Ask our partner: What are Chinese private companies doing, if anything, to help fight COVID-19 in African countries?

 In interview

As an African-led wholly foreign-owned company in China, Development Reimagined is often asked to support Chinese companies with understanding African markets better. Right now, due to rising cases of people with COVID-19 around the world as well as more recently internally, African countries are facing huge new challenges, often under weak health systems and with very little finance available to pay for health or the required support for their economies and poor populations.

Are the Chinese private companies we work with and others doing business in Africa contributing to mitigating the COVID-19 crisis? To help other clients and public understand what their perspective and contribution has been so far, we interviewed the Deputy Director for the China Africa Business Council (CABC), Mr Bai. He shared the details with us.

First of all, Mr Bai, could you explain what the China Africa Business Council is, for those who don’t know?

This is a good question, because it is important context. CABC was first created in 2006, on the suggestion of the then UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and Chinese government. By then the Government-to-Government based Forum on China Africa Cooperation had been in existence for 6 years, and this represented an attempt to engage the private sector into that process as well. Since then, CABC’s mission has been to help encourage and guide Chinese companies that want to “go into Africa” to do so in a responsible and sustainable way that will lead to more trade, investment, jobs and ultimately poverty reduction in Africa. You can think of us as a sort of Chamber of Commerce.

Over the 14 years since we started, we have seen the footprint of Chinese companies in Africa rise rapidly – whether by distributing goods or fully investing in factories and real estate in African countries. Currently we have just over 1000 members – over 90% are privately-owned. They are based all over the continent.

OK, so what exactly have these over 1000 Chinese companies in CABC done so far to support African countries to tackle COVID19, if anything?

Now, when China announced its internal measures to tackle COVID19, on January 23rd, the first thing we did as a council was to issue guidance and check on our members to make sure that they did not travel to Africa – to avoid any risk of spreading the virus.

Then, even before the first case of COVID19 was detected on the African continent (In Egypt, on February 14th), we began to get enquiries from our member companies as to what they could and should do if COVID19 begins to affect African countries.

The first thing they have done is to donate medical equipment based on needs from African countries, including COVID-19 portable molecular test kits, nucleic Acid tests, surgical masks and KN95 masks, infrared thermometers, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), ambulances, etc. Some companies also donated money directly along with medical equipment, or just gave money.

Photo Credit: CABC -Donation by Huajian 

Donation is important and can be significant. We have been doing our own number crunching and estimate that the donations that Jack Ma’s Alibaba Foundation has provided to African countries are valued at between US$62 and US$152 million, which at this upper scale is already more than the Chinese government provided to support African countries during the Ebola Crisis. Are your members donating the equivalent of such significant sums?

The Alibaba Group is the largest company in China. The resources it and its foundation have are more equivalent to Microsoft and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which donated $20m directly to African health authorities as well as $50m to global vaccine research. Our members are not this kind of size or reach. But they are doing their best. Including direct donation of money, the total monetary value donated so far is around 11 million RMB, that’s about US$1.54 million.

Your members have donated to 15 African Countries, which ones are they?

In order of population size – largest to smallest –, the 15 countries are: Nigeria, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Ghana, Angola, Burkina Faso, Zambia, Senegal, Zimbabwe, Rwanda, Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea and Djibouti. As you can see, the countries are geographically spread all across Sub-Saharan Africa, and include some of the poorest countries with the weakest health systems in the world. We really hope we can make even a bit of a contribution to saving lives in these places with the donations.

Saving lives is crucial. But why do these companies really care? What is it that motivates them to do so?

We need global solidarity at this moment to fight with COVID-19, no country can be immune from it by worrying only about itself. Our members have been working closely with their African partners for many, many years, and they have developed strong relationships with them. They are very concerned with the public health systems in African countries and want to do their best to help mitigating the situation. And of course, the sooner Africa wins the battle against COVID-19, the sooner their business can be brought back on track, whether that is distributing medicines and health products, electronic products, or running textiles and apparel factories.  The longer African countries suffer, they will suffer too. So, the more they can help, the better.  It’s also why we are very pleased to receive and share the analysis Development Reimagined is doing on African countries challenges and responses to COVID19 with our members.  The more our members are informed about what is happening on the ground the more they can respond appropriately.

