By William Jones Source: CGTN Published: 2019-3-19
With the upcoming visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping to Italy, there will no doubt be some discussion of cooperation between the two nations on the African continent. For Italy, helping to resolve the dire economic situation in Africa is both a humanitarian and an economic concern. The devastated economy in many African countries is bringing more and more refugees to Italy's shore, and the burden is taking its toll on the Italian economy. For China, Africa has always been a particular concern having shared in the condition of underdevelopment for so many years. Even when both were clearly developing countries, China offered its assistance to its African brothers.
One of the most significant projects in that regard is the Transaqua project. This project would take some of the water from the Congo River, a river with the greatest flow of water in the world, and through a series of canals to the Chari River which flows into Lake Chad, a lake whose surface has been dramatically reduced from 25,000 km2 in 1960 to 1,500 km2 today.
The water transfer project would help revive the lake, and with the construction of dams and power plants along the canal, would help to bring development to the region, directly affecting the Democratic Republic of Congo, Central Africa and Nigeria, through which it would pass. In addition, it would also bring economic benefits to Niger, Cameron, Chad and Congo Brazzaville as well.
The Italian engineering company, Bonifica SpA has been instrumental in working out the plans for this project and is fully committed to it. In 2017 Bonifica and Powerchina entered an agreement for the joint development of the project. China, with its own extensive south-to-north water diversion project, possesses a good deal of expertise in dealing with such a project. Such collaboration also fits in nicely with the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which has received strong support from the Italian government. The Transaqua project developed by Bonifica has in part been developed by PowerChina.
Representatives from both Bonifica and PowerChina were invited in 2018 as speakers at the International Conference on Lake Chad, in Abuja, sponsored by the Government of Nigeria. The final declaration of the conference stated that Lake Chad needs to be saved and that its current situation demands immediate action. The Italian government at the time pledged 1.5 million Euros (1.7 million U.S. dollars) to start the Transaqua feasibility study.
The expansion of the BRI to Africa has kindled new hope in a continent that had virtually been abandoned by the West in terms of large development projects. The Mombasa-Nairobi railway, the Nigerian coastal railway, the Chad-Sudan railway, the Port Sudan-Khartoum railway have already provided the template for industrializing the entire African continent.
While China has been ground-breaking in returning to the long-awaited - and much-delayed - project of African industrialization, the enormity of the project is of such a magnitude, that China alone cannot do it. But the BRI opens the possibility of working together with other Western nations in realizing this goal. And the cooperation with Italy on the Lake Chad project can serve as a paradigm for how the BRI must work.
While some Western nations are trying to depict the BRI as a geopolitical “ploy” by China, anyone looking at the effect of the project on the recipient countries will see the falsehood of these claims. As Abraham Lincoln famously said, “You can't fool all the people all the time.” And to the extent that countries overcome their fears and begin to work with the BRI and contribute their strength to developing other countries, they will better understand the importance of the project and its more profound implications for global development.
China has made great gains in reversing the effects of desertification by means of their water diversion projects, their reforestation efforts and their irrigation projects. If some of this know-how were to be applied in Africa, it would help turn the devastated Sahel region into a veritable garden, which it once was. And the lessons learned can be used on a broader scale to change the nature of life on this planet – for all its people.
William Jones is the Washington Bureau Chief for Executive Intelligence Review and a non-resident fellow of the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China.