kicking off a two-day showcase of what some experts are calling the most ambitious development project ever attempted, President XI Jinping has layed out China’s ”Belt & Road Initiative” as a means of building a modern-day version of the ancient Silk Road and a new “golden age” of globalisation. The ambitious conceived project is transformational in every sense, global in scope and touching four continents being funded by China to the tune of some $900 Billion dollars. In his signature foreign policy initiative since coming to power, President Xi took to the stage at a grand Hall in the capital, Beijing, amidst much fanfare. In a 45-minutes speech adressing the world, the Chinese leader vowed to throw his weight behind a global construction spree stretching all the way from Asia, across Europe, the Middle East and Africa, all the way to the Americas.
The “Road & Belt Initiative” is an extraordinary concept, bold in borh design and scope. If successful, the project has the potential to be a game-changer connecting Asia, Europe and Africa, and Latin America even closer with modern railroads, highways, seaports, trade & technology hubs all interlinked amidst cascading electricity ‘telepoles’ & fast Internet broadband. The Communist Leader described the $900 Billion dollars inspiring initiative as the “project of the century”, and as an inclusive attempt to kickstart a new era of globalisation. Experts agree that never had any such ambitious project ever been attempted since the end of World War Two, and the ”Bretton Woods” world order still enduring.
The developing world, especially those of us in Africa, view China as a successful economic model and a reliable ally in the fight against poverty. And proponents are salivating over its potentials with Ethiopia’s Prime Minister describing the project as ”the greatest economic collaboration of the 21st century”. A modern seaport is in the works in Kenya, and several African countries stand to benefit huge waves of investments. A forty-six billon dollar road infrastructure from China through South-East Asia into Pakistan is in progress. However, there is concern in some quarters with India cautioning China against pursuing projects that would create an “unsustainable debt burden” for communities. In the West though critics have tried to dress the project as China’s attempt to assert a ‘new-hegemony’ or to colonise. Amidst such speculation the communist leadership has hit back in a statement stating categorically that ”China harbours no intention to control or threaten any other nation”, and that the ”Belt and Road Initiative” is a win-win for the world. President Xi further told the summit that the “Belt & Road” will bring a new ‘golden age’ for the world; a new sort of closeness fast-tracking globalisation (2.0).
I have come to a change of heart as far as my reservations towards Gambia Bureau of Statistics (GBOS) is concerned. In its recent findings ”Integrated Household survey” (2017), the institute highlighted disturbing trends in poverty within Gambian society. A factual analytical research, which would never have seen the light of day had Jammeh been in power. However, such research must not stop there: next, tackle and highlight the state of the nations finances, then the failures in Agriculture despite 47 years of nationhood throwing in billions of “dalasis” to waste. What a tragedy yet an avoidable one. The failures in our education sector is plain to see. In fact all facets of the development spectrum ought to be evaluated and analysed to help better inform government on policy decisions.
As an analyst concerned with Foreign Policy, the question concerning most is what The Gambia and Africa stands to gain from the “Belt & Road”, and at what cost. As of 2017, trade between China and Africa amounts to nearly 200 billion dollars annually. And as with the United States and Europe, the terms of trade is largely imbalanced disadvantaging Africa. The question continental leaders should ask themselves is when has Africa ever come up against the major global players and won? Not in trade deals, and certainly NEVER. For over 50 years these mis-leaders have failed Africa, yet not in any mood to cede power. Progress, forward-thinking, designed in Pan-Africanism is the way out of this misery. Africans should learn to see one another as a people of great injustice, with experiences, seeking a common destiny – of at least some respectability. And that hope resides with the young, the future leadership making waves across the continent. In The Gambia, we are receptive of China’s partnership and goodwill towards the country. But recent environmental banditry on our fishing shores are unacceptable and must be compensated. I expect the government to come hard on the perpetrators in view of the country’s tourism industry & for future generations. Adressing the delegates President Xi Jinping emphatically asserted that “nations prosper from exchanges of ideas”. But what he fails to mention however was, as with the United States or Europe, China is following its core national interest – I dare remind the Gambian leadership to put the nation above all else in your dealings with the world.
Gibril Saine, LONDON