Speech: “FOCAC at 20”

Zhunjing de ge wei laibin, nushimen, xiangshimen, pengyoumen, da jia hão!

Vice President Lu Cairong

Chairperson Frolick

Ambassador Zhao YanBo

Distinguished Excellencies, guests ladies and gentlemen, dear friends,  it is a pleasure to be here and I would like to thank China Africa media publishing group and China International Publishing Group, People Daily online and Beijing Review for organising this important session. I am Hannah Wanjie Ryder, I am the CEO Development Reimagined which is an African led international development consultancy with our headquarters in China. I’ve been in this sector for close to 20 years, and therefore witnessed personally China’s role in Africa evolve over that period. 

Today, our topic is FOCAC at 20, which was borne out of a call from a number of African leaders to China to coordinate its support to Africa. At that time, thankfully, China listened and FOCAC was born. 

Two years ago, I gave a speech in Beijing about FOCAC at 18 – how it was a turning point for turning from a child to an adult, from being nurtured to one of independence and self-determination – more strategic and directional. No more nursery, no more school. It’s apprenticeships, internships, work or universities instead.

In  that speech, I put forward 5 ideas for how this new adulthood can be demonstrated:

  • To scale-up more financial flows that will really build Africa’s future
  • To become more complex – to move beyond aid, beyond exports to Africa and raw materials imports to China;
  • To move beyond government to government interaction;
  • To be more transparent and open within the group of 55 African economies;
  • And to innovate, especially in terms of mutual green growth.

Over the last two years, I believe FOCAC has begun these steps. We have seen a great deal of progress on trade, especially on opening up imports from Africa to china, which my firm has also actively supported through our initiative “Africa reimagined”. The first FTA with an African economy has been signed last year, Mauritius. We have seen a widening of exchanges – a few days ago even a youth cooperation forum was held in Beijing. We are seeing interest in PPPs and FDI from China to Africa continues to grow in various sectors.

At the same time, over the past year, we have experienced COVID19, which has shaken the entire world. COVID-19 has not only shown itself to be a health risks but also a twin-threat to Africa’s economic growth. To encourage social distancing and control further spreading of the outbreak, governments have ordered schools, shops, restaurants and businesses to temporarily shut down. At the same time, African economies have been affected by the rest of the world’s shut-down – meaning little to no tourism, less demand for their goods, and so on.

African governments have been working hard to counter these impacts – for instance my firm has calculated that 220 policies and measures have been introduced to support poor and vulnerable people, expected to reach over 175 million people in total. This is in the context of a comparable economy to China’s in the 1990s… still a great deal of poverty, dependency on rural economy and informality in the urban areas. I think we can all agree that they have done very very well so far.

These measures have protected people and jobs – but also come at a cost – my firm has estimated that 68bn USD so far has been budgeted by African governments to deal with COVID19’s effect.

Of course China has played a key part in this, not just sending medical teams to a wide variety of African countries, but also the initiative of the Alibaba foundation in partnership with Ethiopian airlines – valued at over $200m USD – to send medical equipment including testing kits was an excellent joint venture innovation that I hope can be regularly continued as we go forward into 2021. China’s engagement in the G20 debt service suspension initiative has also been welcome, and the more that announcements can be made about this the better it will bolster Africa’s case that support to the continent is an investment, not a cost.

But now, lets’ look to the future, how can FOCAC at 20, an adult, address this new post-COVID19 era, building forward, strengthening its resilience in this ever more complex world? Those 5 suggestions I made two years ago remain extremely relevant, except perhaps they require even more hard work, more determination.

The fact is, the cooperation via FOCAC must continue. Growth in African economies needs to resume as quickly as possible, both to fight COVID19 but also resume the fight to meet the UN sustainable development goals, which were going to be a huge stretch for Africa prior to covid19. Let me remind this audience that while China is a huge inspiration for Africa in poverty reduction achievements – with on average 20 million people coming out of poverty every year, if Africa as a whole is to meet the SDGs by 2030 – 40 million – double China’s amount need to come out of poverty every year. Via FOCAC, China can be Africa’s key partner in doing that, but it will require significantly more direction from African leaders, from African organisations such as the AU to drive it forward. Africa now has the Africa continental free trade agreement – more cross-African institutions are being planned over the next 10 years. FOCAC represents an opportunity to embrace this, actively listen, actively support African leadership and progress.

This last point is really crucial and this is where I want to end.

Before COVID19, much of the world expected Africa to fail against the fight against COVID19. They were wrong, but these risk averse perspectives prevail everything. These views are why Africa is an under-invested and poorly-invested destination. They are not African views. African views must prevail and drive the cooperation with China via FOCAC.

In this respect, More finance for Africa is a priority – loans and FDI, including through PPPs and especially for green and digital development. More high-value exports from Africa to the world is a priority. And more movement of African business people to China and Chinese people to Africa as tourists and investors is also crucial. 

FOCAC at 20 offers an opportunity for us to look back and also look forward. 20 years ago African leaders encouraged China to create FOCAC to support them. It has proved in China’s interest. Continuing to do so will prove a continued positive investment.

Thank you all for your attention.

***The End***


For more information visit China.org.cn- “China-Africa ties witness all-round development under FOCAC

November 2020

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