As FOCAC turns 20 what can Africa learn from China?


The fortunes of China and Africa have diverged considerably. Gyude Moore highlights three crucial lessons Africa can learn from China’s success.

In September 2021, when the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) convenes, it will have been 20 years since it was first organised. Patterned after Japan’s Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD), it provides an organising mechanism for Chinese foreign policy toward Africa. 

In the 20 years since the first FOCAC, the fortunes of Africa and China have radically diverged. The continent’s GDP has gone from around half of China’s in 2000 to one-fifth in 2020. In 2000, China’s GDP was one-tenth of US GDP.

Last year, total economic activity in China was $15.6 trillion, about 75% of US GDP, and the IMF estimates the figure will rise to 90% by 2025. In contrast, the combined GDP of Africa in 2000 was about $587bn, while today it is estimated at about $3 trillion. 

Although these aggregate African GDP figures conceal substantial disparities between and within African states, the last 20 years have clearly been better to China than they have been to its African partners. As we begin a third decade of FOCAC summitry, there is an opportunity for the African side to reassess its relative position.