China-Africa Think Tank Forum Discusses Ways To Deepen Global Development Cooperation

Guests pose for a group photo at the 13th Meeting of China-Africa Think Tank Forum held in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, on 8 March. Photo: ChinAfrica

The 13th Meeting of China-Africa Think Tank Forum held in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, released a document titled Consensus Among African and Chinese Think Tanks on Deepening Global Development Cooperation. Also known as the Africa-China Dar es Salaam Consensus, the document calls on the international community to deepen development cooperation based on the principles of mutual respect, solidarity, win-win cooperation, openness, and common prosperity. It proposes to adopt a people-centred approach to development to create a friendly institutional environment for everyone to pursue a better life.

Furthermore, it emphasises that countries should enhance dialogue rather than conflict, and respect the historical and cultural traditions, and the national conditions of different nations. It also supports the idea that countries should choose modernisation paths based on their cultural characteristics and development needs.

The Dar es Salaam Consensus represents a significant effort by Chinese and African scholars to deepen exchanges and mutual learning, and serves as a reference for both China and Africa and even other developing countries for dispelling the myth that modernisation equals Westernisation. China and Africa can only achieve revitalisation of their respective cultures and civilisations and promote the construction of a community with a shared future for mankind by adhering to modernisation paths based on their different cultural characteristics and development needs.

Limits of neoliberalism

The Dar es Salaam Consensus signal the failure of the US and other Western countries in forcefully promoting the neoliberal model beyond their borders. From a historical perspective, the neoliberal reforms led and promoted by the US and other Western countries in the 1980s had a disastrous impact on Africa. Since the late 1970s, capitalism has entered a neoliberal period. With British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and US President Ronald Reagan as the main advocates, a comprehensive liberalisation trend emerged worldwide, ushering in a new phase of capitalist development. The dissolution of the Soviet Union and the advancement of the Washington Consensus further strengthened the view of the UK and the US that neoliberalism can fully overcome government intervention, gradually making it the world’s mainstream economic principle and policy paradigm.

The crisis Africa experienced in the 1970s provided an opportunity for the Western world and its leading institutions, such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, to intervene in Africa’s development. In 1984, the World Bank published the report Toward Sustained Development in Sub-Saharan Africa, outlining a plan for structural adjustment that included marketisation, capital liberalisation, privatisation, and trade liberalisation. This marked the transition of neoliberalism from an initial theoretical assumption to a policy framework in Africa. 

As these structural adjustments were implemented, the GDP of Sub-Saharan African countries fell by an average of 1 percent per year from 1980 to 1997. In terms of trade, African countries’ share in world trade continued to decline due to the impact of neoliberal structural adjustments. In 1990, the total world export volume was $3.5 trillion, which increased to $6.5 trillion in 2000, representing an increase of approximately 85 percent. However, during the same period, the proportion of African countries’ exports dropped from 2.53 percent in 1990 to 1.78 percent in 2000. 

Neoliberal structural adjustments left Africa heavily indebted. The debt of Sub-Saharan African countries rose from $2 billion in 1970 to $331 billion in 2012, an increase of 165 times. 

At present, a new round of neoliberal reforms is presenting Africa with new and greater difficulties. The global economic crisis of 2008, volatility in the global commodity prices in 2014-2015, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the negative impact of interest rate hikes by major Western economies on the global economy have plunged African economies into a deep quagmire. 

Against this backdrop, in an attempt to obtain loans from the World Bank and other institutions and accelerate the introduction of foreign capital, major African economies, including Nigeria, Egypt, Angola, and Ethiopia, have accelerated privatisation and market-oriented reforms based on neoliberalism. These reform measures cover agriculture, electricity, energy and mineral resources, infrastructure, transportation, finance and other fields related to people’s livelihood. 

Taking Egypt as an example, privatising and selling shares of state-owned enterprises were strategic choices for the Egyptian government to quickly obtain foreign exchange and address its huge financing gap. The Egyptian government plans to generate $5 billion in revenue from October 2023 to June 2024 by selling shares in 35 state-owned enterprises. The privatisation plan is part of Egypt’s commitment to secure a $3 billion loan from the IMF. However, Egypt’s accelerated privatisation has not resulted in economic recovery. The recent inflation rate of Egypt has been close to 30 percent, and the net foreign assets deficit reached $29 billion. 

Similarly, after the privatisation of its electricity sector, Nigeria failed to solve issues such as low power generation and poor grid stability. Some experts have advocated for nationalisation as a means to overcome the challenge. In June 2023, Angola cancelled its plan for privatisation in its telecom sector due to poor results and other factors. Angolan economist Carlos Rosado de Carvalho recently stated that Angola’s privatisation plan, ProPriv, is well below its goals and that the public sector is even more bloated than before privatisation began. 

The consensus issued by scholars from China and Africa on international development and cooperation serves as a poignant reflection of the failure of long-standing neoliberal development strategies promoted by the US and other Western countries in Africa.

A Chinese employee of the Lagos-Ibadan Railway instructs local trainees in Lagos, Nigeria, on 27 February. Photo: Xinhua

Common values for humanity 

The Dar es Salaam Consensus proposes common solutions to the major problems and challenges currently confronting the Global South and the world at large, reflecting values that transcend the Washington Consensus and its associated ideology. In terms of values, the Dar es Salaam Consensus promotes common values for all humanity, genuinely embracing the diversity of cultures and civilisations. 

Regarding its core concepts, the Dar es Salaam Consensus highlights win-win cooperation and common development, as opposed to the US and Western countries’ goal to prioritise their own interest by pushing other countries to the lower end of the industrial and supply chains. 

In terms of global governance, the consensus advocates an equal and orderly multipolar world, and a universally beneficial and inclusive economic globalisation. It represents the interests and demands of the vast majority. In economic theory, it adopts the new structural economics instead of sticking to the Washington Consensus, thereby overcoming the conflict between the government and the market, and discarding neoliberalism and Western attempts to politicise economic and trade issues or impose security implicationson them. In terms of ideology, the Dar es Salaam Consensus emphasises people-centred development and the protection of people’s right to subsistence and development. In summary, the Dar es Salaam Consensus represents another step in the deepening of exchanges between China and Africa on development concepts. 

The author is an Assistant Research Fellow of China Institute of International Studies. African Times has published this article in partnership with ChinAfrica Magazine.



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