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Pillars of Sino-Africa Cooperation at a Glance

220px Forum on China AfricaAs a starting point, the relations between China and the African continent have come a long way, with trade between the two parties going back to the Sung dynasty (960-1279 AD), and were strengthened during the Bandung Conference of 1955 which drew African and Asian countries together to promote economic and cultural cooperation and to defy all forms of colonialism. Africa and China enjoy an established relationship with similar historical experiences of imperial occupation by the West and weak economic development until China’s economic restructuring in 1978, which introduced sweeping economic reforms that improved Beijing’s economic outlook. Historically, China and Africa have prioritized South-South solidarity and cooperation underpinned by shared ideological beliefs in anti-imperialism and the primacy of sovereignty. They have always showed support for each other in striving for national independence and development. In addition, the African continent has always embraced a distinct position in the overall strategic layout of China's diplomacy, which culminated in the formation of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) in 2000 in Beijing. The Forum is primarily a framework for high-level political dialogue and pragmatic cooperation.

During the Beijing FOCAC Summit of 2006, China and Africa established a new type of strategic partnership which featured political equality and mutual trust; mutually enriching cultural exchanges and mutually beneficial cooperation and common development. At the 2015 FOCAC Summit in Johannesburg, the Sino-Africa strategic partnership was upgraded to a comprehensive strategic and cooperative partnership. The 2015 FOCAC Summit would also adopt the Johannesburg Declaration and the Johannesburg Action Plan (2016-2018), through which “Ten Key Cooperation Plans” were proposed by the Chinese government to drive the Sino-Africa cooperation agenda.  Among them, industrialisation, agricultural modernisation, and the development of public health systems were listed as priorities for China-Africa cooperation, hence focusing on the three obstacles to Africa’s development namely: infrastructure, skills, and capital.

Given that China has become Africa's largest trade partner, and Africa is currently China's major import source, second largest overseas construction project market and fourth largest investment destination, the Sino-Africa economic and trade relationship has become more important in efforts to improve people's livelihoods and diversify economic development in African countries. It has also contributed to promoting South-South cooperation. This cooperation between Africa and China rests on five pillars namely: equality and mutual trust in politics, win-win cooperation in the economy, mutually enriching cultural exchanges, mutual assistance in security and solidarity, and coordination in international affairs. These five major pillars will consolidate the foundation for China-Africa cooperation and further sustain the strategic partnership between China and Africa.

In the area of people-to-people and cultural exchanges, initiatives such as the China-Africa Cultural Cooperation Partnership, China-Africa Joint Research and Exchange Plan, and China-Africa People-to-People Friendship Action have become common brands among peoples of the two regions. In this regard, more than 40 Confucius Institutes and 23 Confucius Classrooms have been established in Africa and many African countries have become popular destinations for Chinese tourists. This comes as the African continent recorded in 2014 more than three million Chinese visitors, posting a year-on-year increase of 61.6% since 2001.

Under the peace and security cooperation, China has committed to being an active supporter and contributor to peace and security in Africa. This has more to do with its strong advocacy of the idea that African people should provide African solutions to African problems. Additionally, China has explicitly supported Africa’s bid for a permanent seat in a reformed UN Security Council. Despite silent opposition from Western nations in terms of China’s perceived interests in Africa, the continent seems to be embracing its cooperation with Beijing.

Concerning the industrialization of the African continent, China has actively encouraged industry partnering and production capacity cooperation with Africa and has inspired more Chinese enterprises to make business investments in the continent. An illustration of this industrial cooperation is Ethiopia, where Chinese companies are actively constructing five industrial zones including the Eastern Industrial Zone, Addis Ababa’s first industrial park with the potential to boost the Horn of Africa nation’s aspiration of becoming the continent's manufacturing hub. Other Chinese based projects in Ethiopia include several medium and large-scale irrigation projects and the Weldiya–Mekelle railway project. These projects aim at promoting Ethiopia’s economic development, skills transfer and employment opportunities. Furthermore, agricultural cooperation between Africa and China was strengthened by the founding of the China-Africa Development Fund (CAD Fund) on June 26, 2007 and agricultural technology demonstration centres, to foster Sino-Africa agricultural modernisation schemes. In this regard, China is undertaking agricultural development projects to raise rural living standards, and has been sending teams of agricultural experts to African countries, to establish a win-win cooperation mechanism between Chinese and African agricultural research institutions and to promote food security on the continent. For instance, in Zimbabwe, China has offered assistance in the revival of Harare’s once vibrant agricultural sector by disseminating modern farming techniques and expertise to local farmers.

