Celebrating 58 years of African unity and China's contribution to Africa's transformation
Mbelwa Brighton Kairuki

Editor's note: Decision Makers is a global platform for decision makers to share their insights on events shaping today's world. Mbelwa Brighton Kairuki is the ambassador of the United Republic of Tanzania to the People's Republic of China. The article reflects the author's opinions, and not necessarily the views of CGTN.

Fifty-eight years ago, the Organization of African Unity, now the African Union (AU), was born on May 25. Before that, the African continent existed, but a collective identity and unity did not. It was, therefore, more than a birth of an organization. It was a dawning of a new era and a new hope. That day we boldly and proudly felt African. That is what makes this day a special and dear one to us all.

Fifty-eight years later, there is so much to be proud of and many good stories to tell. Of course, disappointing ones too, albeit small. The fact that our unity survived to date is not a small achievement at all.

By all measures, our continent is far better today than 58 years ago when many of our countries achieved independence. Yes, we have not reached where we aspired, but measured against our very humble beginning, we can say with great satisfaction that we have done our best given the circumstances.

In the past 58 years, peace, stability and security have reigned in most parts of the continent. We no longer experience interstate wars; military coups are becoming an agony of the past and more and more countries witness changes of power in a peaceful manner. In 2020, 20 African countries held parliamentary and general elections. This year, 17 countries will conduct their general elections.

​On the economic front, likewise, we have made many significant strides. The African Integration agenda is moving in the right direction.

On January 1, 2021, Africa started to trade under the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) Agreement. To date, 54 of 55 African countries have signed the AfCFTA Agreement, and 37 countries have ratified the AfCFTA Agreement.

In addition, 75 percent of AU membership has submitted their Schedules of Tariff Concession, and 62 percent of AU membership has submitted their initial Schedules of Specific Commitments to the AfCFTA Secretariat. Also, negotiated rules of origin have reached 86 percent. All these developments attest to a deep level of commitment that African countries attach to the realization of intra-African trade.

Our achievements, of course, should not be a reason for complacency. More still needs to be done. Aware of that, our heads of state and government met in Addis Ababa in 2013 to take stock of 50 years of post-colonial Africa. They went further to chat out the vision for the next 50 years in the name of Agenda 2063: The Africa We Want. Agenda 2063 calls for all Africans to work together to build a prosperous, peaceful and united Africa.

Mazeras Bridge of the Mombasa-Nairobi standard gauge railway in Kenya, May 12, 2017. /Xinhua

Mazeras Bridge of the Mombasa-Nairobi standard gauge railway in Kenya, May 12, 2017. /Xinhua

The AU has also transformed and become a more efficient organization due to the ongoing institutional reforms moving from rhetoric to action. The reforms have attained commendable achievements.

For instance, despite spending cuts, the AU still effectively and efficiently executes its mandate. Following these reforms, the AU member states' contributions have increased while the budget has significantly reduced, providing hopes for sustainable financing of the Union. For example, the 2020 budget was over $30 million less than the 2019 budget.

Another achievement is the reduced size of the commission from 10 to eight to rationalize senior leadership portfolios and improve overall efficiency. Starting this year, the African Union Commission (AUC) senior leadership will now comprise six commissioners, a deputy chairperson and a chairperson.

The February 2021 Summit elected the new AUC senior leadership. It was the most transparent, competitive merits-based election ever held. It is against this background I wish to congratulate the new AUC leadership elected.

The AU agenda 2063, amongst other things, advocates for Africa with a strong cultural identity, common heritage, values and ethics. This year's theme, "Arts, Culture and Heritage: Levers for Building Africa We Want," therefore coincides with our aspiration.

Arts, culture, and heritage have proven elsewhere to be a good source of job creation and socio-economic development. That, too, can be possible in Africa. Globally, the cultural and creative industries play a crucial role in contributing to GDP.

The African rich and diverse heritage is an essential asset to profile the continent in the global arena and bring about sustainable development, integration and peace in Africa. But these most significant resources have not been tapped to their fullest potential. 

Taking lessons from China, our dearest friends, we see a lot to learn. We admire how China have used culture and heritage to transform from backwardness to modernity.

We also admire how China managed to balance traditional and modern, national and global, and how best they navigated globalization and market economy with Chinese characteristics. Chinese model offers Africa an alternative viewpoint of the world from the dominant Western version.

Progress notwithstanding, as part of the global community, Africa's progress was tested by the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has significantly slowed down the pace and progress we have made in the past two decades. It also threatens to reverse many of our hard-won achievements.

Due to COVID-19, it is predicted that Africa will experience its first recession in 25 years and that growth in Sub-Saharan Africa will fall to negative 3.3 percent.

COVID-19, however, had its good side too. It once again made us realize our true friends. Proudly, China passed the test. China has walked the talk by being with us even at that difficult time. China was with us from the beginning when most big countries were only focusing on home.

China supported Africa with the immediately needed expertise and essential supplies such as personal protective equipment, masks and financial assistance in debt repayment reliefs. China has proven to us that they are our friend in need, indeed. Chinese support may sound little today, but it was all we needed at that helpless time. It reminded us of the saying that "little things do not just mean a lot, they mean everything."

Street vendors selling mobile phone handsets in Accra, Ghana, March 15, 2018. /VCG

Street vendors selling mobile phone handsets in Accra, Ghana, March 15, 2018. /VCG

As Africa is working towards ensuring the successful immunization of a critical mass of the African population with safe and efficacious COVID-19 vaccines, the AU endorsed the Continental COVID-19 Vaccine Development and Access Strategy. The vaccine strategy aims to immunize at least 60 percent of the population to create "herd immunity."

Africa welcomes the recent World Health Organization decision to approve a COVID-19 vaccine manufactured by Sinopharm in China. For us, this is good news. We trust, relate, and can easily rely on China-made vaccines. Africa, therefore, wishes to call upon the Chinese government as the largest developing country to assist Africa in achieving herd immunity.

The story of Africa's transformation and prosperity cannot be adequately told without mentioning the generous and friendly support from China. Through the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation and beyond, China has made a significant investment in Africa that provided lifeline support to our economies. We have witnessed the volume of trade and that of foreign direct investment increased year after year.

Many jobs have been created, many infrastructures have been developed and upgraded, and many businesses have flourished because of China. In a real sense, China's growth translates directly to Africa's growth.

​China is and will remain our best friend, ally, and the most strategic partner of Africa. To us, this is a strong gesture of confidence, and our capitals have received this news with great satisfaction. Our only plea is for us Ambassadors of African Group to have many of these engagements with you. Friendship blossoms best when friends meet.

The Communist Party of China (CPC) to Africa is synonymous to China. Africa takes a keen interest in what is going on in the CPC knowing that China's success and prosperity is embedded and engraved with the CPC. Africa is delighted to witness and to learn that the CPC has been able to stay young and relevant after a century of trials, hardships and tribulations. We wish the CPC the best of luck in steering China, and China-Africa relations to greater heights. We wish the CPC more centuries ahead.

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