PhD stu­dents in­spired by China’s suc­cess

Africans study­ing in Bei­jing see Asian gi­ant as role model for over­com­ing poverty, boost­ing co­op­er­a­tion

China Daily European Weekly - - Cover Story - By CUI JIA, LIU XUAN and ZHANG YANGFEI in Bei­jing Con­tact the writ­ers through cui­jia@chi­

African PhD stu­dents at the Univer­sity of In­ter­na­tional Busi­ness and Eco­nom­ics in Bei­jing say the achieve­ments of China-Africa co­op­er­a­tion in the past are sig­nif­i­cant in their home coun­tries, and en­hanced ties will bring greater ben­e­fits to the lo­cals.

They also say they be­lieve that the 2018 Bei­jing Sum­mit of the Fo­rum on China-Africa Co­op­er­a­tion, which was held in the Chi­nese cap­i­tal on Septem­ber 3 and 4, will cre­ate more un­der­stand­ing, mu­tual trust and con­fi­dence, as well as more op­por­tu­ni­ties for co­op­er­a­tion.

Idris Salim Dokota from Kenya turned down the of­fer to study in Euro­pean coun­tries and de­cided to learn the se­crets of China’s de­vel­op­ment path and, more im­por­tant, what the fu­ture holds.

Af­ter spend­ing less than four years study­ing in the univer­sity, the 33-year-old says he be­lieves he has fig­ured out 40 per­cent of the se­cret. He hopes that by the time he com­pletes his PhD in in­ter­na­tional eco­nom­ics and trade in four more years, he will have learned more about China’s eco­nomic growth.

“I’d heard a lot about China’s fast eco­nomic growth in Kenya be­fore I set foot in the coun­try. For me, that’s not enough at all. I want to see the prac­ti­cal side of the story of China’s eco­nomic growth, es­pe­cially how it gets started,” says Dokota, who wears a braided bracelet with the pat­tern of Kenya’s flag.

China’s ties with Kenya have been strong since the be­gin­ning. China was the fourth coun­try to open its em­bassy in the cap­i­tal, Nairobi, af­ter Kenya be­came in­de­pen­dent in 1963, Dokota says.

The bi­lat­eral eco­nomic and trade co­op­er­a­tion is par­tic­u­larly strong. China is the largest for­eign di­rect in­vest­ment source for Kenya. In ad­di­tion, Kenya’s trade with China has been on the rise in re­cent years. Be­tween 2011 and 2015, the av­er­age growth of ex­ports from China to Kenya was 27 per­cent, ac­cord­ing to Dokota’s re­search on China-Kenya eco­nomic ties. “The fig­ures speak louder than words,” he says.

Chi­nese com­pa­nies have built trans­porta­tion, com­mu­ni­ca­tion and elec­tric­ity in­fras­truc­ture in Kenya. The Mom­basa-Nairobi Stan­dard Gauge Rail­way, com­pleted in June last year, is the big­gest in­fras­truc­ture pro­ject in Kenya since in­de­pen­dence, Dokota says. “Trust me, so many lives have been trans­formed be­cause of those projects.”

“Our (China and Africa) re­la­tion­ship will lead to a po­si­tion where Africa will stand on its own and will be at par with other part­ners on the global stage to com­pete in the mar­ket,” he says.

As a plan­ning of­fi­cer for Kenya’s Min­istry of Sports, Cul­ture and the Arts, Dokota has also no­ticed an ob­vi­ous in­crease in the num­ber of Chi­nese tourists go­ing to Kenya in re­cent years. “Peo­ple can feel that the ties be­tween China and Kenya have be­come closer at gov­ern­ment, com­pany and peo­ple lev­els,” he says.

There is still room for im­prove­ment, es­pe­cially in let­ting the Chi­nese pub­lic and com­pa­nies learn more about the con­ti­nent, Dokota adds. “The Chi­nese peo­ple tend to as­so­ciate Africa with dis­ease, un­rest and poverty. They need to be shown more in­for­ma­tion on Africa. What’s more, Chi­nese com­pa­nies need to learn more about lo­cal cul­ture so they can bet­ter co­op­er­ate with the lo­cal peo­ple.”

Dokota, who is also the pres­i­dent of the Kenyan stu­dent union in Bei­jing, says the num­ber of African stu­dents at UIBE has in­creased rapidly.

W old eh aw ari at Mi­heret De­bebe, an Ethiopian en­gi­neer as well as a PhD stu­dent in China, says China is a model from which Africa can learn to over­come poverty, ben­e­fit the peo­ple and nar­row the gap be­tween the poor and rich. He also ex­pects win-win co­op­er­a­tion in the fu­ture.

“The de­vel­op­ment, cul­ture and tra­di­tion of China, its key role in the global econ­omy and its grow­ing aca­demic ex­cel­lence are some of the main rea­sons,” he says in ex­plain­ing his de­ci­sion to pur­sue his doc­toral de­gree at UIBE.

“China’s role in Africa is ex­em­plary,” he says. “China’s en­gage­ment in the past decade in Ethiopia is ma­jor in in­fras­truc­ture, trans­port, rail­way and man­u­fac­tur­ing — these are key eco­nomic fac­tors which de­ter­mine the de­vel­op­ment.”