In summary, under the guidance of the FOCAC mechanism, China-Africa relations are flourishing guided by common strategic interests and mutual understanding. With the prestigious FOCAC Summit recently held in Beijing, we expect Sino-Africa relations to deepen as China positions itself as a major and reliable global player and Africa pushes for a more inclusive development agenda.


Mr. Sikhumbuzo Zondi, is a PhD Candidate at the University of South. His core research interests are Human Security, People-Centred Development and Geopolitical dynamics primarily Africa-China Cooperation. His views do not necessarily reflect those of the IGD

Africa’s relations with the UK: Negotiating a post-Brexit landscape

africarelationwith UKWhile it is important to understand how the EU and the UK move forward in the aftermath of the Brexit referendum, it is equally important for African stakeholders to understand whether the uncertainty created poses an opportunity or a threat to their interests.

From euphoria to uncertainty

If there was a level of euphoria for the Brexit campaigners following the referendum to exit the EU, it did not take long for the reality of the British people’s decision and its consequences to sink in. The referendum’s outcome ushered in an uncertain period for the UK and its partners. With the EU pushing a hard bargain, and the British bureaucracy seemingly stretched to negotiate with the EU and key partners, it became clear that the road ahead would not be an easy one. Inasmuch as UK politicians have talked up British prospects after the exit from the EU, the reality is that the UK is not negotiating from a position of strength at home and abroad, but from a position of weakness, as the geopolitical landscape continues to change.

Internal conflicts within the UK remain an obstacle for the key players in British politics. Members of Theresa May’s Conservative Party and Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party continue to disagree on the very contours of the Brexit negotiations and post-Brexit order (see, e.g., Bienkov, 2018). As illustrated in the slide by Michel Barnier (reproduced in this volume), the disagreements have revolved around whether the UK should adopt the ‘Norway model’ and be part of the European Economic Area (EEA), whether it should seek to become part of a customs partnership, the date for finalising negotiations, and whether they should even leave the EU in the first place, among other things (on the EEA, see BBC, 2018).

Looking from the outside: A view from Africa

From the African standpoint, this creates perceptions of a country unsure of itself and its future direction. Indeed, the picture from Africa is of a country struggling to face up to the consequences of the Brexit referendum. Countless parliamentary sessions and analyses from the business community and think tanks have as yet been unable to capture the ramifications of Brexit for Africa’s ongoing relations with the UK and the EU. South Africa is one of the UK’s largest trading partners in Africa, with bilateral trade reaching almost £10 billion (R173 billion) in 2017. There has therefore been much interest within South Africa in the unfolding developments.

At the time of writing, the second phase of the Brexit negotiations are ongoing. This second phase of the negotiations deals with the future of EU-UK relations, which inevitably will impact the position of both the EU and the UK in the world. While it is important to understand how the EU and the UK move forward, it is equally important for African stakeholders to discern whether the uncertainty created poses an opportunity or a threat.


Can the UK deliver on its assurances?

The UK has sought to assure African partners that Brexit offers more opportunities, particularly for expanding existing trade and development partnerships. However, whether this promise materialises remains to be seen, as the UK continues to be preoccupied with its most important task: accomplishing its exit from the EU. This will continue to consume much of its energy, forcing the British bureaucracy to prioritise its trade and development partners. The least developed countries (LDCs) have received assurances of continued duty free access to the British market, and there is hope that the UK will adopt looser rules of origin than those of the EU.

