|Africa-China co-operation: Challenge for the media|
|Wednesday, 01 August 2012 00:00|
This grand piece of land has a population of about 1,3 billion. Now the world’s second largest economy, China’s GDP in 2011 was estimated at US$11,299 trillion. Its currency is the renminbi or yuan (CNY). China has 22 provinces plus Taiwan. Beijing, the city of government alone, has five million vehicles.
A country so big, and with such a huge population and so many natural and man-made attractions is a challenge to a first time visitor like myself. The language barrier also posed major challenges, and I ended up wishing I were in the First Lady Amai Grace Mugabe’s shoes who decided that if you can’t beat them, you can join them. With that resolve, she decided to learn the Chinese language.
But, it is also through some of these aspects that we take for granted so much that we get to know and understand one another. It is also through such “basic” information that we build long-standing relationships as a people, as governments and as institutions.
When this villager spoke on end about the goings-on at Makombe, she was renewing her long-forgotten passport, in order to visit this enigmatic country, which is so modest when it talks about its humonguous developments.
Anybody can find something to write about China, but to me the way to understanding the way how they have done it is through the people: how they treat you outside of officialdom. This is because many a time, I have met foreigners, mostly from yonder places who remark that Zimbabwean people are very friendly — not pretenders.
So it was that I became one of the 20 African journalists from 12 African countries who was invited to a two-week media workshop in China by Mr Zhang Yannong, president of the People’s Daily, China’s largest newspaper and flagship of the Communist Party of China.
It was an invitation meant to demonstrate the advancement of the China-Africa co-operation through the media, for it is no secret that there is a major shift in political and economic ties between Africa and China.
There were two of us from Zimbabwe. The other 18 journalists were drawn from Algeria, Central Africa Republic, Egypt, Kenya, Liberia, Malawi, Namibia, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Sudan and Tanzania.
Mr Zhang Yannong said the workshop was meant to give opportunities to journalists from Africa “to take a closer look at China before the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC)”.
Visiting three provinces out of 23 (Jiangsu, Jilin and Beijing) might sound like it was child’s play, but for those who have had the privilege to go on these trips, they know that it is hard work for both guests and the hosts.
I concluded that if Chinese authorities had not instilled a disciplined and principled work ethic, which is not only people-driven and people-oriented, but is also in the national interest, China’s reform and opening up policy would never have produced the kind of global results we now experience, and are a part of today.
Apart from field trips to various organisations — agricultural facilities, manufacturing companies, university, tourist resorts — we also attended two major forums, the second China-Africa People’s Forum whose theme, “People’s voices, people’s friendship and co-operation for the people”, set the tone for the media workshop.
The forum was attended by a number of former African presidents, the First Lady from Sudan and over three hundred delegates. Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping’s opening remarks in an address titled “Promoting new development of the new type of China-Africa strategic partnership” highlighted the following:
l China-Africa friendship has been created and carefully nurtured by generations of Chinese and African leaders;
l China and Africa will always treat each other with mutual trust and as equals;
l China and Africa always pursue mutual benefit and common development;
l China and Africa always stress on friendship among the peoples and are determined to move on side-by-side, and this will be done if Africa and China:
l Carry forward the good traditions and safeguard common interests;
l Keep abreast with the times and keep blazing new trails;
l Persist in pragmatic co-operation of mutual benefit;
l Strengthen solidarity and co-operation and jointly build a harmonious world.; and,
l Seek all-round co-operation for an all-dimensional development of China-Africa relations.
Throughout the two weeks, these terms and more, such as “win-win; people-to-people” and others were echoed. It was evident that this was a real paradigm shift.
China is a country on the move, and moving at tremendous but pragmatic speed too. It has, however, not forgotten its historical friends and the bonds that tie it to Africa. Thus it is calling on Africa to come aboard. If they helped each other to destroy colonialism, why would imperialism be a major obstacle? Why would growth and development elude Africa, if its partner China is succeeding?
But, this is also where I saw how big a challenge for the media the issues are. Will the media in Africa buy into this and cause a paradigm shift that will result in radical policy transformations in both government and the private sector, and finally changing the people’s way of thinking?
Now I can say that I deliberately started with figures — the size of China, especially. I was surprised that in every place we visited — big or small — the guide would tell us the size of the piece of land. Why is it so important? For Zimbabweans who own property or properties, how many of us know the size of those properties? If we are in the dark, how then can we plan on how to utilise the space(s)?
How personal is China to outsiders? The team from the People’s Daily were great hosts, and in all the three provinces we visited, we were well catered for beyond measure.
But my memories of the other side of China were on the streets — alone. Getting a taxi was a problem in a number of cases, but I remember a boy and a couple who assisted me beyond my expectations to get a taxi.
With a card bearing the hotel name, you unknowingly become mute. You can’t speak Chinese, and the taxi driver cannot speak English. But someone who understood enough English was willing to assist. Suddenly, the co-operation and friendship became real and, not mere buzzwords.
Then there was the President Mugabe connection, something most travellers come across. At the end of the first day of the Fifth Ministerial Forum on the China-Africa Co-operation held in Beijing, public transport was just difficult — impossible, to say the least. When I saw people standing in a line, I was not sure how best to find out except to ask, “Do you speak English? Is this a queue for taxis?”
One lady responded, and asked, “Where are you from?” When I replied, “Zimbabwe”, she said, “Wait a minute! President Mu . . . , Mugabe! Yes!” And I told her that he was our President.
We spoke and she told me that she met the President about 20 years ago when she was an intern at an international hotel in Shenzhen. “The other people told me, he is a very important person to us and the West. Go ahead and have a photo taken with him.”
I asked her what they talked about and she said, “Just small talk as the photographer took the pictures.”
In the ensuing one-and half-hours while we waited, we spoke. She asked questions and I did the same, and in the process got to know more about Beijing and China in particular. And, when we eventually got a copycat taxi, she negotiated the fare and we rode together. Her parting words were: “If you find time before you leave, let’s have a cup of coffee. (She wrote her number in my book).
Now, come to think of it, maybe that waiting was for a purpose after all!”