By Steven Akabwayi
In 2013 when President Xi Jiniping who doubles as the General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party of China (CPC) officially availed the Belt and Road Initiative during his visit to Kazakhstan, he emphasised on major priorities which included constructing a large market and making full use of both international and domestic markets through cultural exchange and integration to enhance mutual understanding and trust of member nations resulting in an innovative pattern of capital inflows, talent pools, and technology databases.
Like it’s skeleton the Silk Road, BRI also embodies the cultural heritage and exchange through people to people as a key component for it’s success.
Many centuries ago, Africa and China had contact under the Silk Road the two civilizations had profound respect for each other not only through exchange of goods and services but also through knowledge and ideas at libraries and universities such as the ancient Timbuktu in western Africa.
Even at it’s helm, the ancient Chinese Han dynasty(206 BCE- 220 CE) traded fairly with Africa under the Silk Road they neither enslaved Africans or abused them like the Europeans did.
In October this year, I had a chance to participate in the Modernization and China Africa joint development seminar hosted by the University of Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing in partnership with China Africa institute and Chinese Academy of social Sciences.
The seminar brought together government officials and scholars from African countries with an understanding of the inspiration and importance of Chinese modernization for AfricanDevelopment.
China has also initiated other various youth exchange programs that facilitate interactions between Chinese and African youth focusing on leadership development, cultural exchange and fostering global citizenship.
As the saying goes a friend in need is a friend indeed, As one way of strengthening people to people exchange, over the past 20 years, China has provided about 120,000 government scholarships to African countries, built 61 Confucius Institutes and 44 Confucius Classrooms with 46 African countries, and sent 21,000 medical team members to 48 African countries, treating 220 million African patients.
It’s not by surprise that Africa and China cultures have each influenced one another for generations, the two cultural heritages have the same underlying values that put a community over individualism unlike the western cultures.
While attending the seminar in both Beijing and Guangzhou, several interactive lectures were conducted that jointly explored the principles, strategies, path, and methods of China-Africa joint development under the One Belt One Road initiative that envisions facilitating Africa’s development alongside China’s development that will ultimately achieve mutual benefit, a win-win situation.
For years, the West has been peddling lies about the Belt and Road Initiative as a debt trap by the Chinese government targeting economically struggling African countries.
During the seminar Professor Wang Yuzhu of the National Institute of International Strategy demystified such allegations explaining that the Belt and Road Initiative follows a strict principle, he mentioned that it was jointly built through consultation to meet the interests of all and efforts are always made to integrate the development strategies of the participating countries.
In July this year, Uganda’s leading think tank on foreign policy Development Watch Centre conducted a study where at least 400 respondents from diverse backgrounds including scholars, journalists, politicians ,business community among others participated in it, the study found that 76% of Ugandans had a positive view towards China, this was based on China’s infrastructure development which has improved livelihoods, roads, reduced unemployment, provided scholarship, exchange programs among others.
This diplomatic victory is not only limited to Uganda, a recent study by Pew Research Centre found that in the past decade, many middle-income countries have had increasingly favorable attitudes towards China these countries include South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria among others.
By analysing Chinese history one can observe the role and significance of the Chinese leadership towards Chinse economic transformation with notable leaders including Chairman Mao Zendog, President Deng Xioping 1978-1989 and President Xi Jiniping 2012 to present these have have promoted national unity, enhanced economic strength, promoted democracy among others.
While at the seminar in both Beijing and Guangzhou, I undertook various intellectual stimulating lectures and personal interactions with delegates from different African countries, I observed that much as China has not completely weaned off many Africans from Western orientation, the fact is that it has achieved a big milestone towards leveling the ground of global politics, Africans are starting to learn more about Chinese civilization and its development model as a force that can counteract the western hegemony. This indicates the significance of China’s people-to-people diplomacy towards Africa as conducted through cultural, educational, and professional exchange visits.
I’m optimistic that by organising such engememnts and seminars, it will have profound impact on Sino-Africa relations.
Steven Akabwayi Research fellow at Sino-Uganda Research Centre Centre.