Mark Price, UK Minister of State for Trade, stated during a 2017 visit in southern Africa that the UK’s withdrawal from the EU would not mean a withdrawal from the world, but an increased openness and opportunities for partner countries (see Price, 2017). He also reiterated the UK’s commitment not to disrupt the trade relationship under the EU-Southern African Development Community (SADC) Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) as the UK leaves the EU. He met with trade ministers and representatives from Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, and Swaziland. Other meetings have also been taking place with key trade and development partners across the continent.

Following the referendum, Tanzania chose to not ratify the regional EPA, seeking instead to wait things out and possibly get a better deal with the UK (Gopaldas, 2018a). However, the priority of the UK will continue to be the EU, where there are at least 759 treaties to be renegotiated, an effort that will consume much of the efforts of the UK bureaucracy (Gopaldas, 2018b). This will challenge the British bureaucracy’s capability to deliver on its multiple assurances to trade partners.

An opportunity for Africa’s leading economies?

Writing in the lead up to the Commonwealth Summit of Heads of State, Mabutho Shangase (April 2018) argues that Africa is currently better poised than ever before to strike favourable deals with the UK. He also argues that Britain needs Africa and the Commonwealth nations, as they are a significant market with an estimated population of 2.4 billion people. He posits that the Commonwealth nations stand to benefit more from their trade relations with the superior EU market than with the stand-alone British market. Indeed in 2016, the EU provided Africa with €21 billion in development cooperation and €32 billion in private investment, and much of Africa’s pan-African institutions continue to be funded by the EU (Maré, 2018). Given this reality, Africa’s leading economies will seek to extract greater benefits from a weaker UK eager to show its partners that it is open for business.

When one couples this with the many African suitors that already exist, it becomes clear that the UK will be playing catch-up. While relations remain strong with African countries, many of which were once colonies, it remains to be seen how the UK on its own can compete with diverse actors such as China, India, the EU, Turkey, the United States, South Korea, and Japan. All of these actors have their own regular summits with their African counterparts to discuss trade, development, and security matters affecting the continent and its partners and have grown their footprint on the continent in recent years. The UK is thus engaging with Africa at a time when many more options are available to the continent. This should bode well for some of Africa’s leading economies, which often have a greater ability to negotiate trade deals in their favour. Indeed, the EU will be out to prove that it is still the most lucrative market, while the UK will be out to make a case for itself in the post-Brexit order.


BBC News (2018, 9 May), ‘Brexit: Peers call for UK to remain in European Economic Area’.
Bienkov, Adam (n.d.), ‘Theresa May’s cabinet in chaos as Boris Johnson calls her Brexit plans “crazy”’. Business Insider South Africa.
Gopaldas, Ronak (13 April, 2018a), ‘Can Africa be the big Brexit winner?’ ISS Today.
Gopaldas, Ronak (2018b, 13 April), ‘Starting at next week’s Commonwealth summit, smart moves from both sides could benefit the UK and Africa’. ISS Today.
Maré, John (2018, 5 March), ‘Uncertainties of a post-Brexit world bring opportunities for SA and Africa’. BusinessDay.

Dr. Philani Mthembu is Executive Director of the Institute for Global Dialogue associated with UNISA and Co-founder of the Berlin Forum on Global Politics. His views are his own unless otherwise stated.

The article was first published in the ECDPM Great Insights magazine 21 June 2018


Water Security in South Africa: The Calm before the Storm?

watersecurityIn the present international arena, water scarcity is an ongoing fear that needs special attention. Threats like terrorism that require states to always be on guard regarding military security have been re-evaluated according to the changing structure of the international system.  The broadening of the concept of security has seen it expand beyond military security to include sectors such as economic security, energy security, food security, societal security and environmental security. Threats will continue to emerge, particularly when faced with the scarcity of natural resources and it is up to the states in the international arena to keep up with the geopolitical trends and make the vital steps towards confronting and influencing change. There has been growing focus on natural resources and security, including the linkage between scarcity of environmental resources and social conflicts and its implications for sustainable development. As such, water scarcity, as a security threat, demands critical engagement on the part of policy makers from both government and nongovernmental spheres given worrying statistics on the scale of the problem. For instance, water demand is expected to exceed supply in South Africa by 17% in 2030.

