China-Africa Relations Bridging the Gap in African Countries’ Struggle for Educational Transformation

By Ssemanda Abdurahim and Charles Muwonge Chuck.
Over the years, the government of the People’s Republic of China has proved to be Africa’s
reliable development partner through supporting African countries strategic sectors. One of many key areas to note which China has greatly and religiously supported is human capacity building – a sector that is very instrumental in development of any nation. The education support China offers to African countries ranges university degree scholarships, both short and long term for professional and government financials as well as funding research and innovation programs. China has also been providing other material assistance such as helping in construction of schools and institutions as well as equipping others with computers and books.

In Uganda for example, by the end of 2021, China had provided over 5,000 short-term training opportunities for Ugandan talents, covering wide range of fields; among others agriculture, medical care, public administration, computer science and infrastructure.

If critically analysed, Chinese universities have gained more ground in the world rankings and as a result, thousands of African students are now looking at China for have attracted more African students.

Through the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), China focused on supporting
African countries through capacity building by supporting talented Africans to gain expertise indifferent sectors. Indeed since 2009, China has been announcing scholarships for African
scholars during FOCAC’s annual summits. Specifically, just after the 2015 FOCAC summit,
China announced that Beijing would offer at least 30,000 scholarships annually to African
students. This has seen an increase of African students in students in Chinese Universities thanks to Chinese government scholarships that today, African students account for over 16% of China’s international students. This makes China the second country with the largest number of African students in higher institutions of learning replacing the United States of America and the United Kingdom that used to be African students’ main destination.

Similarly, China has been on the forefront of backing up Uganda’s need to transform her
education even before Uganda government’s implementation of the new curriculum. For
example, after the 2018 Beijing Summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC)
under the theme “China-and Africa: Toward an Even Stronger Community with a Shared Future through Win-Win Cooperation,” China quickly reacted in Uganda by setting up Uganda-Luban Workshop which was launched at Sino-Uganda Mbale industrial park. The multi-vocational skills training facility focused on offering courses in mechatronics innovation and intelligent application technology, steel making technology, refining technology, vocational skills trainings in electrical control among others. Indisputably, the kinds of skills that the workshop offered are a proper target for the new curriculum which was implemented by the government of Uganda. This multi-vocational skills facility was established as a result of President Xi Jinping’s promise during his opening remarks at the summit where he proposed the establishment of eight initiatives including the establishment of 10 Luban workshops in Africa to provide vocational skills training to the youth in Africa. Thanks to the Chinese Government that Uganda was one of the states thought of and the facility was a blessing.

Also, Chinese firms and enterprises are equally supporting African governments in strengthen
and improving education sector through offering grants, cooperation and partnerships. Under
such arrangements, Chinese firms continue to offer support to equip African schools with
required support to ensure that scholars in these schools acquire necessary skills for today’s
markets. In 2017 for example, China’s telecom giant Huawei provided laptops and internet
connection to schools in Kamwenge district. In May last year, Uganda Revenue Authority in
partnership with Huawei Technologies Uganda donated several computers to Nyarilo Secondary School in Koboko district. Since then, several other donations of this kind were registered in Tororo Girls School among other regions.

Relatedly, like many other Chinese firms, China National Offshore Oil Cooperation (CNOOC)
has been offering Ugandan scholars with scholarships in strategic fields. For example,
beneficiaries like Lamech Mbangaye and Ritah Nasaazi who graduated from China University of Petroleum in Shangdong Province as petroleum engineers are now employed by CNOOC at
Kingfisher oil fields and the two are among few Ugandan engineers at the core of the country’s
oil drilling activities. This manifests how China is mutually helping Uganda’s education sector to advance by training its scholars with efficient skills as the country works hard to move to attain middle income status.

If critically analyzed, Africa-China cooperation in education sector is strategic and mutually
beneficial. Partly, this is because, African countries’ capacities to give tertiary and higher
education to their energetic and young population are constrained. According to United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Sub-Saharan Africa is one of the largest regions in the world with a small tertiary education enrollment ratio which stands at 9.4%. This is far below the global average of 38%. If analyzed, this means that with its 16% of the global population, Africa contributes just 1% of global research. In all ways, such
undersupply of tertiary education impedes the continent’s prospects of achieving one of the
United Nations Sustainable Development Goals whose major goal is providing universal,
inclusive and higher quality tertiary education.

That said, China’s education support to African countries is timely and will go handy in aiding
Africa as a continent to achieve her scientific research capabilities which is also key among the
goals of African Union’s Agenda 2063. Growing and improving human capital will in accelerating African countries development take off. Whereas this important support is often
viewed in context of competition between China and the United States of America for what
Sino-Africa skepticists call China’s growing global influence, China’s education support is much needed by African countries to improve in skills development of their citizens. Also, African students making China their top destination for education is not a coincidence. Despite the U.S having a million plus number of international students in their universities if compared to China’s over 492,000 international students, over the years, African students opting for China than the U.S have been on rise. If critically analysed, the trend can be attributed to facts such as; China’s progress in areas of technology and poverty eradication makes their education more attractive since it seems to offer practical and fast solutions. Also, unlike China, the U.S and European countries often make unfavourable demands such as requirements for visa applications and proof of large sums of money for prospective African students to join their universities.

When it comes to language issue, one can argue that the U.S and largely other European
countries have an advantage over Chinese universities when it comes to attracting students from Africa, western countries must stop looking at African students applying for school visas as destitutes running away from their motherlands by making them go through complicated
requirements to obtain visas. They should borrow a leaf from China’s side and make education easy for African prospective scholars to obtain visas. Like China, this should not be
discriminative whether the applicant has sponsorship or otherwise. Also, the West should not
see China’s support to African educational institutions as part of the so-called geopolitical
competition between China and Western countries but see it as it is; this assistance is much
needed for if equipped with necessary skills and technical knowledge, Africa’s young population will immensely accelerate Africa’s economic and development take off.

Critics of China-Africa relations should therefore know that for over 60 years, China and almost all African countries have forged unbreakable fraternity through our struggle against imperialism and colonialism, and embarked on a distinct path of cooperation in journey toward development and revitalisation. Together, the two sides continue to write a splendid chapter of mutual assistance amid complex changes, and set a good example for building an even stronger China- Africa community of shared future in the new era.

Ssemanda Abdurahim is a junior research fellow at Sino-Uganda Research Centre; Charles Muwonge Chuck is a Junior Research Fellow at Isimba Community Hub.


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