Letters of friendship: TV, HQ and FOCAC

Michael Ng’ang’a, a plumber in Kiambu county in Kenya, could not watch television before 2018 because of a lack of satellite TV, so had been deprived of news, education and entertainment.

“I kept planning to buy a set-top box, but what I was earning was just enough for basic needs,” said Ng’ang’a, 47, a father of three.

Things began to change three years ago when he was provided with a free digital set-top box, a dish and accessories by a Chinese company. With his own TV set he has been able to watch content such as news and football, and his children like watching cartoons.

Like Ng’ang’a, millions of people in remote areas of Africa have been able to connect to the outside world through satellite TV over the past several years, due to a project that is the result of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, or FOCAC.

The project, announced by China during the FOCAC in 2015 in Johannesburg, South Africa, aims to connect 10,000 villages in Africa to satellite TV. The project had been completed in more than 8,000 villages in 20 countries, including Kenya, Mozambique, Rwanda and Uganda, by August, said William Masy, the public relations director of StarTimes Group, the Chinese company in charge of the project.

Since the forum was established in 2000 China-Africa collaboration has steadily grown. The value of bilateral trade exceeded $200 billion in 2019, a 20-fold increase over 2000, said a report by the China-Africa Business Council.

Under FOCAC, China has invested in projects covering many areas, infrastructure being a key one. Between 2016 and 2018 alone China undertook more than 200 infrastructure projects in countries including Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana and Kenya in areas such as transport, electricity, telecommunications and energy, the report said.

Many landmark projects have been implemented in Africa driven by FOCAC, including the Mombasa-Nairobi Standard Gauge Railway, opened in May 2017. The 480-kilometer line, connecting Kenya’s two largest cities, has greatly facilitated transport for local residents and reduced transport costs between Nairobi and Mombasa by as much as 40 percent. It is one of the biggest infrastructure projects since Kenya gained independence in 1963.

Construction of the headquarters of the African Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, under the African Union, began with Chinese assistance late last year.

Landmark projects

China has also engaged with regional bodies in recent years in Africa to undertake critical landmark development projects across the continent.

In 2012 the African Union inaugurated its headquarters in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa. The $200 million project was funded by China as a gift to the AU, becoming a key symbol of friendship between China and the AU.

In 2018 it was announced that the new headquarters of the Economic Community of West African States, or ECOWAS, would be built by China. The economic bloc and China signed a memorandum of understanding for the project, expected to cost $31.6 million.

Dung P. Sha of the Nigerian National Institute of Policy and Strategic Studies said FOCAC has become a major platform for engaging in various forms of economic and trade collaboration between China and Africa, focusing on agriculture, infrastructure building and human resources development.

“FOCAC draws its strength from the China-Africa policy anchored in the commitment of China to adhere to the principles of peaceful coexistence, respect for choice of political system and development path, as well as the promotion of the development of society and the economy. Furthermore, the policy supports African unity and cooperation as well as the African Union for self-improvement; the strengthening and development of a long-term, stable political relationship with Africa featured in friendship, mutual trust and cooperation through visits and exchanges, and economic assistance with no political conditions attached.”

Good opportunity

The next FOCAC, to be held in Senegal this year, will be another good opportunity for China and Africa to deepen friendship and cooperation in all aspects, said Martin Mpana, dean of the African diplomatic corps and Cameroon’s ambassador to China.

Over the past 50 years since China resumed its seat at the United Nations, China and Africa have worked together to establish good relations, but more needs to be done, Mpana said at a forum of international students from Africa this month. “China-Africa cooperation is mutually beneficial. In particular, we can intensify cooperation in infrastructure and engineering, which China excels at.”

Aliko Dangote, founder of the Dangote Group, an industrial conglomerate in Lagos, Nigeria, said Africa needs investment in infrastructure to improve its people’s quality of life, and increasing Chinese investment driven by FOCAC is helping to do this.

“The continent needs partnerships to drive reforms and changes, including new factories and businesses to provide employment for the bulging youth population. The infrastructure gap in Africa is more than $400 billion. Any effort to bridge this gap is positive for productivity, output and growth.”

Through various cooperation deals reached by China and Africa, new deep seaports, airports, roads and bridges, as well as industrial parks have been built across Africa, which has contributed to local skills training, Dangote said.

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