Water security is understood as “the capacity of a population to safeguard sustainable access to adequate quantities of acceptable quality water for sustaining livelihoods, human well-being, and socio-economic development…and for preserving ecosystems in a climate of peace and political stability”. This highlights the importance of water security in a developing country- beyond just having access to drinking water, while emphasizing the linkages between water, food, energy and ecosystems. South Africa’s economy is partly reinforced by its agricultural capacity, and with the drought and political instability it has affected food production.   

South Africa still remains one of the most developed states in Africa, but like a number of African states corruption, poor leadership and political blame games continue to hinder progress towards fulfilling certain policies. The current water insecurity in South Africa is a challenge that signals alarms of what is to come in the future; but attention to the water issue has been underwhelming with limited discourse in the public sphere and even less political will. In conjunction to this, the major challenge of the South African Government in recent times has been to develop and maintain appropriate policies to protect South African water resources.

The recent events in Cape Town are an indication of ‘The calm before the storm’, with reference to the fast-approaching water crisis. Despite the urgency of the issue, poor leadership and politics interfered, raising the issue of the preparedness of both local and national government and their capacity to adequately address the problem. A theoretical Day Zero was predicted years ago but confusion and disconnect clouded the city of Cape Town and a functional plan was not set to avoid its occurrence. Western Cape is just one of many regions affected by the shortage of water, while some argue that the Cape Town crisis was driven more by politics than drought. Regions such as the Eastern Cape are even more affected by the water crisis due to continuous drought, while a majority of the Limpopo villages have struggled to get running water for years. Kwazulu-Natal region is also experiencing water insecurities due to the lack of action and droughts that plagued various areas, and so the water crisis must be managed nationally instead of just in the affected regions. Government has set strategies in motion to address the threat to water security, for instance the National Water and Sanitation Master Plan, and partnered with international agencies and institutions in setting up programmes aimed at sustainable water management. The water crisis within South Africa has proved that there is disconnect between the political leadership and the experts on environmental and water security, making it a challenge in making informed decisions. The South African Water Caucus’ (SAWC) damning report demonstrated the poor leadership, political instability, corruption and failings of the Department of Water and Sanitation.

The water crisis is as much a political concern as it is a public issue, despite the situation in the Cape Town water crisis being made out to be more political. In Limpopo, there are signs of poor management of resources and infrastructure, despite millions of rands having been invested to build dams to manage the water crisis. Political leaders fail to inform the public about the effects of climate change and its connection to the already limited South African water resources,  choosing instead to focus on priming their image for upcoming elections. The political response to climate change; environmental, water and food security needs to change to better manage the water insecurities.

Ultimately, South African water insecurities will continue to be a problem due to the water scarcity, poor leadership and growing population. South Africa forms part of a number of bilateral and multilateral partnerships in Africa; however, South Africa has failed to optimise the expertise and support they receive through international partnerships. The question now is whether South Africa can put its current policies on water security into action to better manage the brewing water crisis, and be one of the influential leaders of water management regionally. Subsequent articles in this series on the geopolitics of water security will analyse SADC policies and prospects towards water security and their implications for water governance in the broader African continent.

Mr Simphiwe Mongwe holds a BA Hons in Politics and International Relations from University of Johannesburg and is a research assistant at the Institute for Global Dialogue associated with UNISA. His views do not necessarily reflect those of the IGD.

As global headwinds batter countries in BRICS, can it stay the course?

globalheadwindsBRICSThe priorities and themes of the 10th BRICS Summit, ranging from peacekeeping to collaboration around the 4th Industrial Revolution, provide a number of issues that summit leaders say they want to pursue.

The summit in Johannesburg is the culmination of regular meetings held by the foreign ministers of Brazil, China, India and Russia since 2006. The BRICS political bloc was institutionalised as a platform in Yekaterinburg, Russia, on 16 June 2009. South Africa officially joined in 2011.

