In July, 2009, 33 senior officials from 19 West and Central African countries came to China and participated in a High-Level China-Africa Experience-Sharing Program on Development, jointly organized by China’s Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Commerce and State Council’s Leading Group Office for Poverty Alleviation and the World Bank.
The program was composed of a three-day workshop, a five-day field visit and a final half-day wrap-up session. The workshop focused on presentations and discussions on China’s reform strategy, agriculture and rural poverty reduction, infrastructure development, FDI and Special Economic Zones (SEZs), and China’s engagement with Africa.
After the workshop, two parallel field visits were organized. One group of African decision makers traveled to Shandong, a coastal province in east China. Shandong has achieved rapid agricultural development and poverty reduction since reform started in 1978, with rural per capita income up from less than CNY1,000 to CNY17,000 in 2008. The introduction of agricultural technology and vegetable wholesale market facilitated agricultural exports and incorporated farmers into the global value chain.
In Shandong, the African visitors were shown a range of projects including a water supply reservoir, an integrated modern agricultural development project, a bio-gas project, a vegetable wholesale market, a river environment improvement project, an economic and technological development zone, and a port. Local hosts briefed them on how Shandong made rapid progress through market-oriented reforms and integrated rural development.
In Qingdao, the African visitors were impressed by a dynamic, open and fast growing city. Thanks to the efforts to create a good investment climate, Qingdao managed to attract FDI and develop several industrial clusters including high technology, electronics, logistics and modern services, and petroleum and chemical clusters.
The other group of African participants went to Fujian, another fast-growing coastal province. Fujian has focused on provision of water, roads, electricity, connectivity, health and education services, and given priority to promotion of labor migration, skills training and job creation, and encouraging coastal enterprises to invest in poor mountainous areas, leading to significant poverty reduction. A favorable investment climate and a learning environment were the key to attracting FDI which in turn brought technology, financing and innovation. Public-private partnership played a crucial role in infrastructure development.
The African officials heard about a variety of new and innovative approaches adopted when they visited a fruit and vegetable processing site, honey pomelo and tea production centers, a mobile phone manufacturer, an aircraft engineering company, an automotive manufacturing company, an aviation industry park, a hi-tech industrial development zone, and a container terminal. They also talked with local government officials, farmers and entrepreneurs to hear their experience.
During the wrap-up session, the African participants shared their reflections from the field visits. They were impressed by:
the scale and speed of China’s development; the excellent infrastructure not only in cities but also in rural areas;
the public-private partnership in infrastructure including the extensive use of user fees to recover construction cost;
the development-oriented, integrated poverty reduction approach incorporating agricultural development, skill training, and social services provision;
the competitive environment among enterprises, cities, counties and provinces;
the strong government commitment and determination to development at all levels;
the pragmatic approach and the strong capacity and efficiency of implementation at all levels; and
the unique “collective learning and innovative spirit”, demonstrated by local officials, entrepreneurs and villagers, that has helped China take advantage of globalization, learning by doing, learning by experimenting and gradually moving up the global production value chain.
The African participants felt inspired by what they saw, heard and learned. They saw China’s experience as offering a different and refreshing perspective on development. They felt many of China’s experiences could be adapted and adopted in Africa. For example, “when China started its reform, agriculture was as important as it is in many African countries now,” noted Yaouba ABDOULAYE, Cameroon’s Vice Minister of Planning and Territorial Management.
“We hope this will not be a one-off event, but part of a process”, said Vice Minister Togba Nah TIPOTEH from Liberia in his closing remarks on behalf of all the participants.
Several parts of the World Bank assisted in organizing the program. The World Bank Institute put together the program structure and content. The African Region helped identify the speakers. And the East Asia and Pacific Region provided funding support. Staff from all three units and from IFC participated in delivery of the program. This was the second major event of the multi-year program. The first learning event took place in May 2008, with participants coming from East and Southern African countries.