By Agaba Halidu
Interaction and cooperation between China and Africa is rooted deep in history. China has had a long presence in Africa as she has attached great importance to Africa. And Africa as well has been an important part of China’s history. According to historians like Nagara, the interaction and cooperation between the two dates back to the sixteen century during the Ming Dynastic (1368-1644) when a well-known and celebrated Chinese seaman, explorer and navigator, Zheng He (who had maritime and commercial influence of China throughout the regions bordering the Indian Ocean) called on the East African coast. Although it is said that African scholars and explorers such as Ibn Buttatu of Morocco and Sa ́id Mogadishu of Somalia had earlier made voyages to China before that of Zheng He.
In the 1950s, especially after the Chinese revolution championed by Chairman Mao, China –Africa cooperation grew in leaps and bounds. At this point in time, cooperation between the two especially on the part of China was primarily to advance the ideology of communism, stem the growing effect of neo-colonialism and the desire to seek deeper cooperation that will bring about economic growth and development. Commenting on this, Hinga, Jun and Yiguan in an article entitled China-Africa Cooperation-An Outstanding Relationship Built On Mutual Respect And Common Benefits: A Review, said to fast track this dream, the Bandung Conference had to be organised in 1955. Through this conference, the process of mapping out a strategic framework for mutual bilateral and regional cooperation between China and Africa was started. The cooperation between the two waned at the introduction of Chinese Economic Reforms when China paid more attention on issues within her domestic economic environment and opened her economic to the western world. But the end of the Cold War era (which made so many European nations disinterested in Africa) made China to focus her attention back to Africa. And since that time to date, China has cooperated with Africa in so many areas. Furthermore cooperation between the two has also led to the establishment of Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) in 2000 which has overall objectives of facilitating “South-South” cooperation which has yielded fruits in the area of debt relief for some African nations, assistance in human resource development, helping African nations develop agriculture, enhancing Africa health sector, opening Chinese market to Africa, expanding investment and finance in Africa, among others.
When the corona virus broke out from the city of Wuhan in Hubei Province of China, in December 2019, China was seriously affected in all ramifications as the virus affected over 84, 967 people with 4,634 deaths and 79, 925 recovery. In the economic spheres, China’s economy which is irrefutably the second largest economy in the world with a GDP of about 14 trillion US Dollars was seriously affected. Industrial output fell as low as13.5%, fixed asset investment to 24.5%; private sector investment to 26.4%, and retail sales also shrank 20.5%. Manufacturing, materials, and consumer goods companies were among the hardest hit raising unemployment to 6.2% as it is recorded that about 5 million people in China lost their jobs. However, China mobilized nationally and responded rapidly, adopted the most comprehensive, rigorous and thorough measures to overcome the scourge of corona virus.
Africa on the other hand too being part of the global environment has also been affected by the outbreak of this pandemic. Apart from COVID death cases which stands today at over thirty thousands in Africa from over a million cases, the severe social effect of the corona virus crisis has been felt through the imposition of movement restrictions in many African countries which include: restricting non-essential activities, closing schools and universities, encouraging people to stay home, the lockdown of entire cities, requiring essential businesses to run skeletal operations and employees should work from home. And the net effect of this has been the dropping in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of many African nations and economic recession as well.
This global reality saw China and Africa cooperating to fight COVID-19. At the heat of pandemic in China around January and February this year (2020), the African Union (AU) and African countries stood firmly with China. It is said that human society shares a future where everyone has a stake, this made many state leaders send messages or called to support China’s COVID fight. Not only that, Governments and peoples of many African countries offered assistance to China despite her limited resources. According to the AUC chairperson, this was done in solidarity with Chinese people. Furthermore, it was also reported by Liu Yuxi, that some African students in China volunteered to go to the front line of this battle or worked as volunteers. This cooperation is anchored on believe that China is Africa’s friends and a friend in need is a friend indeed.
When the pandemic spread to Africa, or struck Africa, it is on record that China was the first to rush in with assistance and has since stood firm with the African people. Under FOCAC, China provided medical assistance to AU. To be sure, as recorded by Mwangi in his article- China’s aid to Africa in fighting COVID-19, the Chinese government donated facial masks, disposable protective clothing, forehead thermometers, protective goggles, gloves and shoe covers for medical use, as well as sophisticated medical equipment to Africa. Countries like Algeria, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, DRC, Ethiopia, Burkina Faso, Sudan, Djibouti and Cote d’Ivoire received medical experts to help the countries fight the COVID-19 pandemic while nearly 1,000 Chinese medical personnel worked in Africa. China also promised to give Africa 30 million test kits per month, as well as 10,000 ventilators and 80 million masks. China also promised that once the COVID-19 vaccine is completed and put into use, African countries will be the first in line to benefit from it.
Africa has also received medical supplies and donations from China’s private sector i.e. private Chinese individuals, organisation and companies such as China’s Jack Ma and Alibaba Foundations. From them, millions of medicals supplies to 54 African countries have been made, the latest of donations to Africa are 4.6 million masks, 500,000 swabs and test kits, 300 ventilators, 200,000 sets of protective clothing, 200,000 face shields, 2,000 temperature guns, 100 body temperature scanners, and 500,000 pairs of gloves in April. It is also reported especially by Mwangi, that medical experts from more than 30 African countries have held webinars with Chinese counterparts on how to better handle the COVID-19 outbreak in the continent. Of course, China has a long tradition of offering medical assistance to Africa as this dates back to 1963 and since then, 243,000 Chinese doctors and nurses have been sent to assist African countries and over 220 million African patients have been treated.
It is my hope that this friendship between China and Africa will remain solid and unbreakable and help the two in addressing other areas of human need just as they have cooperated to fight the corona virus.
Agaba Halidu, PhD is of the Department of Political Science & International Relations, University of Abuja. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org