It is a cool, rainy season in Addis Ababa. A river meanders through the heart of the city like a shiny silk ribbon, its banks embraced by dense shades of green. This idyllic landscape is part of the second phase of the China-aided Riverside Green Development Project, which covers an area of about 17.85 hectares and includes a science and technology museum, a theater, a playground and surrounding landscape.
Once finished, it will be a green landmark of the capital, providing residents with public spaces, parks, bicycle paths and other amenities. Together with dozens of other projects, it stands testament to China’s firm commitment to friendship and development in the Horn of Africa.
It was also by this verdant riverbank where the First Horn of Africa Peace, Governance and Development Conference concluded on June 21. It brought together ministers and senior diplomats of Horn of Africa countries of Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia, Uganda and Djibouti.
Focusing on the three pillars of peace, governance and development, countries in the region engaged in a constructive and fruitful conversation on the challenges facing the Horn and ways to effectively address them.
Land of unfulfilled potential
A vital and dynamic region, the Horn of Africa is strategically situated in the intersection of the East and the West, and is home to approximately 30 million people of diverse ethnicities, cultures and beliefs.
According to World Bank estimation, population in this region is growing at an annual rate of three percent and is projected to double every 23 years. It is fair to say that the region’s unique geographic location, rich natural endowment and abundant talent reserve signify broad development prospects.
In recent years however, development and growth in the Horn have been stunted as the region faces multiple, intertwined challenges of peace and security. Cyclic natural disasters, resource scarcity, political disagreements and COVID-19, among others, fuel tensions within communities and between countries, arrest economic development and undermine people’s basic livelihood.
Being a fellow developing country, China has learned from its own development journey that there is an intrinsic link between peace, governance and development. Without peace, there can neither be effective governance nor sustainable development.
Development and governance hinge on sound internal and external security situation, stable social environment and coherent economic policies. In the absence of these vital preconditions, all progress would be built on shaky ground, and it would be extremely hard for any economic projects to produce impact commensurate with their levels of input.
The first order of business, therefore, would be to preserve peace and strengthen security in the Horn of Africa. As a long-standing friend and partner of Africa, China stands ready to be part of the solution.
A clarion call
To support the hard-won momentum of peace and development, Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister, Wang Yi proposed the Outlook on Peace and Development in the Horn of Africa during his beginning-of-the-year visit to Africa. Yi offered a three-pronged suggestion for lasting peace, sustained development and sound governance in the region.
The proposal was warmly received and followed by substantive diplomatic efforts. Xue Bing (Amb.), China’s special envoy for the Horn of Africa affairs, traveled to the Horn in mid-March to meet with leaders and senior officials of seven of the countries in the region.
As agreed by regional countries, a two-day Horn of Africa Peace, Governance and Development Conference, was held in Addis Ababa, issuing a Joint Statement and an Action Plan.
In the Joint Statement, countries welcomed China’s engagement in peace and security affairs in the Horn of Africa. They agreed to step-up high-level engagements and exchanges at all levels to enhance mutual political trust and keep improving relations among the countries in the region.
It further expressed willingness to demonstrate political will, take confidence-building measures, manage differences and disputes between countries of the region, and pursue peaceful settlement through dialogue and negotiation in an effort to ease the security situation in countries of the region.
At the Conference, countries reaffirmed readiness to take ownership of the Outlook. Taking this Conference as an opportunity, countries vowed to maintain peace and security in the region, take the destiny of the region into their own hands, and build a Horn of Africa where the guns are silenced.
Practice not preach
One may be curious: what makes the Chinese Outlook stand out among all peace proposals? After all, being a region of strategic importance, the Horn of Africa has seen no shortage of initiatives raised by others; some have come and gone without yielding their desired result.
“It is because they were either driven by an external interest or were just imposed,” explained Redwan Hussein, National Security Adviser to the Ethiopian Prime Minister. “Regional crisis calls for solutions from within the region, and China is playing a supporting role.” His words shed some light on the reason underlying the popularity of the Outlook.
As is emphasized by Bing on several occasions, “The Outlook is a Chinese initiative, yet it belongs to regional countries.” In contrast with the approach of imposition and preaching used by some, China’s support for the Horn of Africa is firmly rooted in respect for the will of the countries in the region, and belief that African problems need to be solved by African people in the African way.
This philosophy gives expression to the spirit of China-Africa friendship and cooperation, and has been honored every step along the way of cooperation and engagement between China and Africa.
While many of the religion, ethnicity and boundary issues that disrupt stability in the region can be traced back to colonial times, China has never engaged in colonialism in Africa or any other part of the world.
In more recent times, while some actors have attempted to seek geopolitical gains in Africa, China helped this continent build roads, railways, bridges, and ports through concrete diplomatic actions and substantial efforts of the Chinese people. Be it the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) or the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), China has earned itself a track record of delivering quality projects to the real benefit of the people, free of political strings.
As early as some 600 years ago, Chinese navigator Zheng He led the world’s largest fleet at the time to where Somalia and Kenya are now. As he brought to Africa China’s goodwill, a seed of friendship took its roots deep in the African soil.
Nearly 60 years ago, then Chinese Premier, Zhou Enlai, paid a historic visit to Africa, as he characterizes it, “to seek friendship and cooperation”. The seed of China-Africa friendship gathered strength to break through soil, and started to grow vibrantly on this expansive continent.
Five decades from now, fellow African countries helped “carry” the People’s Republic of China into the United Nations. Once a seedling, the friendship now resembled a tall, handsome tree, braving wind and hail.
Nowadays, the tree of China-Africa friendship has come to fruition on the various fronts of cooperation. Following the Outlook on Peace and Development in the Horn of Africa, it is safe to say that sino-African friendship will yield more outcomes for the better future of both sides, and for a stronger China-Africa community with a shared future.
(Yi Fan is a current affairs commentator based in Beijing, China.)
Contributed by Yi Fan