Africa would be reaping from its partnership with China.
The author is a researcher and expert on China-Africa cooperation based in Nairobi, Kenya.
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