MWAZIPEZA CHANDA, Beijing
THERE is a Chinese dragon flying high in the Beijing sky and looking on are a handful of African students enjoying a Spring time event, while giving testimony to the deepening China-Africa relationship.
The 2016 Beijing International Kite Flying Festival not only attracted enthusiasts from different parts of China but also had participants notably from India and South Africa. It also marked an opportunity for foreign students studying in Beijing to enjoy some leisure time at a cultural event.
China is increasingly becoming a destination for academic studies â€“ in 2005, there were 2,757 Africans studying at higher learning institutions across the country and in 2015 the number stood at 49,800.
Of these, 8,470 were studying on Chinese-funded scholarships and these numbers are set to go up.
During the 2015 Johannesburg Summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), Chinese President Xi Ji Ping pledged more university scholarships to African nations and stated that in the next 10 years, more Chinese towns would be hosting more African youths.
Simple physics implies that for a kite to remain in the air, the wind direction and strength must be optimal and the significance of the simple past time points to the changing conditions and attitudes boosting China-Africa relations.
In 2011, the renowned financial magazine, The Economist, published on its front page an image of a young boy flying a colourful kite aside the headline â€˜Africa Risingâ€™, which came a decade after the same publication had boldly declared Africa as a hopeless continent.
In May 2000, the front page had an image of an anonymous black man holding a weapon cropped in the shape of a map of Africa, and it was the source of many divided opinions over the Westâ€™s perception of Africa as a single country with an inclination to violence, corruption and disease even in the midst of plenty.
Over the past decade, many African nations have been working to shake loose the shackles of the poverty tag and see China as a lucrative partner in the quest for economic prosperity.
At the 2015 Johannesburg summit, President Xi announced that he and the dozens of participating African leaders had reached a unanimous agreement to lift the relationship to a comprehensive strategic cooperative partnership.
The proposed upgrade aims to strengthen the five â€œmajor pillarsâ€ of political equality and mutual trust, win-win economic cooperation, mutually enriching cultural exchanges, mutual assistance in security, and solidarity and coordination in international affairs.
To realise the upgrade, China and the represented African leadership agreed to carry out 10 major co-operation plans over the next three years in the areas of industrialisation, agricultural modernisation, infrastructure construction, financial services, green development, trade and investment facilitation, poverty reduction and public welfare, public health, people-to-people exchanges, and peace and security.
President Xi stated that the programmes would focus on helping African countries break the three development bottlenecks of backward infrastructure, talent shortage and inadequate funds, accelerate industrialisation and agricultural modernisation, and realise independent and sustainable development.
As regards the lack of skilled personnel, Mr Xi announced that China would establish regional vocational education centres and several capacity-building colleges for Africa, train 200,000 African technicians, and provide the continent with 40,000 training opportunities in China.
Some critics may claim that this is a veiled attempt to indoctrinate the next generation of leaders but hundreds of Chinese trained university graduates have already been offloaded onto the African job market that is struggling to match needs and competence.
Foreign students, regardless of curricula background or English language proficiency, are lectured in the Chinese language and have to quickly adapt to the surroundings and diverse social influence â€“ this can only result in a highly informed and resourceful graduate.
China will also offer African students 2,000 education opportunities with degrees or diplomas and 30,000 government scholarships, while 200 African scholars will be invited to visit China and 500 African youths to study in China each year.
â€œHuman resource, infrastructure and financial support are the major challenges being faced by Africa,â€ said Takyiwaa Manuh, director for social development policy division of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA).
In her presentation during the Fifth China Africa Think Tank Forum held in the Chinese town of Yiwu on the â€œOpportunities and Challenges for capacity cooperation for China in the African Agricultural Sector,â€ Professor Manuh pointed out that a shift in the educational focus was essential to support the vision of sustainable economic growth and industrialisation.
She said the industrialisation process must not only focus on the development of infrastructure but also be mindful that a skilled labour force, especially in the agriculture sector, would contribute to African nations upgrading the quality and substance of outputs and exports.
â€œAfrica needs not only physical infrastructure to link its towns and production centres but also needs quality â€˜softâ€™ infrastructure spearheaded by a revitalised and strongly supported skills and education sector.
Many more agriculturalists and scientists must be trained,â€ she said.
Chinaâ€™s Ministry of Education has already marked success in establishing bilateral cooperation with African institutions of higher learning and is optimistic of supporting the FOCAC agenda.
Fang Jun, deputy director for International Cooperation and Exchanges, in an interview said they are actively supporting agreements reached at the 2015 Johannesburg Summit and have over the years established strong partnerships including the 20 Plus 20 Higher Studies Co-operation Plan that has seen 20 top universities in Africa partner with 20 Chinese institutions.
Academicians have had opportunities to share knowledge and cooperate in teaching studies and academic development with China boasting of over 2,400 universities and higher education institutions of learning nationwide.
Another Ministry of Education expert, Zhang Zhongxiang, pointed out that China has many research-oriented universities and vocational institutions due to its demand for skilled workers.
â€œChina has entered into a new stage of development, which needs to transfer a large number of advantageous industries and production capacity overseas,â€ Chinaâ€™s Ministry of Foreign Affairs director general of the Department of African Affairs, Lin Songtian, said.
â€œAfrica enjoys the advantages of abundant natural resources, population growth, and great market potential. And China is willing to share its own experience and outcomes of development without any reservation.â€
China has a proven track record and development model that African nations can learn from and thanks to existing and ongoing collaborations, more students, academicians and technocrats will be able to benefit from this knowledge transfer and sharing.
So as the kites dance through the air to the delight of the multi-generational and diverse audience, China stands ready to be the wind beneath Africaâ€™s wings to help the continent rise and fly.
MWAZIPEZA CHANDA, Beijing