Senegal's decision to re-establish diplomatic ties with China is paying dividends with investments into the West African country reaching more than $1.32 billion since ties were resumed a decade ago.
This has culminated in China covering ground on France, the colonial master, which is Senegal’s biggest trade partner.
China had severed ties with Senegal in 1996 for Dakar having recognised the island of Taiwan, which Beijing considers a renegade province, that would eventually be reunited with the mainland.
However, in 2005, the government of Abdoulaye Wade restored diplomatic ties with the Asian giant, and money has been flowing in ever since.
Most of the funds China has invested have been channelled into key projects in telecommunications, agriculture, energy, transportation and especially infrastructure.
The biggest road infrastructure project in Senegal is under way, financed by China. The Ila Touba highway will cost $812 million and will link the capital, Dakar, to the second biggest and religious centre of the country, Touba. Construction of the 113km has begun and will take 45 months. The Senegalese government hopes this project will generate thousands of jobs and have a huge impact on transport.
Eighty-five percent of the investment will come from Eximbank China while Senegal will complete the rest of the funding.
In December, another significant deal was made public, again involving China. The Chinese will reconstruct the railway between Dakar and the Malian town of Kididra, more than 600km apart.
China Railways Construction Corporation has been chosen to carry out the work.
Senegal aims to revive the economy by fuelling the exchanges with Mali. The countries have been linked by trains for a better trade and exportation between their industrial sectors.
Mali is landlocked and draws a lot of its imports via Senegal’s port.
“Money is cheaper with Chinese,” beamed Abdou Ndéné Sall, the railway minister, indicating the benefits of low-rate and long-term loans China offered.
He pointed out ties with China were key as even developed countries were looking to China.
“China is very rich and isn’t just investing in Africa. It is even investing in the US,” Sall said.
Nonetheless, while it has an endowed purse, China does not loosen the strings for the sake of it.
“China doesn’t finance every kind of project. Among nine bridge projects, they have only chosen one. They only choose good and productive projects,” added Sall.
Another sector that is benefiting is mining. “For the past three or four years, we have witnessed the arrival of Chinese investors in our industry and mine sectors,” said Minister of Industry and Mines Aly Ngouille Ndiaye.
It is envisaged thousands of jobs will be created after the UN Industrial Development Organisation selected Senegal to test the feasibility of industrial parks on the continent. Ethiopia is the other country the organisation has selected for the exercise.
The facility is in the new town of Diamniadio and is nearly complete.
“A Chinese entrepreneur has already said he will recruit about 1 000 employees in the industrial park in the first trimester of 2016 and train them for skills needed for the jobs,” said Ndiaye.
Ultimately, it is anticipated 5 000 people will be recruited.
“With the industrial park, we hope to have a lot of jobs with Chinese who want to delocalise some industrial plants in our country,” added Ndiaye.
The farming industry is also set to benefit: “For example, the industrial park initiative would enable us to add value to our cotton. We export cotton to other countries that manufacture it and send it back to us at higher prices. That has to change.”
To cement relations between the two countries, China has also offered Senegal a set of cultural venues. The Grand Théâtre, the biggest theatre in the country, has been built by the Chinese.
In January, Chinese government officials announced The Museum of Black Civilisations would open in April. The government is financing the construction of the facility, which will highlight the richness of African culture. China has also opened a Chinese Department at the Cheikh Anta Diop University of Dakar. – CAJ News