So how have they determined which countries to send to, and what donations to send?

Well, it’s been a mix. For some companies, they have sent the goods to their partners or their local workers and families. For others, some health departments actually directly approached those Chinese private companies asking for help to source specific medical goods and equipment. And for some others, some African Embassies came to us to ask for our support in sourcing donations, so we spoke to our members and helped them to find the right partners. We are all just trying to do our best to help.

Last but not the least question, Mr Bai. While donations are important and welcome, since many Chinese companies have factories there – are they doing anything helpful on the ground?

Yes, it is a very good question. In many ways, ground operations are even more important than one-off donations. Direct investment in factories, real estate and infrastructure provides jobs, sustainable development, so we want to ensure they continue and are not deterred by COVID19 in Africa right now. Hopefully the strong measures African countries have taken will ensure it is more short-lived than it was in China…

Nevertheless, for those companies with factories or other ground operations, we have emphasized that it is crucial that they take good care of their workers, especially to ensure proper social distancing measures and protect their jobs as much as they can, especially in this difficult time. In addition, considering that some workers live far from the factories they work, it is also challenging to maintain basic business while reducing the risk of traveling. So we are thinking about how to resolve these issues. Finally, we are encouraging those factories that can to repurpose their work to provide essential medical goods and supplies. We are working on get a sense of best practice within the membership already, and encouraging our members to do more, and will share them in more detail with you as soon as we can.

Great! Then let’s talk again next time on this topic and keep our audience updated. Looking forward to it!

Development Reimagined (DR) is a member and strategic partner of the China Africa Businesses Council (CABC). Together we strive to support both Chinese and Africa business across the continent with job creation and sustainable development. To find out how DR can help your business contact us at clients@developmentreimagined.com

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EDMOND BOSILONG

Research Analyst

Edmond is a research analyst who is passionate about sustainable development, innovation, and the environment. Passionate about climate financing, he firmly believe there is a more reliable system to promote equality, growth, and welfare in societies without affecting the ecosystem. Through his skills, knowledge and experienced gained over 7 years, he wants to make an impact in the world of development. Edmond holds a Master’s Degree in Public Policy from Korea Development Institute and a BA Degree (Honors) in Business from University of Derby.

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Hannah Ryder is the Founder & CEO of Development Reimagined. A former diplomat and economist with 20 years of experience, named one of 100 most influential Africans in 2021, she is also Senior Associate for the Africa Program of the Center for Strategic International Studies (CSIS), sits on the Board of the Environmental Defence Fund, and is a member of UAE's International Advisory Council on the New Economy. Prior to her role at DR, Ms Ryder led the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)’s work with China to help it scale up and improve its cooperation with other developing countries, including in Africa. She has also played various advisory roles for the UN and OECD and co-authored the seminal Stern Review of the Economics of Climate Change in 2006.

LEAH LYNCH

Deputy Director

Leah Lynch is Deputy Director of Development Reimagined (DR), and head of the China office. Leah has over 10 years of experience in development and has lived in China for over 8 years. Leah has also travelled extensively around Asia and Africa for research. Leah supports the strategic direction of the team across China, with a mission to deliver high quality research on sustainable development and poverty reduction. Leah is also Chair of the Sustainability Forum at the British Chamber of Commerce in China, providing direction on sustainability initiatives for British and Chinese business. Leah has also consulted on various evaluations on UK aid (ICAI) and is a specialist on development cooperation from the UK and China. Leah has also consulted on various UN projects, including providing support to the UN China team during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Prior to DR, Leah was at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) China, supporting the UN’s portfolio on communication strategies, China’s South- South Cooperation and the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Before UNDP, Leah lived and worked in Kenya developing sustainable water policies for the Kenyan government.

YIKE FU

China-Africa Policy Analyst

Yike Fu is a Policy Analyst and has been responsible for leading numerous areas of work, including on debt analysis in Africa and beyond, and China-Africa trade and investment logistics and analysis. She is the co-author of “African Debt Guide”, in which she challenged the narrative that Africa is in the midst of a new debt crisis by analysing data back to the 1970s and adopting new metrics to present the real story behind the data. She also developed a benchmark to compare the financial distribution of development partners such as the UK, US, Japan, France and China in Africa. Prior to her role at DR she worked at the International Finance Corporation and African Union Representational Mission to the US. She holds a Masters in International Affairs from George Washington University.