On Oct 5, 2016, a 759-kilo­me­ter rail­way be­gan op­er­a­tion, con­nect­ing land­locked Ethiopia with Dji­bouti and thus with the mar­itime trade routes of the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden. The Ad­dis Ababa-Dji­bouti rail­way was built with the help of China un­der the frame­work of the Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive.

De­bebe praises Chi­nese com­pa­nies’ grow­ing sense of so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity, say­ing that some are crit­i­ciz­ing the part­ner­ship be­tween China and Ethiopia.

“China’s in­vest­ment is be­com­ing more and more so­cially re­spon­si­ble, sup­port­ing lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties, ed­u­ca­tion, health, cre­at­ing jobs and pro­tect­ing the en­vi­ron­ment,” he says, adding that Chi­nese com­pa­nies have been con­stantly cre­at­ing jobs for lo­cal peo­ple. “About 40 to 50 per­cent of the man­age­ment po­si­tions are taken by lo­cal pro­fes­sion­als.”

For ex­am­ple, Hua­jian, a Chi­nese shoemaker that pro­duces for brands like Guess and Calvin Klein, has al­ready pro­vided di­rect jobs to more than 8,000 Ethiopi­ans with its two lo­cal fac­to­ries, ac­cord­ing to an ear­lier re­port in China Daily.

De­bebe says the Ad­dis Ababa-Dji­bouti rail­way is also a big con­tri­bu­tion to the en­vi­ron­ment be­cause it uses elec­tric­ity for fos­sil fu­els.

Ac­cord­ing to Ethiopia’s Min­istry of Trade, the bi­lat­eral trade vol­ume be­tween China and Ethiopia reached $5.4 bil­lion(4.6 bil­lion eu­ros; £4.2 bil­lion) in 2016.

Mean­while, Ethiopia’s ex­ports of goods to China amounted to $240 mil­lion in 2017, ac­count­ing for 8.25 per­cent of Ethiopia’s to­tal ex­ports to China that year.

It is the sec­ond-largest ex­port des­ti­na­tion of Ethiopia. The ex­ports in­clude agri­cul­tural prod­ucts, cloth­ing tex­tiles and leather prod­ucts, min­eral prod­ucts, flow­ers and build­ing ma­te­ri­als.

“The data shows Ethiopia is one of the lead­ing ben­e­fi­cia­ries of China’s in­vest­ment,” De­bebe says. “The fastest growth in African in­vest­ment is lead­ing to Ethiopia. Now, es­pe­cially, the pub­lic sec­tor and pri­vate sec­tor in­vest­ments are grow­ing, which is very im­por­tant. And I hope this will con­tinue.”

He adds, “I’m sure that the part­ner­ship will con­tinue in this di­rec­tion with more cap­i­tal in­jec­tion, for­eign di­rect in­vest­ment and pri­vate sec­tor in­volve­ment, as well as more ben­e­fits for both sides.”

Study­ing in China was not the start­ing point for De­bebe’s tie with the coun­try. It has been 20 years since his first visit to Bei­jing.

“There were not many build­ings and big malls at that time,” he says. “So you could imag­ine this is what we could learn from China, who is Africa’s typ­i­cal model.”

De­bebe now speaks some Chi­nese and writes ba­sic Chi­nese char­ac­ters af­ter stay­ing in the coun­try for three years.

“We (China and Ethiopia) have many com­mon fac­tors, such as fam­ily value, cul­ture, re­spect to all and tak­ing care of women,” he says. “And some of the food styles — spicy food, like Sichuan cui­sine.”

Prisca Kyal­isi­ima re­calls feel­ing fraz­zled when she fi­nally landed at Bei­jing Cap­i­tal In­ter­na­tional Air­port from Uganda af­ter more than 20 hours in the air. But when she stepped off the plane and en­tered the ter­mi­nal to claim her bag­gage, her fa­tigue was im­me­di­ately erased by what came into her sight.

The air­port was noth­ing like she had imag­ined it would be. It was big — about four times big­ger than the air­port in her coun­try — and the ar­chi­tec­ture was beau­ti­ful.

She has been pur­su­ing her PhD in eco­nom­ics and fi­nance at UIBE since 2017 af­ter earn­ing a schol­ar­ship from the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment.

Now, apart from daily re­search and lec­tures, Kyal­isi­ima also works for the univer­sity’s pub­lic­ity depart­ment. She as­pires to work for a renowned bank­ing or­ga­ni­za­tion such as the World Bank, Asian In­fras­truc­ture In­vest­ment Bank or In­ter­na­tional Mon­e­tary Fund.

Kyal­isi­ima says that wher­ever she ends up work­ing, she will re­main an am­bas­sador for China-Uganda re­la­tions. She once wrote a let­ter to the Min­istry of Com­merce in Uganda, ask­ing if it was pos­si­ble to have more teach­ers from China, who could start teach­ing Chi­nese.

“I want to learn more Chi­nese so I can trans­fer the Chi­nese cul­ture and the lan­guage,” she says. “As an econ­o­mist, I can be lead­ing fo­rums and con­fer­ences and would be the first per­son to run to give China my as­sis­tance.”


Two African stu­dents of Changchun Univer­sity of Chi­nese Medicine study in the li­brary on Sept 1 in Changchun, Jilin prov­ince.

Wold­e­hawariat Mi­heret De­bebe

Prisca Kyal­isi­ima

Idris Salim Dokota

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