By S. Idowu Ola
It was said that until the late 1970s, China was a "closed-economy" during which the movement of Chinese citizens out of the country was restricted. China has since "opened up" and human traffic to and from China is now the busiest in the world. What perhaps is more important now is the effort of the Chinese Government to establish cooperation with other regions of the world on every human endeavor such as trade, science and technology, research, education, world peace and many more.
I happen to be a beneficiary of this new Chinese policy.
I was a recipient of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS)/ Academy of Science for the developing world joint fellowship for postdoctoral research (2004). My experience during the one-year stay in China led me to conclude that Sino-African cooperation could be about the best thing to happen to the two continents. Let me expatiate on the potential benefits of Sino-African cooperation by focusing on the following aspects.
Human and natural resources
Even though the total land area of China is less than half that of Africa, China's current human population is more than double the 600 million in the whole of Africa. However, both regions are endowed and blessed with abundant talented professionals and natural resources. These professionals have excelled at centers of excellence overseas. It is to be noted that the Chinese Government is taking good advantage of its professionals by providing an enabling working environment for those at home and incentives for those abroad to return home and participate in national development. On the other hand Africa is still grappling with the problem of the brain drain. Africa needs to take a cue from China. At present there are too few Chinese professionals working in Africa. Sino-African cooperation will further encourage the exchange of professionals between the two sides.
While in China I also admired the effort of the Chinese Government to harness the country's natural resources. For instance almost all the hills, mountains, waterfalls and historical sites have been transformed to serve as parks and tourist centers. These places provide employment for people and serve as source of income to the government.
Research and education
I was amazed to discover the level of commitment and funding by the Chinese Government for research and education in their country. I observed that research institutes are grouped under academies which are well-funded. For instance CAS has about 80 research institutes spreading across the country under its control. These institutes are staffed with highly qualified professionals who perform cutting-edge research with state-of-the-art equipment. The results of this heavy investment are clearly evident in the sustained development of China. Sino-African cooperation will equally enhance the formation of research and educational linkages between centers of excellence and professionals in China and Africa to pursue research of common interest.
China is undoubtedly a technological giant among developing nations. The Chinese Government has taken the pain to develop its technology indigenously and it pursues its rural development with sustained vigor. Chinese technology is not just cheaper but also meets the demands of the African continent. Sino-African cooperation will allow for the smooth transfer of Chinese technology to Africa and the gradual empowerment of the African continent. China is at present engaged in construction projects in many African countries.
Culture and trade
China and Africa have similar cultures that are rich in history. Their cultures give maximal regard to extended family life and societal respect as opposed to the nuclear family and individualistic approach of the Europeans and their descendants. Both China and Africa cherish and guard their histories and cultures. While European languages and cultures are taught in some universities and institutes in Africa, little is known and available about Chinese culture and history within Africa. The same can be said about China as many Chinese students cannot even name just 10 African countries. Sino-African cooperation is necessary to counter these defects. This cooperation will reaffirm the societal norms and values appropriate for both continents.
There would be exchange of cultural personnel and the establishment of cultural centers that would tackle these lapses. There should also be exchange of teachers of history and culture between China and Africa.
Perhaps what is well known about China in Africa is its exported products that find their ways into many African homes. For example Nigeria is full of "made in China" products such as computer parts, toys, textiles, bicycles, motorcycles, kitchen utensils, telecommunication accessories, home appliances, electrical appliances and many more. Sino-African cooperation will further boost the level of trade between them.
Like many African countries China is a multiethnic society. It is worthwhile to note that China has been able to maintain political stability since the founding of New China in 1949. How the Chinese were able to achieve this could be a lesson for many African countries grappling with political upheavals. Political stability brings forth national development, peace and social harmony. China could share its experience with African countries without necessarily interfering in the local politics and sovereignty of such nations.
I want to end my contribution by recounting some of my personal experiences while in China. While in Beijing I visited places like Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, the Fragrant Hills, the Summer Palace, CCTV, and the Beijing Zoo. I also traveled to Shanghai, Kunming and Xi'an. I had the best of times in China. I particularly enjoyed the cooperation and friendliness that I received from my colleagues, at supermarkets, in the bus, on the streets and in my neighborhood.
Everywhere I go I was welcomed and treated well. Beijing and indeed China is a place I would love to visit again and again and I hope Sino-African cooperation will allow not only me but also my family and many other Africans to have the opportunity to visit China.
(China Daily November 8, 2006)