Chinese innovation driving Africa’s growth

Over the years, China has supported sound economic transformation in Africa that has greatly enhanced Africa-China relations. The transformation is evident in the infrastructure, agriculture, communication technology and manufacturing sectors.

China, a front-runner in the manufacturing sector, particularly consumer electronics, has been offering viable innovative solutions to Africa, which is eyeing higher economic growth.

Africa is entering the age of technological advancement and innovation, which is expected to shape its future. Innovation is the newest frontier in China’s continued engagement with Africa, which is part of a wider pattern of increasing Chinese investment in African markets, infrastructure and natural resources. This is underpinned by China’s “going out” strategy, incorporated into its 10th Five-Year Plan (2001-05) with the objective of encouraging Chinese enterprises to invest overseas, improve competitiveness and secure an international business presence.

Chinese companies’ investments in innovation on the continent have diversified since early forays and now include broadcasting networks, data centers and smartphone sales.

In December 2016, China Telecom Global announced it would work with the Djibouti Data Centre to expand its network and spur the growth of fibre cable services in East Africa. Liu Changhai, managing director of China Telecom in Africa and the Middle East, said in a statement that the decision “marks a new page for the company’s regional strategic planning”.

China believes in driving economic growth through innovation and skills transfer.

The most remarkable Chinese contribution, perhaps, has been the construction of modern railways that crisscross the African continent.

For instance, a standard gauge railway will connect Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and South Sudan. It is Kenya’s biggest infrastructure project since its independence in 1963 and was developed with Chinese technology and skills, providing one of the best examples of modern transportation systems in Africa. It has created more than 30 000 jobs for Kenyans. As part of its commitment, China Road and Bridge Corp opened a technology transfer training camp in Voi, Kenya, to impart theoretical as well as practical skills to local engineers and technicians.

China’s ambitious investment programme to improve regional and commercial links with countries has set the stage for unlocking the agricultural potential of African countries and deepening strategic cooperation with Africa.

In order to guarantee food supply and speed up agricultural development, Chinese companies, with the help of the Chinese government, have built large farms and farming technology demonstration centres across Africa.

For instance, Johnken Estates Ltd was co-founded by China National Agricultural Development Group Co and the China-Africa Development Fund in 1994 for growing crops and breeding livestock in Zambia. These companies employ more than 3 000 workers. By working on the farms, locals acquire advanced farming skills and technological expertise. The agricultural cooperation with Chinese companies has not only led to the development of training centres for agriculture but also facilitated provision of machinery, farm inputs and much-needed markets for African farmers.

Many Chinese agricultural companies have built agricultural technology demonstration centres in Africa, including Tanzania, Mozambique and Rwanda, where locals are offered advanced farming technology and the latest seeds. Africa is likely to become the food basket of the world due to its rapid growth in the agricultural sector.

With the rapid development of the African economy, the demand for international information services in these countries has increased substantially.

As a company that specialises in international information services, China Unicom has worked closely with African telecommunication operators and equipment manufacturers to provide products and solutions, including information and communication technology services, premium internet, global networking solutions and cloud-network integrated solutions.

China has been playing an increasingly important role in the African communication landscape.

Through the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation — a platform established by China and African countries for consultation and dialogue — several initiatives have been launched, including people-to-people exchanges like the establishment of Confucius Institutes.

Chinese communication technology companies, including Tecno and Huawei, are currently the top mobile companies in the African markets.

Chinese mobile companies strive to meet the particular needs of African consumers. Besides being affordable, their products support local languages such as Swahili. They also have a long battery life, which is crucial in parts of Africa that have an unreliable power supply.

Endowed with rich natural resources, Africa is poised to become the world’s next manufacturing superpower. The mining sector is booming as well. For example, China has reopened iron ore mining in West Africa and steel manufacturing in Liberia.

More Chinese companies are looking at offshore production in African countries.

The availability of young workers in abundance, free trade access to the United States market, and proximity to the European Union make Africa an attractive investment destination for manufacturers.

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