China Summit shows how important Africa has become

Ongoing preparations for the Focus on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) Summit 2018 remind us it is just around the corner.

Held every three years since 2000 and set to be hosted in Beijing this September, it has established itself as a forum on which to not only gauge progress on multilateral relations but to address mutual challenges as they arise.

It affirms how important Africa has become, courting it not necessarily for its minerals and other resources as may appear at face value, but as a partner towards common prosperity.

As with similar multilateral alliances with America or Europe and elsewhere, it is in mutual acknowledgement that it is for the benefit of the parties concerned. It is, as need not be belaboured, about national and regional interests in accord with comparative advantages in a globalised world.

The preparatory meetings towards the FOCAC Summit speak of this fact, essentially demonstrating the seriousness with which the cooperation is held. Two such meetings were concluded earlier this month (July).

The first is the 7th China-Africa Think Tank Forum (CATTF) held in Beijing under the theme, “China-Africa Relations Over the Course of Reforms and Opening Up”.

The other is the inaugural China-Africa Defence and Security Forum, also held in the Chinese capital city.

For some observers, this latter forum that involved army chiefs from 50 African countries has perhaps been long overdue.

While it was in efforts to deepen professional networks between Chinese officers and their African counterparts, the view is also that China’s vested interests on the continent necessarily call for deepened peace and security ties.

Available data shows there were well over 220,000 Chinese workers in Africa by the end of 2016 involved in more than 3,000 infrastructure projects in the continent. The magnitude of this involvement is reason enough to ensure a stable continent and the safety of her workers.

Of necessity, therefore, it’s also about Africa’s challenges and the available support to help address them. In this light may be appreciated President Xi Jinping’s 2015 pledge during his first address to the United Nations General Assembly to provide “$100 million of free military assistance to the African Union in the next five years to support the establishment of the African Standby Force (ASF) and the African Capacity for Immediate Response to Crisis (ACIRC).”

This underscores the interconnectedness, of which a report quoting official Chinese sources confirms that the Sino-Africa military cooperation plan emerging from this month’s Defence and Security Forum is expected to be approved at the FOCAC Summit.

It may be expected that in addition to bilateral discussions when President Xi makes the historic visit to Kigali later this month, such continental issues will form part of the agenda in the dialogue with his host and current Chairperson of the African Union, President Paul Kagame.

In the meantime, the conflict situation around the continent makes it worth taking a look at the current progress in peace and security, especially with regard to the African Standby Force and the ACRIC.

The African Capacity for Immediate Response to Crisis (ACIRC) was established in 2013 with the aim to have in place a flexible and rapid deployment mechanism. This was mainly as a stop-gap measure pending operationalisation of the continental standby force under Africa Peace and Security Architecture.

While ACIRC is yet to be invoked, the African Standby Force has since been declared functional, having attained Full Operational Capability (FOC) as of June 2016. The statement of its readiness followed the successful conduct of the Amani Africa II Field Training Exercise the previous year in South Africa.

The subsequent five-year 2016-2020 Maputo Strategic Work Plan developed by the AU Commission to chart the continental force’s path means that the ASF remains on course to discharge its mandate. This is despite the financial and other constraints that continue to be worked out.

Even as peacekeeping operations such as the AU Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and others continue, various security experts have argued on the need to strengthen the AU Peace and Security Council’s coordinating role and updating its Protocol.

They point out, for instance, to lack of clarity that would enable deployment of the various regional standby forces, including the Eastern African Standby Force. This includes a suggestion that the scenarios for ASF deployment may need to be reviewed.

The experts cite examples such as Somalia with its problematic security situation with the al Shabaab. They point out that the scenarios for deployment, which range from military advisory missions to peacekeeping and intervention operations, need to be aligned to prevailing circumstances that are often unique to a particular country’s situation.

While these remain issues for Africa to internally interrogate and find local, sustainable solutions, they remain global and therefore relevant within multilateral frameworks such as the FOCAC initiative.

Twitter: @gituram
The views expressed in this article are of the author.

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