CHARLES CHISALA, Lusaka
THIS week, Zambia and China take their bilateral relations to a new high.
President Lungu and China’s State
Councillor Wang Yong are expected to officiate at the ground-breaking ceremony for the construction of phase two of the beautiful Levy Mwanawasa General Hospital in Lusaka.
Mr Wang came to Zambia for among others, the grand event that underscores his country’s unwavering commitment to the development of Africa as well as Zambia through infrastructure.
The fact that President Xi Jinping has sent such a high-ranking official, who is at the level of a vice-president, is testimony of the strong friendship that has existed between the two countries since the 1960s.
The imposing Levy Mwanawasa General Hospital rests on a 1.84 hectare piece of land on the Great East Road in Chainama area.
It was opened in August 2014 with a bed capacity of 150.
In April this year, the Chinese government released 400 million Yuan (about US$58 million) for the expansion of bed capacity from the current 150 to 850.
The construction of the hospital is one of the measures aimed at decongesting the University Teaching Hospital (UTH).
Chinese Embassy charge d’ affaires Chen Shijie said in 2014 China would also help the hospital help the facility establish units for specialised treatment and operations.
Mr Chen said China would work closely with Zambia to promote health co-operation to a higher level especially with the favourable policy support from the Zambian government.
“I believe that there is great potential of medical co-operation between China and Zambia. More Chinese medical equipment and medicine will be accessible to the Zambian market which will help to alleviate the shortage of medicines in the country,” he said.
The generous support falls into China’s multi-trillion dollar new Silk Road trade route, also known as the One Belt, One Road Initiative.
Last month, President Xi Jinping pledged US$124 billion for the ambitious programme.
President Xi made the announcement at a two-day economic summit attended by leaders and top officials from all over the world.
He launched the project, widely expected to be his legacy after leaving office, in 2013 similar to the ancient land and Maritime Silk Road from the Indian Ocean, through China, East Asia, Europe and Africa.
It envisages fair global trade, and to create an infrastructure network spanning East Asia to Western Europe and southwards through Africa.
This will include roads, railways, ports, pipelines and industrial parks.
During the last Forum on China-Africa Co-operation (FOCAC) summit held in Johannesburg, South Africa in December, 2015 China pledged US$60 billion support to Africa.
Already, Kenya has benefitted from the construction of a US$3.8 billion railway line between Mombasa and Nairobi, and a state-of-the-art railway terminal.
On May 31, 2017, Mr Wang, as President Xi’s special envoy, joined Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta at the launch of the 472 kilometre Standard Gauge Railway and had a feel of the inaugural Madaraka Express passenger train.
The previous evening, Mr Kenyatta launched the inaugural freight train from Port Reitz in Mombasa to Nairobi.
The Kenya Railway Corp says the high-tech railway line has drastically reduced the cost of transporting cargo between the port and Nairobi.
It is now costing KSh50,000 as compared to KSh90,000 by road.
According to the Railway Gazette publication, the line has cut transit time as well.
“The route forms the first phase of a planned four-country network intended to provide high-capacity and cost-effective passenger and freight links between Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and South Sudan,” the Gazette reported.
The Chinese government is helping to find ways of revamping the Tanzania-Zambia Railway Authority’s (Tazara’s) line from Kapiri Mposhi to the Port of Dar es salaam.
The Ministry of Transport and Communication is holding consultations with stakeholders on the implementation of a statutory instrument that will shift the transportation of bulk cargo from road to railway transport.
The measure is expected to ease pressure on the newly constructed roads and help Tazara and the Zambia Railways Limited increase revenue.
In the health sector, Chinese companies have been involved in the upgrading of a number of clinics and health centres to level one hospitals.
Under the ‘Healthy Cities’ concept, President Lungu on April 18 this year commissioned the K200 million Japanese funded Chilenje Level 1 Hospital in Lusaka.
He said the upgraded facility would, among other benefits, take quality health services closer to the people of Chilenje as it would promote healthy lifestyles and help prevent diseases.
“Until August 2015, Lusaka had no level one hospital, which distorted the referral system and congested higher level hospitals like the University Teaching and Levy Mwanawasa General Hospital,” President Lungu said.
Four days later, the President commissioned Matero Level 1 Hospital (April 22, 2017).
The upgrading of Chawama, Chipata and Kanyama clinics to level one hospitals is slated to start this year in the second phase of the JICA supported project.
According to an article titled ‘China’s economic engagement in Africa’ by Vivekananda International Foundation, which appears on its website, from 2009 to 2012, China provided US$10 billion in financing to Africa in the form of “concessional loans” (China Radio International, July 20, 2012).
The foundation reports that during President Xi’s first overseas trip to Africa in March 2013, he doubled this commitment to US$20 billion from 2013 to 2015.
“The head sovereign risk analyst of Export-Import Bank of China announced in November 2013 that by 2025, China will have provided Africa with US$1 trillion in financing, including direct investment, soft loans and commercial loans (Toh Han Shih, 2013),” Vivekananda reports.
Once completed, level two of Levy Mwanawasa General Hospital is expected to improve the provision of quality healthcare services to the people of Lusaka and surrounding areas.
This is the context in which the people of Zambia continue to be grateful to the People’s Republic of China and rightfully extend a warm welcome to Comrade Wang.