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Q&A: Is China Really Delivering for Senegal In the Fight Against COVID-19?

 In 分析, Q&A

As the co-chair for the upcoming 2021 Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), Senegal is in a unique position to negotiate a better relationship with China as well as support other African countries to do so as well.

At Development Reimagined, an African-led development consultancy in Beijing, we recently sat down with Mamadou Ndiaye, Senegal’s ambassador to China to get his candid views on plans for FOCAC 2021, especially when it comes to the COVID-19 response and health.

DR: Thank you for speaking with us today, Ambassador Ndiaye. To start, could you give us a brief overview of Senegal and China’s relationship before COVID-19?

MAMADOU NDIAYE: Our relationship is a friendly and mutually beneficial one. China is one of our top development partners, we have been able to implement various development projects with Chinese support. For example, several of our major road projects have been funded by China. China is also our second-largest trading partner, and between 2005 and 2019 our bilateral trade grew over 11-fold. On both sides, scores of businesses have benefited from the increase in the volume of the bilateral economic and trade relations.

In 2018, Senegal became the co-chair for FOCAC, and this has provided a new opportunity for our bilateral relations, as well as our role within Africa. We take it very seriously.

DRWe’ve been tracking COVID-19’s progress in Africa, including in Senegal. What is your assessment of how Senegal has done so far? And has China helped enough?

AMBASSADOR NDIAYE: Our government was very proactive in our pandemic response and we enforced response measures before recording 10 cases. Our strategy drew on our Ebola experience in 2014 – where we imposed tight surveillance and control measures, which prevented Ebola from reaching our borders. But COVID-19 is of a totally different nature. Whilst our own measures have been effective, it is a global pandemic, we alone cannot stop it.

This is where support from others – especially China – has been pivotal. For instance, early on, we attended two meetings with the Africa Centre of Disease Control (Africa CDC) and China’s National Health Commission, where our experts received vital insights and literature regarding China’s experience. This was imperative for developing our own strategy suited to the African context. Chinese partners also made numerous donations of medical supplies and equipment to our hospitals.

We have also been proactive in trying to secure COVID-19 vaccines. Senegal was one of the first African countries to start our vaccine rollout after successfully procuring 200,000 doses from Sinopharm. I personally handled the coordination with the African department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in China and the ministry was very helpful in facilitating the negotiation, as this was not a donation. In fact, a new donation has just been announced, of over 300,000 doses. We have also applied for and received 324,000 Oxford-AstraZeneca doses through COVAX. However, only 2.5% of our population has received one dose – so there is still much work to be done.

DR: That is interesting that the Chinese government actually helped with the negotiation – does that mean China providing vaccines to a country like Senegal is “vaccine diplomacy?” We also noticed that Senegal donated some of the Sinopharm vaccines to the Gambia and Guinea Bissau. Why did Senegal do this? Was it a condition of the procurement?

AMBASSADOR NDIAYE: In so many of these discussions, people forget the spirit of cooperation and mutual support is often behind these initiatives, rather than strategic interests or malign forces. In Africa, we value solidarity.

Taking our own donation, the fact is, Senegal shares a lot with Guinea Bissau and the Gambia, including historic background, cultural heritage, and economic interest. It’s in this spirit that we donated 10,000 Sinopharm doses each to them.

China too has a long tradition of solidarity.  But what is often overlooked is that early in the pandemic some African countries donated to China too. For instance, Equatorial Guinea donated US$2million to China in February 2020 to tackle the virus. Now, 22 African countries have received over 4.3 million free doses from China so far. This is solidarity in action, simple as that.

DRSo if these are the positives, what are the key challenges that Senegal has faced on the COVID-19 response? And can China do more to support Senegal in the future?

AMBASSADOR NDIAYE: From my vantage point in Beijing, I do see that one challenge we face at home is people not taking COVID-19 seriously – especially as “social distancing fatigue” sets in, alongside a lack of vaccine confidence. A report by the Africa CDC highlighted that one-third of respondents from Senegal thought COVID-19 vaccines are unsafe. To address this, Chinese actors could share more vaccine-efficacy information openly. We are also hopeful that Chinese-made vaccines will be approved by the WHO.

Going forward, Senegal has two priorities with China. In the short term, we are in the process of purchasing additional batches of Sinopharm vaccines.

