by Dr. Sebastien Goulard
Since 1991, the Chinese Foreign Minister has paid his first overseas visit to Africa at the start of every year, to show China’s priority to develop South-South relations.
In 2020, Chinese Foreign Minister and State Councilor Wang Yi visited Egypt, Djibouti, Eritrea, Burundi and Zimbabwe. This year, Wang Yi met with officials from five more countries. He first went to Nigeria where in December 2020, the China-built train line between Lagos to Ibadan was inaugurated.
Wang Yi then flew to Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo) and to Gaborone in Botswana. China’s Minister of Affairs also visited Tanzania where a new railway segment is to be built, between Mwanza and Isaka, by Chinese companies. Before coming back to Beijing, Wang Yi stopped in Seychelles to have some fruitful discussions about tourism and environment with President Wavel Ramkalawan.
During this visit to Africa, Wang Yi and African leaders had some talks about the development of the Belt and Road initiative. Two of the five visited countries were still not member of the BRi prior to Wang YI’s visit and chose to join the BRI in January 2021
President Felix Tshisekedi enthusiastically welcomed China’s proposal to join the BRI. During Wang Yi’s journey, a Memorandum of Understanding regarding DR Congo-China cooperation on the BRI was signed between Kinshasa and Beijing.
DR Congo is the second largest African nation and covers 2,345,410 square kilometres. DR Congo shares borders with 9 neighbors, it is the center of the African continent. DR Congo enjoys a major position in future possible connectivity projects in Africa between Northern and Southern Africa, between the Atlantic and Indian oceans. The Congo river is a major way to navigate and maintain regional trade. The country may host new projects to develop hydropower.
DR Congo also enjoys large amounts of natural resources. Most of its exports are minerals (cooper, cobalt, tungsten).
However, in the past, DR Congo had long suffered from civil unrest and instability, especially in the Great Lakes region. China gives its full support to DR Congo to recover from these crises. In DR Congo, BRI projects may help for better regional connectivity and also economic diversification. DR Congo is highly dependent on mining and its manufacturing sector is quite limited. With better infrastructure, it would be easier to increase industrial production in DR. Congo; this would also create better jobs and higher income to the locals. DR Congo offers many opportunities that China can help to develop.
To help for this transition, Beijing has decided to grant some debt relief ($28 million) to Kinshasa
Beijing also supports President Felix Tshisekedi to become chairperson of the African Union for 2021.
Botswana in the BRI
During Wang Yi’s African tour, a second country, Botswana chose to join the BRI. Although Botswana is much wealthier than DR Congo, the country is also dependent on mining (diamonds) and wants to attract investors from China to develop new activities. In the past, Botswana received major support from China with the rehabilitation of railway. In October 2019, general elections were held in Botswana, and the new government chose to upgrade policy regarding China. The two countries are now enjoying very good relations.
Africa and the BRI
African nations have embraced the Belt and Road Initiative. After DR Congo and Botswana joining the BRI, only enclaved eSwatini has still not embarked on the initiative, as this country still does not recognize the “One China” principle.
Thanks to African nations’ participation into the BRI, some continental projects, such as international railways or highways may be developed to make Africa a prosperous continent. African nations face many challenges, and the BRI is one solution to successfully meet their objectives.