China – Sierra Leone relationship has yielded dividend – says John Baimba 

John Baimba Sesay – CHINA

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 29 January 2016

president koroma in china - briefing

Imagine these figures. Trade between Africa and China is reported to have risen to $220 billion in 2014, which is believed to be about three times that of trade between Africa and the United States.

This is indicative of China’s growing influence on the African continent. Strategically, China remains a major development partner of Africa, with greater attention paid to the relevance of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC).

FOCAC is a leading development cooperation mechanism established in 2000 for the purpose of lifting the bars of cooperation between the continent on one hand, and China on the other, in a number of areas including infrastructure, trade, and people-to-people relations.

With an apparent inequity when it comes to outcomes in terms of gains though, FOCAC has, in the decade and more years of its establishment, played prominent role in shaping the present state of affairs within the Sino-Africa cooperation.

The China – Africa Development Fund (CADFund) is another development cooperation tool. It was established in 2006 as China’s first equity investment fund, focusing on investment in Africa, with the aim to enhance China – Africa economic cooperation, as well promote Africa’s development aspirations through direct investment.

Other financing institutions like the China Development Bank (CDB) and the Export-Import Bank of China (EXIM Bank) have all been at the forefront in the promotion of Africa’s growth targets as development cooperation tools.

China, an unassuming and reticent nation is at present, the world’s rising economic power, being the world’s second largest economy, after the United States of America. Also being the world’s biggest exporter and second largest importer, statistics indicate, by 2012, her foreign trade was at $3.87 trillion.

These expanding imports largely lend a hand in enhancing the country’s influence in global market, which itself, is encouraging for developing nations, especially for third world nations.

Asia and Africa have today dominated global economic growth, with Africa accounting for the highest number of countries with growing economies. The trend, when it comes to China’s continued emergence as a major trading partner for Africa is expected to keep flourishing.

John B Sesay - ChinaIn fact, her export to Africa rose by 5% in 2012, which was seen as a faster growth compared to other regions.  By 2012, 18% of African imports came from China as compared to 16.8% in 2011, 10% in 2008 and 4.5% close to a decade ago, reports the International Business Daily of China-Africa, February 2012. (Photo: John Baimba Sesay in China).

Discussing China’s development cooperation with the developing continent of Africa takes into account the models being used. First, there has been the general principle of non-interference when it comes to the internal affairs of states at the bilateral levels of cooperation.

There also, are the models of mutual relations and benefits, ‘win-win’, partnership, ‘shared growth principle’, country ownership principle, the Investment-oriented trade, special economic zones, and industrialisation.

These models of friendship and ties at the people-to-people and government-to-government levels have been very instrumental.

Sierra Leone has had strong, unshaken and strategic bilateral ties with the People’s Republic of China since July 1971, when diplomatic relations were established between the two countries. These ties, built on the foundation of mutual respect, have continued to witness a surge in growth.

In fact, the bars of cooperation were raised higher when  three months after entering into official diplomatic relations, Sierra Leone, voted in favor of United Nations General Assembly Resolution 2758, which recognized the People’s Republic of China as the only legitimate representative of China in the UN Body of Nations.

Mao and Stevens - comrades in armsChina’s emergence as a serious bilateral development and trade partner was immediately following the establishment of diplomatic ties. Of outstanding consideration is how Siaka Stevens and Mao Zedong (Photo: Both late) helped in fostering these ties.

Taking into account  the technical and development assistance in the building of the youyi building, the Siaka Stevens Stadium,  Cockerel Military Headquarters in Sierra Leone by the Chinese  will help in underscoring how China’s rise and dominance in Africa has come a long way.

The ties that bind the two countries have been toughened in the years following the decade long Civil War. China again has emerged the trusted trade and investment partner investing in several urgently needed areas of Sierra Leone’s development trajectory, not least health, agriculture, infrastructure, human resource development, etc.

Simone Datzberger, in  a Policy Brief Paper-China’s Silent Storm in Sierra Leone’ SAIIA Policy Briefing 71 argued, that the country remains a major player in Sierra Leone’s growth efforts, principally in the areas of infrastructure, health, human resource development, mining, and agriculture.

Datzberger argued further, that the influence of China, next to bilateral, multilateral and international community support, in the implementation of Sierra Leone’s growth roadmap, the Agenda for Prosperity, cannot be overlooked. This growth trajectory- Agenda for Prosperity is a socio-economic development proposal that “sets the tone for current priority planning and have superseded peace-building.”

