Perspectives on China-Africa digital innovation partnership for post-pandemic recovery and inclusive development in Africa
At a recently held China-Africa Internet Development and Cooperation Forum, China’s Assistant Foreign Minister, Deng Li laid bare China’s proposal for the China-Africa Partnership Plan on Digital Innovation, which covers a wide range of areas previously highlighted by the Chinese president, Xi Jinping at the Extraordinary China-Africa Summit on Solidarity Against COVID-19 in 2020 where he stressed that China will explore broader cooperation with Africa in such new business forms as digital economy, smart city, and 5G.
This year’s forum is akin to a follow up on the pronouncement of the Chinese leader last year and a demonstration of the significance the Chinese side places on the proposed areas of cooperation with Africa.
It is important to note that the follow-up proposal clearly identified six key areas of cooperation with Africa on digital innovation which if properly implemented and harnessed will have tremendous impact on promoting the pace of development in Africa as well as in China.
The six core partnership areas highlighted in the proposal include the strengthening of digital infrastructure to unclog the information artery which provide lifeblood to economic and social development, growing digital economy to promote integrated development of digital technologies and the real economy, promoting digital education to overcome the “talent bottleneck” that constrains digital innovation, promoting digital inclusiveness to benefit the wider African public, jointly upholding digital security and enhancing digital governance capacity and building cooperation platforms to promote digital progress through exchanges.
Under the proposed partnership, the area of strengthening digital infrastructure connectivity will see China sharing its digital technologies with Africa to promote digital infrastructure connectivity that will see Chinese enterprises working with their African partners to participate in digital infrastructure projects like fiber optic backbone networks, cross-border connectivity and new-generation mobile communication networks. China will also help expand Internet access in Africa’s remote areas to connect the last mile of the information network.
In the area of growing the digital economy, China has expressed its commitment to support Africa in raising the level of digitization in the public and corporate sectors and promoting industrialization by applying new technologies such as cloud computing, artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things and mobile payment. Under this platform, China will strengthen e-commerce cooperation with Africa to bring more quality African products into the Chinese market, and leverage cross-border e-commerce to speed up the integration of Africa’s information and industrial chains.
The promotion of digital education to overcome constraints to having the requisite manpower for driving the digital innovation project, there is a firm assurance from the Chinese to implement knowledge exchange and digital skills development programmes such as the “Talented Young Scientist Program”, the “Cirrus Innovative Talent Exchange Program” and other initiatives to step up China-Africa cooperation on distance education and provide further support for Africa in training young talents in digital-related fields. Aside from this, China has made commitment to also encourage Chinese enterprises engage in enhancing exchanges and cooperation with Africa’s digital innovation professionals.
The digital innovation partnership will see China providing support to African countries in applying digital technologies in such crucial areas as transportation, medical care, finance and others, building “smart cities”, and leveraging digital technologies to strengthen good governance and effective management and control of the public health concerns like COVID-19. This will see Chinese enterprises, along with their African counterparts, participating in the development of Africa’s public service platforms such as e-government networks and e-payment and digital currency services.
A significant aspect of the digital innovation partnership is the issue of cyber security. The proposed partnership will see joint participation of China and participating African countries on jointly building a Community With a Shared Future in Cyberspace and the Global Initiative on Data Security. This will include the strengthening of dialogue on both sides in the areas of cybersecurity, emergency response and Internet-related legislation to shape an open, fair and non-discriminatory environment for digital development, and the exploration as well as formulation of global rules on digital governance.
Last but not the least is the expression of China’s readiness to explore, along with African countries, the establishment of a high-level dialogue platform on China-Africa digital cooperation and strengthen communication and exchanges with African governments and organizations while efforts will be intensified in hosting activities that promote knowledge exchanges among Chinese and African young scientists as well as the continued support for the building of the China-Africa Innovation Cooperation Center.
In line with the proposal, the Chinese government expressed its resolve to see to the success of the proposed partnership and the first step in that direction will be made manifest as several fiber optic backbone network projects will soon be implemented across Africa with the support of China. Also, the “African Products Online Promotion Season” and China-Africa BDS Cooperation Forum will be held in succession this month while the legal framework for the digital cooperation initiative to be launched soon will be included in the forthcoming Forum of China Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) meeting.
Laudable as the proposed partnership may look, it is important to emphasize the need for African countries to take the bull by the horns by giving the partnership all that it takes in terms of government support and promotion of private sector participation to make the partnership a success story for both China and Africa.
It is a common knowledge that African countries in different local and international fora have been asking for technology transfer from more technologically advanced countries; however, technology transfer does not answer to political pronouncements or just demanding for it, technology transfer entails that the beneficiary country has the requisite human capital to receive and implement the technology to be transferred. Also, the possession of a technologically skilled human capital has become a crucial indicator of a country’s competitiveness in the global value chain and a determining factor in attracting foreign direct investment (FDI).
China has set the ball rolling for the proposed partnership by highlighting the areas of proposed partnership. The ball is now in the court of African countries to decide on when and how their nations will take advantage of the opportunities in the partnership to the benefits of their citizens by providing the right environment to successfully implement this proposed partnership.
Osidipe Adekunle is a Researcher at the Institute of African Studies, Zhejiang Normal University, Jinhua, China.