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May 19, 2023

A comparative analysis of the BRI and GDI for the advancement of SDGs in Africa

By Amukelani Charmaine Matsilele, Researcher: Communications & Public Diplomacy, African Centre for the Study of the United States

In 2015 world leaders adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), setting goals for a sustainable investment-led model. The development model comprises of 17 SDGs and 169 targets, highlighting the enormous scale of the universal agenda. These SDGs have superseded the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), endorsed by global leaders in 2000 and lapsed in 2015. As of 2023, the world is halfway through the implementation of the SDGs, and there have been notable successes and challenges. This research examines the role and implications of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and Global Development  Initiative (GDI) towards advancing SDG goals and how this has impacted  Agenda 2063.

The BRI was launched in 2013 by Chinese President Xi Jinping to pursue infrastructure projects and forge trade networks linking China with various regions, including parts of Asia, Africa, Oceania, Europe, and Latin America. Initially, it was a two-pronged plan: the Overland Silk Road Economic Belt and the Maritime Silk Road. The two were collectively referred to first as the One Belt, One Road Initiative but eventually became the BRI. The main focus areas for BRI are trade and investment, infrastructure development, international connectivity, and people-to-people exchanges. These areas are crucial in achieving the SDGs.

Following the BRI-scaled regional development cooperation, the Global Development Initiative  (GDI) consolidates China's international development cooperation agenda and seeks to bolster its role as a development partner for the Global South. GDI sought to address development issues from an inclusive level and was launched in 2021 by Chinese President Xi Jinping. The GDI offers to respond to global deficits by building an international community with a future shared vision. According to Global Development Report, the GDI provides a viable path to accelerate the implementation of the 2030 Agenda. Thus, the GDI works in tandem with the SDGs on a global scale.

The GDI vision is translated into eight priority areas. The essential goals for GDI are to assist the United Nations (UN) in attaining its 2030 agenda, particularly in developing countries, by responding to the crisis caused by Covid-19 with a focus on greener and healthier global development. The Initiative emphasises the importance of international development governance guided by extensive consultation, joint contribution, and shared benefits. The GDI firmly advocates for a comprehensive approach to development that fully acknowledges the complex challenges faced worldwide. This approach unequivocally stresses multilateralism and inclusivity as the key drivers of effective and sustainable solutions.

Agenda 2063 is a plan for Africa's development path that outlines the continent's aspirations and flagship programs to improve its economy and achieve transformational results. Agenda 2063 was adopted in June 2015. The blueprint of Agenda 2063 prioritises social and economic development, continental and regional integration, democratic governance, peace, and security, among other issues. This plan aims to make Africa a dominant player in the global arena by delivering inclusive goals and sustainable development.

China's development strategy in South-South cooperation is viewed through the lens of development cooperation. As such, GDI is seen as a parallel and complementary track for the BRI. Both initiatives seek to align China's financial, technological, and human resources with recipient countries' economic and development needs. BRI exports infrastructure-building capacity to developing countries. Similarly, GDI is shifted towards sustainable, inclusive and innovation-driven growth in China's global engagement with its domestic economic agenda. While the BRI is capital-intensive and focused on complex infrastructure, the GDI is development-oriented and relies on small-sized projects such as poverty reduction, green economy, digital industry and innovation.

Table 1 displays the correlation between the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The BRI's five primary areas include policy coordination, connectivity, financial integration, unimpeded trade, and people-to-people bonds linked to various SDGs. The connections between BRI and SDG goals significantly contribute to the development of Africa.