In this photo taken on Sept. 25, 2014, Chinese Ambassador Zhao Yanbo, center left, stands next to Sierra Leone's president Ernest Bai Koroma, center, and Sierra Leone's Vice President Samuel Sam-Sumana, centre right, during the opening ceremony of the China Friendship Hospital catering for Ebola virus patience in Freetown, Sierra Leone. Sierra Leone's vice president has put himself in quarantine following the death from Ebola of one of his security guards. Sam-Sumana voluntarily decided to quarantine himself for 21 days following the death from Ebola last Tuesday Feb. 24, 2015, of one of his security personnel, according to a report issued late Saturday, Feb. 28, 2015, by the Sierra Leone Broadcasting Corporation. (AP Photo/ Michael Duff)

Sierra Leone has been working industriously in lifting the bars of cooperation ties with China. For instance, in the last decade, with specific reference to 2013, the Government successfully held discussions with Chinese officials on a range of development cooperation issues, in line with Sierra Leone’s growth roadmap-the Agenda for Prosperity.

There also was the negotiation of the Hainan Rice and Rubber Plantation Project running to 1.5 billion dollars.

The construction of a new airport on the mainland of Sierra Leone, costing over 300 million dollars forms another component of the development cooperation between the People’s Republic of China and Sierra Leone.

The Mamamah Airport Project, with China agreeing to finance it through a loan from EXIM Bank., will eventually put the country in an advantageous position to compete favorably in International Trade and Commerce.

This project, one believed to be a priority by the government, will help open up the country’s economic potentials, and at the same time would play a crucial role in opening up the country.

Other major areas of Chinese investments in Sierra Leone include, but not limited to health, as in  the China Friendship Teaching and Referral Hospital at Jui, East of Freetown, infrastructure, as in  the new Foreign Affairs Ministry building and the Regent Grafton Road, and human resource capacity building through the granting of yearly scholarships to deserving Sierra Leonean students.

2014-2015 saw an exceptional growth in ties between the two countries following the Ebola outbreak in the Mano River Union countries of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Their quick and rapid response through the deployment of  medical  personnel, and the overall support was not only seen as a responsibility  on their part, but a true reflection of the friendship that has existed for decades between China and Africa, said Cao Jiachang, Deputy Director General, Department of West Asian & African Affairs, Ministry of Commerce, People’s Republic of China.

Following the outbreak, China dispatched 426 medical personal between the period 2014 September and 2015 June to Sierra Leone.

In terms of capital funds, the country provided 1.5 million dollars cash, plus 2 million dollars of food supply through the World Food Programme, and 11 million dollars to the United Nations Ebola Response Multi-Partner Trust Fund.

An additional two million dollars was given to the World Health Organization and two million dollars to the African Union, at the multilateral level.

These diplomatic ties were, on August 8, further strengthened by the visit to Sierra Leone of the Chinese Foreign Minister, Wang Yi, with a view of discussing Sierra Leone’s post ebola recovery plan and China’s direct intervention.

Chinese President Hu Jintao, second from left and Sierra Leone President Ernest Bai Koroma, third from left, shake hands at a welcome ceremony near the Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China, Monday, May 25, 2009. Ernest Bai Koroma is in China on a three-day state visit. (AP Photo/Alexander F. Yuan)
Chinese President Hu Jintao, second from left and Sierra Leone President Ernest Bai Koroma, third from left, shake hands at a welcome ceremony near the Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China, Monday, May 25, 2009. Ernest Bai Koroma is in China on a three-day state visit. (AP Photo/Alexander F. Yuan)

The Government of President Ernest Bai Koroma has also worked assiduously in taking these ties between the two countries to a higher height.

In recent months, we have witnessed high powered delegation from the Communist Party of China, meeting with the ruling All People’s Congress Party in Sierra Leone, a move seen as fostering the relations at the political level.

It should be made known that both Parties have enjoyed an unbroken relationship for decades, especially since the days of their founding fathers.

Conclusively, one will argue, that decades of friendship and diplomatic relations between China and Sierra Leone have yielded dividends.

But the need to forge ahead with these ties cannot be overemphasized given China’s growing influence in world affairs, and particularly so within the context of Africa’s economic growth and development.

Note: This article was first published in the December 2015-February 2016 edition of NewsWatch Magazine, in Sierra Leone. It is now republished in the Sierra Leone Telegraph with additional information.

John Baimba Sesay is the Press Attaché in the Sierra Leone Embassy in Beijing, China

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