China-Africa Forum in Dakar: Beijing promises a "new era" in the face of African concerns

Chinese President Xi Jinping at the 10th anniversary of Focac, the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation in Pretoria, in 2010. © PABALLO THEKISO / AFP

Text by: RFI Follow

3 min

After twenty years of particularly dynamic China-Africa economic cooperation that brings hope to the continent, the Forum on Sino-African Cooperation (Focac) which opened this Sunday, November 28 in Dakar should mark time. previous editions.

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Debt, development of projects benefiting limited communities, unbalanced trade, labor and environmental rights not always respected ... On the ground, the hopes placed in the Chinese commitment have not been fully fulfilled.

For example,

the contract of the century in the DRC

which was supposed to allow in return the construction of many infrastructures that have not seen the light of day.

In a white paper published a few days before this summit, the Chinese authorities detail their actions and their ambitions in Africa.

They speak of a “

 new era

 ” based on equality.

Among the terms used to characterize this relationship: "

 Sincerity, real results, friendship and good faith 

".

A lexicon that perhaps responds to the signs of frustrations that have appeared in recent years in certain countries where demonstrations and incidents against Chinese citizens have taken place.

On arrival today there is a dose of worry, anguish, because China is starting to ask for the repayment of these loans and in some cases, we have not necessarily seen these large infrastructures see the light of day. .

(…) African countries are starting to ask questions in this relationship.

Adama Gaye, journalist and author specializing in China

Victor Mauriat

To read also: The eighth Forum on Sino-African cooperation opens in Dakar

Beijing therefore does not skimp on the effects of announcements and communication.

China mainly invests in industry, mining, construction and transportation.

At the end of 2020, according to the Chinese authorities, 43 billion dollars would have been injected on the continent via Chinese companies.

3,500 are said to have established themselves.

On the issue of debt, the figures vary and it is difficult to know the exact extent of the claims of African states.

Between 2000 and 2019, China would have lent the countries of the continent 153 billion euros according to the China Africa research initiative.

But this claim varies greatly from one state to another.

Angola alone has 30% of this debt.

Since 2016, loan amounts have been declining.

And in recent months, China has agreed to write off or reassess the debt of some states.

What is important is to know if the debt was contracted by having ensured that the repayment of this debt had been organized.

And that's where the problem actually arises ...

Thierry Pairault, research director at CRNS and EHESS, specialist in China Africa issues

Charlotte cosset

However, many observers evoke the "

 Chinese debt trap

 " and brandish the threat of the seizure of infrastructure.

Last week, rumors of the possible seizure of the Ugandan airport stirred networks.

On Twitter the Chinese Embassy in Kampala asks: "

What Chinese projects in Africa have been confiscated?

NO !

 », She assures.

But the status of this so-called "ministerial" conference and not of a summit of heads of state - as in previous editions - in a certain way symbolizes a possible change in these relations.

To read also: Investments, debts: what is the reality of the Chinese presence in Africa?

Among the priorities that will be highlighted during this meeting: cooperation in the field of healthcare services, the fight against Covid-19.

Another point always mentioned by Beijing: the New Silk Roads.

China's cooperation on the mainland is very dynamic.

19% of Africa's trade takes place with China.

There is a desire to create a political clientele that will support China at the UN, but there is no desire to ensure that these countries fail to be able to get their hands on their assets.

Thierry Pairault, research director at CRNS and EHESS, specialist in China Africa issues

Charlotte cosset

To read also: Congo Hold-Up: Congo Construction Company, the scandal of the century

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