Kenyan scholar claims, the 21st Maritime Silk Road envisioned by Chinese leaders will not only foster Sino-Africa bilateral trade, but also fuel industrialization in the world’s second largest continent of Africa. Peter Kagwanja, the CEO of the Nairobi-based Pan African think-tank Africa Policy Institute, said China’s Silk Road would herald prosperity and renewal in Sub-Saharan Africa and will spur socio-economic benefits in Africa.
Historically the Silk Road is an ancient network of trade and cultural transmission routes that were central to cultural interaction through regions of the Asian continent connecting the West and East by merchants from China to the Mediterranean Sea during various periods of time.
The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) breaks down into two parts, one over land and another over sea. The former is known as the Silk Road Economic Belt from China to Rotterdam and Hamburg, which will change global economics.
The second section ― the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road ― is a series of linked shipping lanes from China to Piraeus in Greece to Africa. Belt and Road Initiative involve 65 countries and impact about 60 percent of the world’s population, an unprecedented project of international interactions.
For Africa, Belt and Road Initiative isn’t only a better connection to the Chinese market, but also to European and Middle Eastern markets closer by. This, together with the promise of Chinese-funded infrastructure, has made Africans beneficiaries of the initiative.
Along this Silk Road, seven ports are located on Africa’s coastlines. They are in Djibouti, Tanzania, Mozambique, Gabon, Ghana, Senegal, Tunisia, circling the whole continent of Africa. The idea is that these ports, collectively known as Strategic Maritime Distribution Centers (SMDC) will service the main commercial fleet coming from Asia, and each port will have its own secondary fleet of smaller coastal vessels to distribute to secondary ports. The SMDCs are located close to large population centers with reliable road systems for distribution to local and regional markets. For example, the Libreville port in Gabon, Africa’s 4thmost developed country with a per capita GDP of more than 11,000 USD, will serve as a distribution center to neighboring Cameroon, the Congo, and Nigeria to the north.
According to the Chinese government’s official plans, Belt and Road Initiative has two African hubs: Kenya and Egypt. But Chinese-funded rail and communication networks are also linking other East African countries like Ethiopia, Tanzania and Rwanda to the BRI route.
While East Africa, where much of China’s direct influence is, makes up the southernmost corner of Belt and Road Initiative and only represents a small fraction of the whole scheme, the initiative has massive implications for the continent as a whole. This is because Belt and Road Initiative doesn’t only touch Kenya’s eastern seaboard, it links with internal infrastructure networks also financed by China as well.
The most significant of these is Kenya’s newly inaugurated Standard Gauge Railway. This Chinese-financed and built network links Mombasa and Nairobi, and future extensions will connect to an existent Chinese-built line between Ethiopia’s capital of Addis Ababa, as well as to other countries in the region. Eventually this internal network could link countries as distant as Rwanda, Uganda and Djibouti to Kenya’s harbors, and therefore to both China and Europe, via the Belt and Road Initiative route. The combination of port and anti-piracy expansion will surely smooth long-distance trade with China, while facilitating African trade via closer Belt and Road Initiative hubs.
China’s inclusion of Africa in the Belt and Road Initiative means the continent is potentially offered with a whole new set of opportunities, which will facilitate Sino-Africa people-to-people interactions and promote understanding and respect among people from different cultures. Some East African governments see the influx of Chinese investment in infrastructure and manufacturing as a way to bridge infrastructure gaps and to position their countries as new logistics and manufacturing hubs that could serve not only Africa, but also the Middle East and Europe, thus speeding up Africa’s industrialization.