Reconciling domestic interests and priorities with international obligations will remain a fundamental focus for this meeting. But perhaps the more critical question to ask is how the bloc is going to strengthen its role and agenda in an international order that is characterised by fragmentation and uncertainty.

Over the past 10 years, the BRICS partners have launched a number of initiatives aimed at providing additional and different capabilities to global, political, and economic governance structures. One of its projects has included creating the New Development Bank. So far the Bank has initiated funding to the value of US$3.4 billion at the end of 2017 to member countries.

In addition, BRICS has created the Contingency Reserve Arrangement, aimed at ensuring liquidity for member-states when they’re confronted by short term balance of payment crises.

With these institutions in place, the 10th summit provides the opportunity for the five countries to reflect on the bloc’s practical relevance and its future footprint.

Scepticism around the coherence of BRICS as a functioning group persists. But it’s safe to bet that the five countries won’t regress in their obligations. To retreat now would be a colossal admission that the cynics were right all along.

The BRICS bloc will also want to assert its authority on the back of the growing uncertainties in global political affairs. Two of its members, China and Russia, are caught in the cross hairs of a belligerent US. This makes it a particularly important time to emphasise and cement the role of BRICS.

What’s next for BRICS?

BRICS should by no means be romanticised. It is, by its very nature, an imperfect construction given the size and scale of its member states.

Interesting new nuances are affecting the positioning of China, India, and Russia within the BRICS bloc. These include two factors: new alliances between the five countries, and China’s massive Belt Road Initiative, President Xi Jiping’s re-configuration of channels that connect China with Asia, Africa and Europe.

The BRICS bloc also comprises of sub-groupings that play a significant role in influencing internal loyalties and strategic interests within the group. There is the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation which was formed in 2001. It is seen as an intergovernmental organisation that deals with energy and security made up of China, Russia and six central Asian republics. It’s been characterised as the counter weight to US influence in Central Asia. Other commentators are identifying it as the counter balance to the G7, a bloc made of the US, Germany, France, Italy, Canada, Japan and the UK.

Then there is the India, Brazil and South Africa trilateral cooperation bloc. This was established in 2003 as a South-South cooperation platform.

The cooperation between Russia, India and China has also become prominent. In April 2016, the foreign ministers of Russia, India and China met to further their cooperation around a global governance agenda. Similarly the relationship between China and Russia is strengthening. All of this will inform how BRICS develops from here on out.

The Belt Road Initiative has already sparked disagreement. In the run-up to the 9th BRICS Summit held in China, the Indian delegates attending the academic forum in Fuzhou were steadfastly opposed to

docking the Beijing led Belt and Road Initiative with the grouping in the future.

Another source of difference is around a possible extension of the BRICS membership base through the BRICS Plus concept. At the 2013 Durban Summit, South Africa initiated the BRICS Outreach Partnership, a channel of inclusion for key partners across the African continent.

In 2017, China remodelled the BRICS outreach partnership into the BRICS Plus which has a more expansive outlook within a broad spectrum of actors from emerging markets and the developing world. The shift of the traditional outreach partnership into the BRICS Plus could be interpreted as testing the waters for the possible expansion of BRICS membership.

But India seems to be uncomfortable with the BRICS Plus concept, in particular a reconfiguration of the grouping stacked in favour of Beijing.

A gap to lead

While the collective identity of the BRICS bloc is still being tested, the prevailing cracks in the global system present opportunities for it to assert and strengthen its position. It can do so by upholding the principles of the liberal multilateral trading arrangements which the US seems to be dumping.

The significant question will be: how and to what extent will the BRICS take the next step in underwriting the rules of the game in an international order that is seeking leadership and direction?

Sanusha Naidu is a Senior Research Fellow the Institute for Global Dialogue associated with UNISA.

