Asian Powers’ Engagement with African Countries: Reflections for Africa’s Development

The broad and inclusive nature of Sustainable Development Goals and Africa’s Agenda 2063 necessitates the need for engagement by all actors and at all levels. SDGs’ Goal 17 calls for inclusive partnerships at local, national, regional and global levels built upon principles and values, a shared vision, and shared goals that place people and the planet at the center. Achieving SDGs and Agenda 2063 thus requires Africa to form strong and equitable partnerships. These partnerships are critical for development and sustainability through expanding opportunities for trade, technology transfer and skills acquisition among others.

In the recent past, Africa has witnessed increased engagement not only with China but also with other Asian powers such as Japan and India. These engagements afford Africa a range of development possibilities that largely complement Africa’s efforts towards achieving SDGs and Agenda 2063.

To strengthen their partnership with Africa, China, India and Japan have developed formal engagement mechanisms with Africa. They host major international summits which also serve as platforms for joint planning for development with Africa. These are the Tokyo International Conference for African Development (TICAD) launched in 1993, the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) launched in 2000 and the India-Africa Forum Summit (IAFS) that began 2008.

Asian partners’ support and their development experience are crucial to achieving Africa’s aspirations. The abundance of financial resources these countries have to offer is something to be appreciated. In 2015, for instance, China, India & Japan together had a total GDP of about US$17.5 trillion against US$78.3 trillion world GDP. With a combined population of 2.8 billion, the Asian powers are a major force to reckon within Africa’s development.

Prof. Chris Alden and Discussants – Dr. Paul Mpuga, Mr. Gedion Jalata and Ms Diana Akullo (from left to right)


What Africa Offer to the Asian Powers

Africa’s sustained economic growth combined with its natural resource endowment and populations presents great opportunities to the outside world. Therefore, Africa is not only on the receiving end but offers great opportunities in the partnership with Asian development partners. These opportunities include:

  • Opportunities for investment and market for Asian processed products;
  • Supply of raw materials and human capital; and
  • Geo-strategic importance and its increasing role in global politics.

Opportunities from Asian Powers

Africa’s partnership with the Asian economic powers offers greater opportunities for realizing the “Africa We Want”. The capital flow through trade, foreign direct investment and development assistance offers opportunities for infrastructure development, technology transfer and skills development among others.

Some of the participants

Challenges and Way Forwards

Despite the opportunities that these partnerships offer to Africa, they are not bereft of risks and challenges. These risks must be mitigated and challenges addressed so as to realize a win-win situation for both Africa and the Asian powers. In general, it is important to:

  • Develop a good understanding of the Asian powers’ development Assistance. This is for the reason that such developed assistance is largely influenced by commercial interests and it is more of development investment than pure aid. Having this clear understanding will enable African governments to better coordinate and shape their agenda vis-à-vis Asian powers.
  • Devise a comprehensive policy strategy and framework for engagement. Asian powers do have a comprehensive Africa policy while Africa has not developed one. Africa should devise a coherent strategy and framework of engagement that emphasises on policy coordination between African countries continental and regional levels through the African Union and Regional Economic Communities (RECs). Better coordination will ensure that African countries negotiate from a stronger and more informed platform. In this regard, the ongoing restructuring of the AU may help.
  • Trade should be put above aid. Though aid will continue to play a critical role in Africa’s development, it is well documented that trade and GDP growth follow each other. Africa stands to gain more from external trade than aid, and the continent needs to do more to make this possible: openness, eliminating non-tariff barriers to expand regional and international trade is critical. At the same time, development partners should fulfil their aid commitments and go beyond the politics of declaration to implementation.
  • African countries must focus on value addition and agricultural transformation in their engagement with Asian powers and other partners rather than extraction of raw materials.
  • Develop a policy on incremental reduction of dependence on aid. Up until the mid-1990s, India increasingly relied on ODA from OECD countries, at one point even becoming the world’s largest aid recipient. However, today, as a consequence of its economic rise, foreign aid has become only a marginal feature in India’s overall economic development, accounting for less than 0.3% of the country’s GDP. China’s aid as a proportion of GDP also dropped from 0.6 per cent in 1990 to 0.1 per cent in 2003.
  • Strategize and negotiate for win-win situation for greater national economic effects by negotiating for quotas for local employees both professionals and others, technological transfer, and subcontracting to local suppliers. It is important to promote joint ventures to hasten technological transfer. African governments have also to encourage projects and companies to use locally made inputs rather than depending entirely on their own products consumable and non-consumable.
  • Asian project aid must be executed as part of a broader development strategy. The bulk of Asian support is project-type, with tied aid to procuring labour and inputs from home countries. Project aid must be executed as part of a broader development strategy. It must be linked to a broader strategy to promote economic growth by linking different sectors of the economy like the agriculture and industry to make full use of their potential network effects and consequently for notable development impact as was experienced in South East Asia.
  • Harmonize emerging and traditional partners’ approach to development. Partnerships in development with Africa need to enhance cooperation through coordinated policies and not just coordinated projects. Trilateral cooperation should for instance, imply procedural harmonization between Africa and other partners and should be based on how to produce better results, more cost-effectively and with development impact.

 Asian Powers

  • Untie Development Assistance. Untying development assistance is one of the major principles of both the Paris Declaration and Busan Outcomes Documents as well as 1964 the eight principles for China’s aid to foreign countries.
  • Increase transparency and accountability. Increased financial transparency in development assistance to African countries through publishing in one report or making the figures accessible will help to analyze the impact of their development assistance on growth, development, aid effectiveness and debt sustainability.
  • South-South Development Cooperation must go through another phase of adaptation. This development cooperation has been adaptive and innovative throughout its 60 years of formal existence yet it needs to go through another phase of adaptation i.e., effective implementation with development impact, better trilateral cooperation and domestic audiences must be given priority and adapted to.

Upcoming Events and Seminars

  • Africa-China Dialogue Series:  African Countries Engagement with China and Other Development Partners on Climate Change: Opportunities and Challenges, Tuesday, 11 April 2017 Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
  • Africa-China Dialogue Series:  Technical Workshop on Climate Change Initiatives in Africa, Wednesday, 12 April 2017 Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
  • Africa-China Dialogue Series:  A Seminar on Prospects for SADC Regional Integration through Industrialisation and the Role of China, 20-21 April 2017, Jo-burg, South Africa. Organised by Oxfam International’s – Africa China Dialogue Platform (ACDP), UNECA, Southern Africa Office, and University of Johannesburg (Confucius Institute).A research report Launch on New Actors, New Models…New Outcomes?  African Countries Engagement Strategy with China and Other Development Partners in Achieving Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Agenda 2063 Study on SDGs/ Agenda 2063, June/July 2017.
  • Africa-China Dialogue Series: Special workshop on the selected thematic areas of ACDP (agriculture, climate change and SDGs and Agenda 2063 including on emerging powers), October 2017. ACDP in Collaboration with African Union (TBC)
  • Africa-China Dialogue Series: Media Workshop on Africa-China Partnership. July 2017. ACDP in Collaboration with Wits University (Africa-China Reporting Project)



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