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FEATURE STORY

China, Africa, and the World Bank: Partners in a Journey of Discovery

October 8, 2010

“Suzhou first started building its industrial park by learning and collaborating with Singapore 26 years ago. The Singapore side initially owned the majority part of the Suzhou Industrial Park (SIP), but gradually Suzhou took over and pushed SIP’s further development,” said Marilou Uy, Finance and Private Sector Development Director in the World Bank’s Africa Region during a field visit to Suzhou. “When African countries try to collaborate with China, it will be extremely relevant for them to look at the way Suzhou has collaborated with Singapore.”

The field visit was part of the High-Level China-Africa Experience-Sharing Program on Special Economic Zones and Infrastructure Development held in China from September 14 - 21, 2010. This program was organized by the World Bank Institute, the World Bank's Africa Region and East Asia and Pacific Region, in partnership with the Government of China. Through the program, 17 senior officials from 9 African countries had an opportunity to share ideas and experiences with their Chinese counterparts. 
 
After intensive discussions in Beijing, the African officials traveled to Jiangsu province where they visited industrial parks, factories, a food processing company, and irrigation and rural biogas projects.  “The experiences we’ve see in the irrigation development and agro-business vegetable processing particularly showcased how China has integrated agriculture with industrialization, and agriculture with poverty reduction”, said Tadesse Haile Tessema, State Minister, Ministry of Trade and Industry, Ethiopia, “We’ve seen with our own eyes how this has significantly improved the livelihood of farmers, and erased poverty.”

South-South Cooperation—New Opportunities in the Economic Downturn
“China’s cooperation with Africa is by no means new. What is new, however, is the level and significance of China’s partnership with Africa,” said Robert Zoellick, President of the World Bank in his opening address. “South-South trade, investment, and exchange of know-how can become an important source of growth in the post-crisis era.”

Key Takeaways
“Africa is turning a corner....Can the continent become an economic lion, ready to take its place beside the Chinese dragon and the Indian tiger?”  This was a challenge posed by the World Bank’s Africa Vice President Obiageli Ezekwesili during a keynote address at the event.

The experience-sharing program, in its third year, focused on special economic zones (SEZs) and infrastructure developmenttwo big challenges for many African countries. In China, SEZs were a testing ground for China’s transition from a planned to a market economy, and they are a prime example of China’s pragmatic and experimental approach to reform. Chinese experts were asked to address some of the key issues and challenges identified in the Africa Infrastructure Diagnostic. 

What did the African officials identify as important lessons from China? Some key takeaways include:

  • Development with significant impact on poverty reduction can be achieved in one’s lifetime
  • Political commitment is an important ingredient to translate ideas into reality; strong leadership and commitment at all levels of government are key to implementation
  • Each country must lead its own development process
  • Infrastructure development is critical for growth and poverty alleviation; of particular importance is infrastructure that links producers to markets
  • To fully benefit from foreign investment and from the new skills and know-how associated with it, it is important to create links between foreign firms and local companies and supply chains.


An Important Dialogue

The China-Africa experience-sharing program was part of celebration of the 30-year anniversary of the China-World Bank partnership.  In his meeting with President Zoellick, Chinese President Hu Jintao identified South-South cooperation as an important piece of the World Bank’s continued partnership with China. 

The Country Must be in the Driver’s Seat
“Knowledge exchange is key for development,” said Klaus Rohland, the Bank’s Country Director for China and Mongolia. “The Bank’s role is not teaching people and government what works, but informing them about the policy options, and how they have worked or not worked in other countries, and then working with government to make their own choices.”

Phil Karp, WBI Regional Coordinator and co-Team Leader for the program added, “If there is one key lesson for other developing countries from China's experience it is to be pragmatic; to experiment with new ideas, assess what works and replicate it, but not to be afraid to abandon what doesn't work."
 

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