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China-Africa seminar ends with endorsement of infrastructure development to revitalize ties

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The China-Africa Infrastructure Cooperation Seminar ended on Tuesday with policymakers and scholars stressing the need to place investments in new modes of transport and communication to rejuvenate bilateral ties between the two long-standing partners.

Kenya played host to the two-day forum organized by the country's ministry of transport in conjunction with the Nairobi-based think-tank, African Economic Research Consortium (AERC) and the Chinese Embassy in Kenya.

The forum whose theme was China-Africa Infrastructure Cooperation in the context of Kenya's Mombasa-Nairobi Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) was attended by high-level Chinese and African policymakers as well as experts.

It sought to stimulate conversations on how China and its African partners can strengthen cooperation in infrastructure development ahead of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) summit to be held in Beijing in September.

James Macharia, Kenya's Cabinet Secretary for the Ministry of Transport, was joined by Zhou Yuxiao, China's Ambassador for Affairs of the FOCAC, and Sun Baohong, Chinese Ambassador to Kenya, at the opening ceremony of the high-level forum.

Li Xuhang, the Minister Counsellor at the Chinese Embassy in Kenya, said in his closing remarks that China-Africa cooperation in the area of infrastructure development has bright prospects.

"I believe that China-Africa infrastructure cooperation is now embracing huge opportunities and has an even brighter future," said Li.

"Through the successful SGR case, we can see that China-Africa infrastructure cooperation is under the vision of China-Africa community with a shared future," he added.

Scholars from acclaimed Chinese and African think-tanks who attended the infrastructure cooperation forum visited the Nairobi SGR Terminus, its operation and maintenance center as well as inland container depot (ICD).

Lemma Senbet, the Executive Director of the African Economic Research Consortium, said the SGR remained an enduring symbol of thriving China-Africa cooperation in the sphere of transport infrastructure.

"Through this forum and the visit to the SGR, we have come to appreciate its role in bolstering regional integration and skills transfer. The SGR is a pointer that Africa can strengthen cooperation with China to upgrade or construct new roads, ports and railways," Senbet remarked.

He noted that the SGR commuter train that was launched in May last year meets globally approved standards hence the need to replicate it to countries in the region.

"This region should adopt SGR in order to deepen integration while easing cost of doing business. It will leapfrog our economies through improved trade and access to markets," said Senbet.

Scholars from Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, South Sudan and Ethiopia who attended the China-Africa infrastructure cooperation forum agreed the continent should leverage on capital, man-power and technological edge from Beijing to help modernize transport infrastructure.

Sarah Ssewanyana, the Executive Director of Kampala-based Economic Policy Research Center, hailed China's huge investments in Africa's infrastructure development terming it a game changer in mobility, commerce and connectivity.

"We appreciate the Chinese government for supporting infrastructure development in Africa," Ssewanyana remarked.

"The Nairobi-Mombasa SGR is a model for all of us in the region and China remains our dependable partner in infrastructure development across this region," She added.

Augustino Ting Mayai, an economist at the University of Juba in South Sudan, noted that the Mombasa-Nairobi SGR has the potential to open up the greater east and horn of African region to investments and industrial growth.

"The SGR is a great project that has capacity to promote economic integration in this region. It behoves this region to strengthen partnership with China as we upgrade our road networks, ports and railways," said Mayai.

China-Africa infrastructure cooperation seminar coincided with a regional summit on development of northern corridor hosted by Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta.

The SGR project that is expected to reach Kenya's border with Uganda by 2021 is part of northern infrastructure corridor that is expected to boost connectivity in the eastern African region.

Kenyan scholars underscored the critical role of China to hasten implementation of cross-border infrastructure projects like the SGR.

"This region and Africa at large will benefit from China's expertise in roads and railways construction," said Mwangi Wachira, an economist and ex-World Bank staffer.

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