This article was first published in The Conversation 25 July 2018 


Presidents for life: Africa’s post-colonial disease

Presidentforlife‘President for life’ is a title that may be assumed or granted to some leaders in their attempts to extend presidential terms, a pattern that has been witnessed on the continent since most African states gained their independence. These self-appointed African ‘presidents for life’ have, in one way or the other, prolonged their stay in office through a variety of means such as amendments to the constitution leading to either extension or removal of terms limits. These manoeuvres have thus prevented any future challenges to their presidential terms and bolstered their authority and legitimacy. However, their self-appointment has not yielded any positive outcomes for the continent but rather has served to derail any growth and prosperity prospects, as Africa continues to struggle with the ‘problem child’ reputation years after colonialism ended.  This post-colonial disease has contributed to the continent’s unenviable record of being home to more than half of the world’s longest-serving leaders resulting in citizens only knowing one president in their lifetime in some of the most impoverished states in the world.

Presidents for life are often prepared to do anything to stay in office; opponents are intimidated, sent to prison and even killed while elections are banned, rigged or simply ignored resulting in the isolation of states from the rest of the world. There are various reasons used to explain the spread of this post-colonial disease, which include the lack of planning by some leaders towards life after presidential terms. Many African leaders believe that their direct or indirect participation in the liberation of their states from colonialism has earned them a right to rule indefinitely while some simply become addicted to power.  There is also the notion that being a president elevates your status and puts you above the law, which is often why many African leaders commit serious crimes against their citizens while in office. Some leaders use their presidencies to accumulate personal wealth and dispense patronage, which makes them reluctant to hand over power to new administrations for fear of being held accountable for their crimes.

African leaders’ addiction to titles is another reason given for their gravitation towards lifelong presidencies.  This addiction to titles can be traced back to African Chiefs who used to be endowed with titles that likened their power and might to Africa’s British colonisers who call themselves Dukes, Sirs, Duchess or Baroness.  This disturbing trend of African leaders is raised in Elizabeth Ohene’s open letter on African Presidents being addicted to tittles and it stems from the founding fathers like Kwame Nkrumah who was referred to as Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah – Life President of the Republic of Ghana.

The president for life disease is proving to be one of the most enduring obstacles to Africa’s democratic governance as well as its growth and prosperity. The appointment of these presidents for life results in gross violations of human rights, the outbreak of civil wars, coup d’états, nationwide protests where dozens of people die. Zimbabwe was once one of the continent’s richest states but tumbled under former President Robert Mugabe’s attempt of being president for life; Zimbabwe became known for its chronic underdevelopment, a collapsed economy and allegations that the former president was misusing federal funds. Zaire, present day Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), suffered from gross corruption, embezzlement, and neglect of public infrastructure under the three-decade-long dictatorship of Mobutu Sese Seko. Today this central African nation continues to suffer under current President Joseph Kabila, and is now a state with a dark reputation for corruption, poor governance and violence.  Sudan has also suffered at the hands of a president for life, Omar al-Bashir, who came to power in 1989 and has remained in office ever since despite allegations by international and domestic observers of widespread electoral irregularities and fraud.  The International Criminal Court (ICC) indicted the president in 2009 on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity for his involvement in attacks on civilian groups in Darfur

The extension of presidential terms arguably contributes to the slowing down of the democratisation process that Africa saw in the 1990s and early 2000s; the continued stay in office of these leaders further undermines the intentions of the African Union founders as well as any attempts made to overhaul Africa’s leadership and promote good governance. Each time a leader succeeds in prolonging his stay in power, he inspires other leaders to follow suit; hence spreading this post-colonialism disease.  This rapidly spreading post colonialism disease benefits the individual at the expense of the state and ultimately the continent; it breeds corruption, instability, economic stagnation as well as constitutional violations leading to unconstitutional constitutionalism becoming a trend on the continent. 

The question then becomes why this post-colonialism disease is being left to spread when its consequences are a clear danger not only to the growth and prosperity of the continent but also to the future of governance and good continental leadership?  Where is the African solution to this African problem? Why are presidential term limitation provisions so easily disregarded? And where is the political will and determination that is always expressed in policies, continental agendas and leadership summits?

Ms Remofiloe Lobakeng holds a BA Hons in International Politics from UNISA and is a research assistant at the Institute for Global Dialogue associated with UNISA. Her views do not necessarily reflect those of the IGD.




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