Over the years, the question of whether China is an ingredient in Africa's development has never been doubted. What has generated debate in the recent times however is how Africa can make maximum benefit of its relations with China.
Most often, nations develop diplomatic relations so that they can mutually benefit from each other. China-Africa's case is not an exception.
Africa is therefore not being selfish when it seeks to make maximum use of its relations with China just as Beijing does.
When the issue of reaping maximum benefits from relations with China comes up among Africa's opinion leaders and analysts, the most common answer is that negotiations for trade and other deals with China should be done collectively. "We need a common platform to engage with China. We cannot get the best from our relations with China if we engage as different countries," said Tony Elumelu, the chairman of the Nigeria-based Heirs Holdings that has extensive business interest across Africa.
"To make the gains, Africa requires being more coordinated in how it deals with China. That coordination will happen if countries come together and define the priorities of the relations," he said in a recent interview with Xinhua in Nairobi.
Elumelu, who is widely acknowledged as among Africa's most respected business leaders and voted one of the most influential people in Africa by New African magazine, said this coordination will also help the continent realize some of the weaknesses that prevent it from realizing rapid economic growth.
For instance, lessons learnt on making it easier to do business in China can be replicated jointly by African countries. "Being together means having an opportunity to remove the barriers that restrict integration and movement of people, goods and money. For instance, why spend five hours in an African border point when lessons from elsewhere can reduce this wait to bare minimum," he added.
"It takes a month to clear goods in a Nigerian port while it takes two days in Singapore. What do they do different?"
Katherine Tweedie, head of Africa at the World Economic Forum believed that in addition to a common approach to the Chinese relations, Africans should learn the Chinese language and culture in order to benefit more from the growing links. "There is a need to create partnerships between African and Chinese universities to make it easier to learn not only the Chinese language but also the Chinese way of doing business," she told Xinhua earlier in Nairobi.
She said understanding Chinese culture by Africans will help the continent to get better deals from their trade and related negotiations with China.
She shared Elumelu's opinion that private sector must be facilitated to play bigger role enabling these benefits to be realized. "Africa must have well functioning free markets to succeed in recording high economic growth rates. I think this (is) one lesson Africa should learn from China. Resistance to economic reforms in some sub-Sahara Africa countries needs to stop so that economies can grow faster and make the living standards better for the people," said Tweedie.
According to Elumelu, it should be appreciated that Africans themselves will drive the transformation of the continent and therefore facilitating them especially by the private sector and the governments, will create a win-win result.
"Look at the fact that intra-Africa trade is only 10 percent of all the trade taking place in the continent. There is definitely a need to reform export/import procedures within our countries," he said.
Tom Cargill, the assistant head of Africa Program at the London- based think tank Chatham House, said country-to-country deals between Africa and China are still beneficial as long as a government knows how to make deals.
"Our report on China-Angola shows that some African countries are making maximum gains from relations with China," he said in an earlier interview with Xinhua.
The report showed that China has provided funding for strategic post-conflict infrastructure projects in Angola that Western donors declined to fund and it’s financing offers better conditions than commercial loans, lower interest rates, and longer repayment time.
It said investments in rehabilitation of hydroelectricity dams, construction of roads, hospitals and residential houses have also helped to ease poverty levels in the formerly war-ravaged country.
He said there is a need for more convergence of China-Africa private sector through mergers and acquisitions and this will mark the next phase of these relations that have been dominated by government to government contacts.