BRI priority area 1 focuses on policy coordinationSDG goal 17 partnerships for the goals.
BRI priority area 2  aims to facilitate connectivitySDG goals 1 (no poverty), 2 (zero hunger), 3 (good health and well-being), 4 (quality education), 5 (gender equality), 6 (clean water and sanitation), 7 (affordable and clean energy), 8 (decent work and economic growth), 9 (industry, innovation, and infrastructure), 10 (reduced inequalities), 11 (sustainable cities and communities), and 17 (partnerships for the goals).
BRI priority area 3 focuses on financial intergrationSDG goals 1, 2, 8, and 17; and indirectly linked to goals 12 (responsible consumption and production), 14 (life below water), and 15 (life on land).
BRI priority area 4 focuses on unimpeded tradeSDG goal 17 (partnerships for the goals).
BRI priority area 5 focsues on financial intergration and people to people bonds.goals 3 (good health and wellbeing), 11( sustainable cities and communities) and 17 (partnerships for the goals)  and an indirect connection to goal 16 (peace, justice and strong institutions)

Table 2 depicts the interconnection between GDI and SDGs. The eight priority areas of GDI are directly related to the SDG goals and are invaluable for understanding the correlation between these essential concepts.

GDI priority area 1 financing  for developmentSDG goals 9 (industry, innovation and infrastructure), 16 (peace, justice and  strong institutions) and 17 (partnerships for the goals)
GDI priority area 2  climate change and green developmentSDG goals 7 (affordable and clean energy), 11 (sustainable cities and communities), 12 (responsible consumption and production), 13 (climate action), 14 (life below water)and 15 (life on land).
GDI priority area 3 food securitySDG goals 1 (no poverty) and 6 (clean water and sanitation)
GDI priority area 4 poverty alleviationSDG goals 1 (no poverty), 2 (zero hunger), 4  (quality education), 8   (decent work and economic growth), and 10 (reducing inequality)
GDI priority area 5 indistrializationSDG goals 8  (decent work and economic growth)  and 9 ( industry, innovation and infrastructure)
GDI priority area 6  digital economySDG goals 4 (quality education), 9 (industry, innovation and  infrastructure) and 12  (responsible consumption and production).
GDI priority area 7 Covid 19- and vaccinesSDG goals 3(good health and well being) and 10 (reduce inequality)
GDI priority area 8  connectivitySDG goals 9 (industry, innovation and infrastructure), 11 (sustianble cities and communities  and 17 (partnerships for the goals).

Improving infrastructure in African countries is a critical step towards the region's development and integration. Consequently, Africa's potential for railways, roads, and energy makes it a valuable component of the BRI and GDI. Most BRI initiatives address African transportation and power issues by developing international rail and expressways, seaports, hydropower, and water supply and sanitation. One such initiative is the Nairobi expressway, which seeks to improve physical connectivity.

Table 3 emphasises how Agenda 2063 priority areas are connected with SDG goals. Although some of Africa's priority areas may still need to align with the SDG goals fully, they remain vital for the continent and require attention. Agenda 2063 priority areas are customised to meet the specific needs of the continent, thus making them a top priority.

