Interview: BRI fosters multilateralism and inclusive growth, says former AU official

The China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has created a platform for promoting multilateralism, inclusive growth, peace and cohesion, Erastus Mwencha, former deputy chairperson of the African Union Commission, told Xinhua on Friday.

The ongoing construction of BRI projects -- including roads, railways, ports and digital infrastructure -- have been a game changer in Africa where they have spurred connectivity and seamless trade, Mwencha said on the sidelines of the 2021 meeting of the Advisory Council of the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation that he attended via video link.

He observed that speedy implementation of transport infrastructure, energy and information and communications technology projects under the BRI has reduced the cost of doing business, in addition to empowering Africans and the bulk of the global south.

Mwencha singled out the 480-km Mombasa-Nairobi Standard Gauge Railway for revolutionizing passenger and freight transport in Kenya.

The railway "has transported millions of metric tons of cargo ... Its contribution to the Kenyan economy is huge," said Mwencha, adding that the railway has also facilitated technology transfer, promoting vocational skills for young people.

He said Kenya is among other African countries including Egypt, Senegal and Ethiopia where BRI projects have accelerated infrastructure modernization, market linkages, and skills and capacity building for youth.

China has also guaranteed on-time delivery of vital commodities including essential medical supplies like vaccines and protective gear against a backdrop of damaged global supply chains due to the COVID-19 pandemic, he added.

He suggested continuous construction of BRI projects in order to support livelihoods and buffer an economic fallout caused by the pandemic.

Despite its positive contribution to Africa's growth and stability, the BRI is likely to encounter headwinds linked to geopolitics, the pandemic and climate change, Mwencha warned.

He pointed out smear campaigns waged by some Western powers who fear that the BRI could change the status quo. "There are deliberate attempts to scuttle the implementation of the BRI and disorganize societies that could benefit from it, even though it is a model that is inclusive, consultative and reaches both the low and mighty," said Mwencha.

Mwencha called on African countries to reject geopolitical maneuvers aimed at undermining the BRI since the continent stands to gain immensely in terms of improved manufacturing capacity, technology and skills transfer and green financing.

The former deputy chairperson said the BRI is in Africa's best interest. "We need capacity to manufacture vaccines," Mwencha said. "It will bring in technology and capital required to grow our digital economy. It will also promote human to human interactions." 

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