On February 9th 2022, we hosted the second event of our Ambassadors Roundtable series with Ambassadors and their representatives of West Africa based in China. Co-ordinating across diplomatic missions in China, the focus of discussion was on regional infrastructure in West Africa, as well as the role of the African Union’s Program Infrastructure Development for Africa (PIDA), and the 10 connectivity project commitments made at FOCAC8. The roundtable events are part of our Africa Unconstrained project.
Five key points arose from the roundtable.
- Infrastructure gaps of ECOWAS economies can vary widely. For example, Nigeria – the region’s, and continent’s, largest economy – has an infrastructure investment gap of $221 billion, equivalent to 51.2% of GDP. Comparatively, Cote d’Ivoire’s infrastructure investment gap stands at $14 billion, equivalent to 22.8% of GDP.
- The African Union’s Program Infrastructure Development for Africa (PIDA) has been successful in implementing a number of regional connectivity projects across the ECOWAS region. However, several projects require further financial inflows to initiate phases within project implementation, leaving many projects stuck in the feasibility stage.
- FOCAC8 saw several ground-breaking initiatives launched – including the commitment to establish 10 connectivity assistance projects. However, in the past, Chinese contributions to PIDA has been minimal. In our bespoke Blueprint for an Africa-China strategy we found that of 76 PIDA projects, only 9 of these had involvement from Chinese stakeholders.
- There are two reasons for the lack of Chinese involvement in PIDA. The first is the process by which Chinese stakeholders have supported infrastructure on the continent has not been particularly coordinated. It has been mostly driven bilaterally, as in some ways, this is easier to structure and agree on terms of engagement (g. use of local content/labour, interest rates, environmental requirements, etc) which differ between countries and therefore presents challenges when financing at the regional level. Second, Chinese stakeholders have sought to minimise risk in methods that go against regionality. For example, this has been seen in East Africa, where Kenya has effectively “gone alone” on the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) project. The SGR was initially regional extending to Uganda and Rwanda, but China Exim Bank pushed the parties to proceed in stages.
- To address these challenges requires African governments to coordinate to “prioritise the priorities” in terms of joint cross-border regional infrastructure project proposals. These proposals should then be put to Chinese stakeholders, along with basic, region-wide terms of negotiations for Chinese concessional financing to ensure value for money and other SDG achievements as this infrastructure are built.
This roundtable was the second in a series of roundtables aimed to bring all ECOWAS African Ambassadors together to share experiences, best practices, strategies, and challenges in their work. We are thankful to those who were available to attend, and we look forward to the next roundtable.
For further reading, you can find our Blueprint for a Continent-wide Africa ‘China Strategy’ here