 Agenda 2063 priority area 1 income, jobs and decent workSDG 1 (end poverty)
Agenda 2063 priority area 2 end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agricultureSDG 2 (end hunger)
Agenda 2063 priority area 3 social security and protection, including persons  with disabilitiesSDG 8 (decwnt work and economic growth)
Agenda 2063 priority area 4 modern  affordable  and liveable habitatsSDG 11 (make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and  sustainable)
Agenda 2063 priority area 5 education and science  technology  and innovation  (STI )driven skills resolutionSDG 4 (quality education)
Agenda 2063 priority area 6 health and nutritionSDG 3   (good health and well being)
Agenda 2063 priority area 7 sustainable and inclusive economic growthSDG 8 (decent work and economic growth
Agenda 2063 prioeirty area 8 STI driven manufacturing, industrialization  and value additionSDG 9 (industry, innovation and infrastructure)
Agenda 2063 priority area 9 economic  diversification and resilienceNo linkages to SDGs
Agenda 2063 priority area 10 agricultural productivity and productionSDG 2 (zero hunger)
Agenda 2063 priority area 11 marine resources  and energySDG 14 (life below water)
Agenda 2063 priority area 12 port operations and marine transportSDG 6 (clean water and sanitation)
Agenda 2063 priorty area 13 Bio-diversity, conservation and sustianble  natural resource  managementSDG 7 (affordable and clean energy)
Agenda 2063 priority area 14  water securitySDG 13 (climate action)
Agenda 2063 priority area 15 climate resilience and natural disasters preparednessSDG 15     (life on land)
Agenda 2063 priority area 16 frameworks  and institutions  for a Unted AfricaNo link to SDGs
Agenda 2063 priority are 17 finacial  and monentary institiutionsNo links to SDGs
Agenda 2063 priority area 18 communications and infrastructure connectivitySDG 9 (industry, innovation and infrastructure)
Agenda 2063 priority area 19 democracy and good governanceSDG 16 (peace, justice and strong institutions)
Agenda 2063  priority area 20 human rights, justice and the rule of lawSDG 16 (peace, justice and strong institutions)
Agenda 2063 priority area 21 participatory development and local goveranceSDG 16    (peace, justice and strong in stitutions)
Agenda 2063 priority area 22 maintenance and preservation  of peace  and securitySDG 16 (peace, justice and strong institutions)
Agenda 2063 priority area 23 institutional  structure for AU instruments  on peace and securityNo link to SDGs
Agenda 2063 priority area 24 defence, security and peaceNo link to SDGs
Agenda 2063 priority area 25 fully operational and functional APSA all illarsNo link to SDGs
Agenda 2063 priority area 26 values and ideas of Pan AfricannismNo link to SDGs
Agenda 2063 priority area 27 cultural values and African renaissanceNo link to SDGs
Agenda 2063 priority area 28 cultural heritage, creative arts  and businessesNo links to SDGs
Agenda 2063 priority are 29  women and girls empowermentSDG 5   (gender equality)
Agenda 2063 priority area 30 violence and  discrimination against women and childrenSDG 5     (gender equality)
Agenda 2063  priority area 31 youth empowerment and children’s rights  SDG 4  (quality education)
Agenda 2063 priority area 32  Africa’s place in global affairsSDG 17 (global partnerships for the SDG goals)
Agenda 2063 priority area 33 partnershipsSDG 17 (global partnerships)
Agenda 2063 priority area 34 african capital marketsSDG 10 (reduce inequalities within and amnong countries)
Agenda 2063 priority area 35 fiscal systems and public sector revenueSDG 17 (global partnerships)
Agenda 2063 priority area 36 development assistanceSDG 17  (global partnerships)

Chinese companies and banks have financed several development projects on the African continent. In Mozambique, the Maputo-Katembe bridge was funded by the Mozambican government and the China Roads and Bridge Corporation. In Zimbabwe, the Chinese government donated a new parliament building in Harare, the expansion of Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport, the upgrading of the Victoria Falls International Airport, provided a power boost at Kariba South Hydro Power Station, upgrade waterworks at Morton Jaffray,  and aid is given to Harare City Council in upgrading water and sewerage systems. In Zambia, China financed the Kafue Gorge Lower (KGL) hydropower station in the Southern District of Chikankata. China has also funded the Tanzania Zambia  Railway Authority  (TAZARA), which gives  Zambia landlocked to a link to Tanzania Port Dar es Salaam. It offers a connection to Southern regional transport to Eastern Africa's seaport.

Still within China’s BRI Projects, the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) is China's flagship investment project in Kenya. The SGR connects Mombasa, the largest port city in Kenya, to its capital. In Nigeria, China financed the construction of the Lagos-Kano lines. China has been involved in the construction of airports and ICT infrastructure. In Uganda, the Karuma Hydro Power Plant and the Isimba Hydro Power Plant were financed by Chinese companies. In Ethiopia, the Chinese private sector invests in manufacturing textiles, apparel, footwear, and construction. China is Algeria's leading exporter of tires, communication tools and footwear. In exchange, China gets refined and crude petroleum gas. Due to the BRI, Djibouti is now linked to Ethiopia through the  Ababa-Djibouti Railway and the Ethiopia-Djibouti Water Pipeline. China has also provided financial support to Egypt. And has further been involved in trade, economic development, and military and cultural ties.

Despite being a recent initiative, the GDI has garnered support from 68 countries that are part of the Group of Friends of the GDI, while over 100 governments and international organisations also back the initiative. Since the announcement in 2022, 32 practical cooperation measures have been implemented. The Global Development, South-South Cooperation Fund and the UN Peace and Development Trust Fund are being utilised to pool resources and encourage more donors to participate in cooperation projects. The first batch of African-specific GDI projects is to assist the internally displaced people due to circumstances prevailed by Covid-19 in Cabo Delgado, Mozambique, and to provide food and nutrition assistance in Togo.

