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ChinAfrica exclusive interview with Nigerian Ehizuelen Michael Mitchell Omoruyi, Executive Director of the Institute of African Studies, Zhejiang Normal University
By Ehizuelen Michael Mitchell Omoruyi | VOL.9 December 2017 ·2017-12-11

Ehizuelen Michael Mitchell Omoruyi

The Belt and Road Initiative, which promotes policy coordination, connectivity of infrastructure, unimpeded trade, currency convertibility and closer people-to-people tie, is benefiting all countries, most notably those in Africa. Nigerian Ehizuelen Michael Mitchell Omoruyi, Executive Director of the Institute of African Studies, Zhejiang Normal University, examines how the combination of Chinese capital, technology, market, enterprises, people skills and rich experience in development with Africa's abundant resources, huge demographic dividend, and great market potential heralds an opportunity to create another miracle of development - both for Africa in general and specifically for Nigeria. Edited excerpts of his thoughts follow:

The Chinese people no longer hope to rebuild the Great Wall, but are instead devoted to rebuilding the Silk Road, which features extensive consultation, joint contribution and shared benefits that are defining the concept of the Belt and Road Initiative. This is not the first attempt to revive the ancient trade routes. There have been attempts by the European Union, the United States, Russia, and even India to reconstruct the ancient Silk Road that linked Asia, Europe and Africa in particular.

What makes China's attempt different is the country's commitments, as well as the numerous agreements it has already signed with partner countries and international organizations along the routes. The initiative will inject trillions of dollars into international transportation infrastructure: mainly railways and roads stretching across Asia, the Middle East, Europe, and Africa and designed to boost commerce. The Belt and Road Initiative has won extensive endorsements from the international community. Chinese President Xi Jinping said at the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation in May that the only way for China to realize the development promised by the Belt and Road Initiative is to have environmental global stability, in an apparent response to the emergence of protectionism on the world stage.

China is calling for joint development and according to Xi, all countries are welcomed to board the train of China's development. Addressing other world leaders at the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation in Beijing, Xi said it was necessary to coordinate policies with the development goals of institutions including the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, Association of Southeast Asian Nations, African Union, and the European Union.

According to Denny Roy, a senior fellow at Honolulu-based East-West Center think tank, his impression of the Belt and Road Initiative is that China is taking on a more responsible role globally and has the funding to work with. The initiative aims to create the world's largest platform for policy coordination, connectivity of infrastructure, unimpeded trade, currency convertibility and closer people-to-people tie. It has made good progress in various areas of cooperation and received a warm response and active participation. More than 100 countries and international organizations have supported and got involved in this initiative, among which more than 40 have signed cooperation agreements with China, reaching a broad international consensus on the Belt and Road Initiative.

Africa's connection

Africa has a natural and historical connection with the initiative. In the 15th century, Chinese navigator Zheng He led a fleet of 300 ships to Africa, which has planted friendship seeds in the hearts of both Chinese and African peoples since then. With an area of more than 30 million square km, over 1.2 billion population (youth accounts for more than 50 percent), 800 million hectares of arable land, and countless natural resources, Africa is unarguably an important pillar of the world economy. Most African countries endeavor to industrialize and diversify their economies, while China, after nearly 40 years of reform and opening up, has accumulated rich experience in industrialization and modernization. The combination of Chinese capital, technology, market, enterprises, talents and rich experience in development with Africa's abundant resources, huge demographic dividend, and great market potential heralds an opportunity to create another miracle of development.

Nigeria is strategically located in Africa and a regional and continental self-determined powerhouse that has, since independence in 1960, adopted and maintained a policy of political neutrality in foreign relations. Because of its influence and the strong belief in itself as a formidable (real or latent) global actor, the country has been inspired to become active on the continent of Africa via its foreign policy on significant global matters. As a result of the country's economic and political credentials, Nigeria's significance in Africa is arguably necessary for any actors looking to make a strategic power play, economic and otherwise, on the continent. Nigeria is a resource-endowed nation with a young and growing diverse population, estimated to be 203 million in 2025, making it a consumer country.

China and Nigeria are strategic partners sharing similar cultures, historical backgrounds; they celebrate their national day on the same day, and are highly-complementary economies. The friendship has borne rich fruits covering almost all fields in recent years, but just as Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Yi said during his visit to Abuja in January: "Compared with the size, population and market of China and Nigeria, the two countries cooperation still have a large potential to be deepened." Also, during Wang's visit to four West African nations in May, he said, "In the past, China supported African nations to attain political independence; but this time, the Chinese people are willing to support African nations to gain economic independence." The Belt and Road Initiative can act as a platform to attain economic independence. Nigeria should position itself to benefit from this opportunity. So, considering the development strategies of Nigeria and China, it seems that they are highly matched, and the deepened cooperation has great opportunities to make China and Nigeria greater.

Learning lessons

After many years of excessive dependence on oil, Nigeria's other industries are underdeveloped, and the large reserves of human resources are underused. The Nigerian Government is eager and working hard to diversify its economy, as well as to train more skilled personnel who are able to shoulder the responsibility in this new era.

Meanwhile, China, through platforms like the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, the Belt and Road Initiative and many other mechanisms, shows its strong willingness to share its experience and attain common development with other nations. With the latecomer advantage, Nigeria can introduce most advanced management, cutting-edge technology and experienced talents in all fields from China, therefore, leapfrogging the pitfalls China once faced. The latecomer advantage, together with China's better governance, and reform and opening-up policy, contributes to the country's development miracle. If China can attain such a miracle, then Nigeria can as well.

Over the last decade, China has become a major economic partner of Nigeria. Nigeria is China's top engineering market, second biggest export market, third largest trading partner and a major investment destination in Africa. China has continued to expand its trade relations in the country. Trade between China and Nigeria increased from $2 billion in 2005 to $6.5 billion in the first five months of 2017, an increase of 33 percent over the same period in 2016. This volume represented 7.6 percent of the total trade between China and Africa and 36.4 percent of total trade volume between China and Economic Community of West African States. China's investment in Nigeria grew by 27 percent in 2016. China has already invested or financed more than $22 billion worth of projects in Nigeria, while more than $23 billion worth of projects are ongoing.

Accompanying the investment, Chinese technology, management and experienced personnel have also entered Nigeria, which greatly boosts the diversification and development of the Nigerian economy. The benefits from Chinese investment can be seen everywhere. Nigerians have a strong willingness and enthusiasm to welcome Chinese investment, which they see as the pillar of the local economy. The investment is improving local people's lives. Nigeria has all the required qualities to become another world manufacturer, and China has the willingness and ability to support Nigeria to realize its potential. China and Nigeria need to find a platform and mechanism to effectively conduct their cooperation and this is the very role the Belt and Road Initiative plays.

Considering the economy, population and market of the Belt and Road Initiative participating countries, the initiative will make a great impact on the world economy in the coming years. For example, the building of Nigeria's Lekki Free Trade Zone possesses some economic significance with the aim of cutting down the country's reliance on imports. The Lekki Port that is expected to be completed in 2018 may function as a commercial hub extending the Belt and Road Initiative further to the west on the African continent. The Chinese are looking forward to working with Nigerians to more actively participate in the initiative, and lay a more solid foundation and foster greater connectivity for world economic growth.

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