JUDITH MWAI

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Judith is a Research and Policy Analyst, where she specialises in Africa-China relations, international development, and diplomacy. During her time at Development Reimagined, Judith has co-authored several articles published in The Diplomat on debt and China-Barbados relations and was quoted by China Daily in a piece on Women Rights in China. Previously, Judith worked as a research analyst for an Advocate and Commissioner and Oats office in Kenya.

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Ovigwe specialises in geopolitics with particular reference to Africa in a changing Global Order. He is adept at critically analysing the politics of contemporary development processes and providing insight into the geopolitical interests that influence them. His work includes research, publications, tailored briefings and advising on global and regional trends, and issues at the nexus of geopolitics and development. Ovigwe appears frequently in media around the world such as Al Jazeera, TRT World, SABC, CGTN, BBC Radio, and other platforms.

JING CAI

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PATRICK ANAM

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Patrick is an International Trade Policy and Trade Law Expert with over 5 years of experience. His expertise includes trade law, trade policy analysis and regional integration. He is currently engaged with Development Reimagined as a Senior Trade Analyst and was the lead author of Development Reimagined's recent Report on Africa-China Relations titled "From China-Africa to Africa- China: A Blue Print for a Green and Inclusive Continent-Wide Strategy Towards China." and “Reimaging FOCAC Going Forward.” Patrick has previously consulted for the East African Community, UNECA and for the Kenya Ministry of Trade.

ROSIE FLOWERS

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Rosemary is our Senior Policy Analyst. She is a skilled policy analyst and has previously worked as a UK civil servant. She is studying Human Rights at Birkbeck, University of London with a research focus on international law in the context of health crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

JADE SCARFE

Project Manager and Africa-China Communication Assistant

Jade is a Project Manager for Development Reimagined’s flagship project Africa Unconstrained, which focuses on financing needs and debt vulnerabilities of African countries. Her research focuses on China-Africa development finance alongside debt vulnerabilities, infrastructure needs and South-South cooperation. She has worked with a breadth of stakeholders from China, Africa and the wider international community, including governments, private sector, NGOs and civil society. Her writing has appeared in a number of publications, including The Africa Report, The China-Africa Project, The Diplomat and more. Jade holds a Master’s in China and Globalisation studies from King’s College London.

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Rosie is the Project Manager of Africa Reimagined (AR) at Development Reimagined (DR) where she supports high-end African brands with entering the Chinese market by operating services such as trademark protection, Chinese market research, Chinese partnership building, and Africa to China logistical support and import/export services. Rosie has worked with DR for over two years now with proven success in helping high-end African brands navigate the Chinese market. She is extremely passionate about her work because more African brands selling in the Chinese marketplace means African countries can export MORE value-added goods, create MORE jobs and foster MORE innovation in African countries.

Rosie is also alumni of the School of International Studies at Peking University in Beijing where she is also an editor at the Peking Africa Think Tank. PATT is led by a diverse group of scholars who specialise in African Studies within the context of Sino-Africa relations.

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Lauren has lived in six countries from the Americas to Europe and Asia and speaks both French and Spanish proficiently. At Development Reimagined, Lauren’s research focuses on climate action both in the Asia-Pacific and in Africa, and how countries are using tools such as SDGs and Covid-19 action to build a more climate-resilient future. She holds a Masters in International Relations from Leiden University.

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HANNAH RYDER

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Hannah Ryder is the Founder & CEO of Development Reimagined. A former diplomat and economist with 20 years of experience, named one of 100 most influential Africans in 2021, she is also Senior Associate for the Africa Program of the Center for Strategic International Studies (CSIS), sits on the Board of the Environmental Defence Fund, and is a member of UAE's International Advisory Council on the New Economy. Prior to her role at DR, Ms Ryder led the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)’s work with China to help it scale up and improve its cooperation with other developing countries, including in Africa. She has also played various advisory roles for the UN and OECD and co-authored the seminal Stern Review of the Economics of Climate Change in 2006.