Longer-term, we need to establish resilience in our health system. Specifically, two words: local manufacturing. Senegal is an excellent choice for local manufacturing of vaccines by Chinese or other pharmaceuticals as we already have a strong foundation. We are one of five African countries which have vaccine production capacity, as we have been producing yellow fever vaccines for over 10 years. Our Institute Pasteur was making COVID-19 test kits by early May 2020. Furthermore, we have a robust framework to attract investors. For instance, it only takes 6 days to register a business, and we provide tax and import incentives too. In my work, I am constantly encouraging Chinese firms to look at Senegal, as it is now as well as in the future, as a place for significant and long-term investment. This is the only way.

DR: As you mentioned, Senegal is co-chairing the FOCAC summit, taking place in Dakar in 2021. What would you say should be the priority in terms of health at that summit?

AMBASSADOR NDIAYE: Due to the pandemic, there is no doubt in my mind that health will be top of the agenda at FOCAC 2021. But health is not limited to COVID-19, for example, malaria also kills hundreds of people on our continent, so does AIDS. So we should focus on identifying concrete actions to build strong, sustainable health systems. I mentioned that local pharmaceutical investment should be a priority, not just for Senegal, but all African countries.

Building on that, another priority focus should be on training healthcare personnel. For instance, in 2015 the specialist surgical workforce (per 100,000 people) was reported at just 1.7 in Sub-Saharan Africa, whilst Physicians (per 1,000 people) was reported at 0.2. This is a serious problem – Africa just does not have enough trained professionals.

Training is very costly, so we need to assess how China can assist on this. So far, there’ve been at least 15,000 African students who have had medical training in China – although it has been reported that the intake has dropped recently, from 6,020 students in 2013/14, to 3,470 students in 2018/19.

So, I think we could also explore opportunities for trilateral cooperation in health within Africa. For example, Senegalese people could get medical training in South Africa or Kenya. China could support this, and it might be cheaper than going to China. This is a different form to traditional ideas of trilateral cooperation involving other donors or the UN, but could be just as if not more transformational, especially in the context of Africa’s integration, including the African continental free trade area (AfCFTA).

Another potential area of cooperation is the promotion of Chinese and African traditional medicine in Africa. These categories of medicine can help supplement the health systems of African countries, especially in remote areas where access to modern infrastructure and equipment still needs to be improved.

DR: Last question – going beyond health, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi has said FOCAC should prioritize ‘economic recovery and transformative development’. Is this really the right priority from both an African and Senegalese perspective

AMBASSADOR NDIAYE: To be honest, even if we have so far ensured COVID-19 cases in Africa are fairly well managed, the economic impact has been tough. The World Bank estimates that economic growth in Africa contracted by 2.0% in 2020 and that over 40 million people across the continent fell into poverty. While these estimates do not take into account our Government’s responses to alleviate the pain of COVID-19 lockdowns, they do mean economic recovery has to be a priority with all our interactions with partners – from China to France to the US and beyond.

But FOCAC – or any other summit – should not just acknowledge these issues. It needs to be a platform to decide on concrete initiatives. For example, we need an initiative for the integration of African economies into global value chains through diversifying and increasing investment into manufacturing capacity and value-added production.

As the world’s largest South-South cooperation platform, FOCAC has the legitimacy and potential to bring transformative changes in Africa and contribute to the prosperity of Africa and China.  Our countries must take it as a matter of pride to demonstrate that this partnership can yield results beyond everything that the world has so far seen in terms of economic development, social progress, innovation and knowledge sharing.

Yes, there are detractors about China’s role on the continent, but given my experience so far in China, the solidarity I’ve seen, the openness of Chinese stakeholders to our ideas, I am hopeful that China can remain a key partner in our growth and development journey. And I also think DR is a key partner in supporting this to happen.

This article was originally published May 13th on The China Africa Project.

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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.


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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.


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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.


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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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Jing leads China-African health and agriculture cooperation research at Development Reimagined, having managed our FOCAC Policy Analysis and Advocacy project. She is also the co-author of “China-Africa Health Cooperation under FOCAC Umbrella”, in which she analysed China’s commitments around health cooperation since the first FOCAC summit and deepdived into four African countries’ health overview, challenges and cooperation with China as cases studies. Before DR, Jing worked at GIZ Cambodia on M&E of a disability advocacy project. She also worked as a translator with Chinese medical team in Benin.


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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.


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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.



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 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.