China can aid stronger governance in Africa

By He Wenping Source:Global Times Published: 2017/2/27 0:03:39

Illustration: Luo Xuan/GT

Over the past year, the focus of Sino-African cooperation has shifted from government aid to corporate investment and financing. The China-built Addis Ababa-Djibouti Railway, which links the capital cities of Ethiopia and Djibouti and was launched last year, has become a name card for industrial capacity cooperation between China and Africa.

With various Chinese-invested railways and ports completed and put into operation, Chinese investors are experiencing problems that Western countries and firms have previously faced - how to maximize returns on investments and ensure these projects achieve sustainable development. No investors want to see railways, bridges or ports lay idle after huge resources have been invested to construct them. Capacity building in African countries and improving governance are key to the sustainable development of African countries and Sino-African ties.  

It is gratifying to note that exchanges in governance between China and African countries have shown positive momentum. This is not only due to Africa's "Look East" policy but also a result of the strong appeal of China's model for developing African countries. Although the political systems in African countries differ from China's and their political values are not necessarily the same, they have the shared vision for national development, fighting corruption and reinforcing governance and capacity building. It is feasible and necessary at this stage for China and Africa to strengthen communications and share experiences.

First and foremost, African countries should seek to build developmental states based on the development concept. Over the past three decades of reform and opening-up, China has developed such concepts as "development is the indisputable truth," "problems arising in the process of development can only be resolved through development" and "development is the foundation and key to solving problems." These concepts have been widely accepted by African countries. In the 1980s, US scholar Chalmers Johnson proposed the Developmental State theory based on rapid growth in Japan and other East Asian countries following the 1950s. These countries prioritized economic development and set the necessary policies to accomplish that goal. In the last three decades, China has emerged as the world's second largest economy and lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty. China deserves the title of a developmental state as it has successfully addressed issues such as poverty alleviation, unemployment and education. Development is not only the essential need for developing countries and their people but also the foundation for consolidating politics and democracy in African countries. Development concepts can be used to guide governance and get rid of ideological shackles to minimize partisan conflicts and focus on development priorities in the early stage of transition of developing countries. 

Additionally, China and Africa should share their experiences in combating political corruption and strengthening governance capacity. Far-sighted development plans can only materialize through a strong governance capacity in the government. Despite the different political systems China and African countries have adopted, they all need capable and uncorrupted party members and government officials and have to develop an institutional design which can efficiently fight corruption and promote a clean government. Sharing experience in governance can be incorporated into the framework of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation in order to extend the scope of cooperation between China and Africa.

After all, economics and politics are indivisible. By improving governance, African countries can attract more investment, which will help create a positive cycle of development.       

The author is a research fellow at the Institute of West Asian and African Studies, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, and a senior research fellow at the Charhar Institute.


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