Several countries, including Chad, Gabon, Uganda, Egypt, and Djibouti, will receive initiatives to foster Covid -19 recovery and SDGs implementation through local action in Asia-Pacific, Arab and African countries. Additionally, 19 African countries, including Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Ethiopia and South Africa, will benefit from coherent integration of the environmental dimension of SDGs in regional and National Policy Frameworks in Africa. Somalia and Zimbabwe are to be provided emergency food assistance and post-disaster reconstruction.

To provide a well-rounded viewpoint, it is imperative to highlight some drawbacks of the BRI, GDI, and Agenda 2063.  It's crucial to note that since the BRI and GDI are Chinese initiatives, not all African states support China's policies and objectives, leading to an inconsistent acceptance of Chinese collaboration throughout the continent. For instance, Zambia had taken out significant loans from China under its previous leadership, but the new government has altered the relationship as it is pro-West, and that is why the processes of debt rescheduling are complex.

Eleanor Albert's article on China's involvement in Africa highlights the risks associated with China's activities on the continent. One of the main concerns is China's dominance in the construction sector, which undermines local contracts. The Nigerian government has also faced criticism for prioritising deals with China, which has limited the involvement of local actors in the economy. Moreover, there are concerns about unfair labour practices and inadequate environmental impact assessments. Kevin Acker's analysis discusses the concept of a debt trap, citing Zambia's inability to repay its debt to the Chinese government as an example.

Another central point is the heavy debt of African countries in terms of creating equal multilateralism, and there are fears that China is redefining the world economy and politics and subordinating Africa to client states. For example, according to Oxford University Politics blog, China has become  Africa’s biggest bilateral lender over 73 billion in debt in 2020 and 9 billion in private debt.  This slowly erodes any gains in other social sectors because African countries are obliged to service the debts to continue getting credit from China and other multilateral institutions like the  World Bank and  International Monetary Fund (IMF), as these resources could be used to drive SDG  development.

Ndizera and Muzera have highlighted significant shortcomings with Agenda 2063. The agenda's unrealistic deadlines and overly ambitious projects have resulted in poor implementation. Investments made by the (BRI) towards Agenda 2063 involve the African Union (AU) and individual African countries. However, the investments are distributed unevenly as a significant portion goes to countries with diplomatic ties and close relationships with China, such as Zimbabwe.This play into the debate around the geopolitical divide in Africa between the West and the North, and other countries fall behind as other see much infrastructure development. There is also an issue about the development and sustainability of such infrastructures. To accomplish sustainable development goals, it is essential to develop highly effective strategies that engage, empower, and motivate all citizens to participate. Furthermore, it is imperative to establish inclusive regional institutions that facilitate economic integration with the vast potential of Africa.

China's proactive role, however, is evidenced by creating platforms that foster development cooperation, mobilise resources for SDGs and create awareness of the most urgent actions in key priority areas. The BRI has created pathways that create jobs, easy access for African countries to conduct trade and opening up the economy through infrastructure and trade investments. Nearly one-third of infrastructure projects in Africa worth US$50 million were built by Chinese companies.

The GDI is a new initiative aligned with each country's needs and will help accelerate the completion of SDG goals. It takes a people-to-people approach and includes every country. The first set of projects will address urgent issues such as emergency food assistance, post-disaster reconstruction, Covid-19 recovery, and displaced people. Both the BRI and GDI are working towards achieving SDG goals in Africa.

While the continent has yet to fully develop, progress has been made towards achieving several SDG goals, including 1, 2, 4, 6, 7, 10, 11, 13, and 16. The Chinese government is working towards these goals through the BRI and GDI initiatives. To summarise, the continent has made significant strides in achieving several SDG goals, namely 1, 2, 4, 6, 7, 10, 11, 13, and 16. It's worth noting that the Chinese government has been actively pursuing these objectives through initiatives such as the BRI and GDI.

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