Laying foundation for future

Updated: 2012-06-29 12:46

By He Wenping (China Daily)

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Infrastructure moves help China carve an indelible niche in Africa

During the past few years, I have made several trips to various African nations for research purposes. Each time I went to Africa, I was impressed with the changes there, particularly the broad asphalt highways and the grand buildings in various African nations.

While Western countries are paying attention to "software programs" such as capability development, China has prioritized its investments in tangible "hardware programs" such as road and bridge construction and other infrastructure that can directly benefit residents in Africa.

But getting involved in reshaping Africa's infrastructure is not a recent development for China. Since the 1970s, China, despite its own economic hardship, has provided assistance for the construction of the 1,860-km-long Tanzania-Zambia Railway, which is evidence of China's help to Africa.

Since the establishment of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation in 2000, the pace has increased. According to figures provided by the Ministry of Commerce, from 2000 to 2006, Chinese companies contracted more than 6,000 km of road building, 3,400 km of railway building or renovation, and more than 100 schools and 60 hospitals in Africa.

China's contribution to Africa's infrastructure construction also finds mention in a World Bank research report called Building Bridges: China's Growing Role as Infrastructure Financier for Sub-Saharan Africa published in July 2008. The report said China had invested a lot and built bridges, railways and highways in Sub-Saharan Africa, where the natural conditions are extremely harsh.

Most of China's investments in Africa have been in hydro power station and railway construction. Currently, China has invested 3.3 billion yuan ($520 million, 410 million euros) in 10 hydropower projects that can supply more than 6 gigawatts of electricity for people in this area, an increase of 30 percent of the previous generating capacity. The World Bank report shows that the investment from China has greatly improved Africa's infrastructure and the overall investment environment as well as promoted Africa's economic development.

It is well known that infrastructure is the foundation for economic development and a sign to judge the level and potential of a country's economic development. Poor infrastructure is a large obstacle hindering Africa's economic development. The underdeveloped transportation industry and poor traffic conditions not only raise the cost of cross-border trade and domestic trade, but also hinder foreign investment to Africa.

Africa faces a shortage of at least $20 billion every year to improve infrastructure. The poor situation of Africa's infrastructure gels well with China's "going overseas strategy" and its internationally competitive construction industry. Chinese workers have overcome unimaginable difficulties in building roads in many remote regions in Africa, but certain Western media outlets have ignored their efforts, claiming that China's assistance to Africa aims to exploit the natural resources in Africa.

In fact, the previously mentioned World Bank report shows that only 7 percent of China's investment in Africa is directly linked to natural resource exploitation.

"If you want to be rich, you must first build roads," says a well-known Chinese proverb. Massive investment in road construction has been an important element for China's success in its reform and opening-up. Based on its own successful experience, China has made heavy investment in Africa's infrastructure. The African people and leaders know well that the investment will lay a solid foundation for the continent's economic development in the future.

When picking up Chinese visitors at airports, taxi drivers in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, often gladly point at the city's high-quality beltways and say gratefully that they would not have such modern highways without the help of China.

Jean Ping, chairperson of the Commission of the African Union, has also said that as an important strategic partner of Africa, China has made great contribution to the continent's infrastructure development.

The author is a research fellow with the Institute of West Asian and African Studies of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

(China Daily 06/29/2012 page7)