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Illuminating Outing
Young Africans get inspiration, foster friendship during visit to China for cultural exchange event
By Hu Fan and Zhou shuyi | VOL. 16 July 2024 ·2024-07-04

Participants of the 8th China-Africa Youth Festival dance at a theatre in Jinhua, Zhejiang Province, on 23 May (HU FAN) 

When the young Africans visiting China to attend the 8th China-Africa Youth Festival were offered the choice of a seven-hour bullet train ride or a two-hour plane journey to travel from Beijing to the city of Jinhua in east China’s Zhejiang Province, they chose the train. They didn’t want to waste a single chance to fulfil the most important purpose of their visit: to experience the country as much as possible. 

The festival is a project based on the consensus reached at the 2015 Johannesburg Summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC). First launched in 2016, it aims to promote youth exchanges and friendship between China and Africa. This year’s event kicked off in Beijing on 19 May, welcoming youth representatives from 52 African member countries of the FOCAC. On 22 May, they headed to Jinhua to continue their journey for another five days. 

The young representatives tried the facilities on the train and watched the landscape along the railway from the windows. For meals, they experienced takeaways delivered to their seat. Joseph Brighton Malekela, chief operations officer of Africa-Asia Youth Foundation and a master’s student at the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, found the high-speed train an effective and safe system and the journey on it relaxing, and hoped his country could also have something similar.   

“Tanzania is learning from China, and we are building our own standard gauge railway now. I hope with the cooperation between China and Tanzania, this technology will also be reaching our country,” he told ChinAfrica. 

As the train journey came to an end, a tight schedule began in Jinhua, a city that has deep ties with Africa. Home to Yiwu markets, it boosts the highest trade volume with Africa among all Chinese cities, and Zhejiang Normal University located in the city is known for Africa studies in the country. Apart from these must-visit locations, other important stops on the itinerary included a local opera house, Hengdian World Studios, and an electrical vehicle (EV) production base. Located in one of China’s most developed provinces, Jinhua has a lot to unveil to these African guests eager to understand Chinese practices at various fronts. 

Participants of the 8th China-Africa Youth Festival pose for a photo at a Leapmotor showroom in Jinhua, Zhejiang Province, on 23 May (HU FAN) 

Seeking answers 

One highlight of the trip in Jinhua was Hengdian World Studios, one of China’s largest film production bases. The young Africans were presented with a magnificent replica of the imperial palace of the Qin Dynasty (221 B.C.-206 B.C.), and were invited to watch a 5D movie, which renders the audience true-to-life experience in the field of the key battles through which the State of Qin conquered the other six warring states and unified China for the first time in history.  

Tebogo Mokoto, radio anchor from Botswana, described the experience as awestruck, and believed investment is essential for the development of the film sector. In terms of cooperation in the film sector, he said the close cultural connection between China and Africa can serve as the foundation for cooperation. 

“In terms of cooperation in the film sector, we need to trace the history between China and Africa, and see if we can get actors from Botswana into China to perform alongside Chinese actors or the Chinese into Botswana to do scenes in Botswana,” he said. 

At the production base of Leapmotor, a locally based EV brand, the guests had the opportunity to try sitting in different models of EVs in the showroom and witnessed how an EV came off the production line from parts. As one of China’s fastest growing sectors, the EVs represent a major success of China’s pursuit of high-quality development. 

Moses Mudavadi, CEO of a Kenya-based consultancy, said the development of China’s EV sector is inspiring considering that it had to import Tesla cars not long ago. He regarded EVs as a promising sector for its role in promoting sustainable energy, which is essential for addressing climate change. 

In terms of the development of EVs in Africa, he said one main obstacle is the high cost of electricity. However, he believed with a solid foundation of China-Africa cooperation in areas such as infrastructure, the prospects of EVs in Africa are good. 

“You can only imagine that once we Africans reduce the cost of electricity, how electric vehicles from China will also boom in our region,” he told ChinAfrica. 

The trip also provided them with the opportunity to understand how the Chinese people have managed to place the country in a fast track of development. In Beijing, they visited the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), China’s top political advisory, and the museum of the history of the Communist Party of China (CPC). In Jinhua, the local CPPCC organisation in a village showed them how they discuss with the villagers issues related to their livelihood. 

George Musiime, a research fellow at the Ugandan think tank Development Watch Centre, found the trip inspiring to a researcher trying to find out what is behind China’s success. In his second year with the think tank focusing on China-Uganda cooperation, he has always wanted to see for himself how China has achieved its development. The trip provided him with first-hand observations.  

A participant of the 8th China-Africa Youth Festival pose for a group photo at Hengdian World Studios in Jinhua, Zhejiang Province, on 25 May (HU FAN)

He found the way people are included in decision-making are inspiring. “The government doesn’t roll out a project assuming it will work for everyone. Instead, they seek the opinion of the people first.” He believed that including the input of people who are affected can lead to better polices and hence better implementation of such polices. 

Musiime also believed respect of past experience, as shown by well-documented history in museums, is a reason for China’s success. “I think that’s one of the things that helps China to do what it’s doing so effectively because they know not to make the mistakes that have happened before.” 

In the view of Samuel Ngwira, national youth secretary of Zambia’s United Party for National Development, what African political parties and governments can learn from China is how the CPC and the governments have moved in one direction and the consistency of development agendas.  

“For me, the take-home message is that for a political party to succeed, it should sit on the same table [with the government] and make decisions that are good for the country,” he said. 

Participants of the 8th China-Africa Youth Festival pose for a group photo at a vocational school in Jinhua, Zhejiang Province, on 25 May (HU FAN) 

Cultural understanding 

For Mudavadi, the trip was most impressive in that it showed the emphasis China has placed on its traditional culture while marching towards modernisation. Referring to the speech by a professor delivered at Peking University in Beijing, Mudavadi said one key point he learnt from the trip is that modernity doesn’t mean losing tradition.  

During the trip, Mudavadi joined the delegation to experience various Chinese cultural elements. In Beijing, they got hands-on experience with Chinese calligraphy and tea art. In Jinhua, they cheered for performances of the local Wu opera, sweat in a contest of Cuju, the ancient Chinese form of football, and finished a wood-carving work following the instructions of a master at the local vocational school featuring this traditional craft. 

Mudavadi wanted to visit China since he entered the private sector about two years ago, following working for the government of Kenya for about 10 years. It was in the private sector that he realised that China couldn’t be ignored because of China’s involvement in various sectors in the country such as infrastructure, supply of goods and information technology. This made him want to come to China to learn about the country from a cultural perspective. 

For Dany Vassyli Mugisha, a student from Rwanda, the trip was an occasion to not only immerse in the rich Chinese culture, but also to share the unique Rwandan culture with the Chinese people and fellow delegation members. In the local theatre, where the delegation watched the local Wu opera performances, he volunteered to present a performance of Rwandan dancing. His performance won applause and participation from the audience. 

Mugisha said one similarity between China and Rwanda is that both people are proud of their culture and would like to share it with the world. He said China has done well in preserving its culture, while Rwanda is also striving for it. 

Ernest Moloi, a Botswana journalist who was covering the event, commented that it is remarkable that Africa and China, the two longest civilisations in the world, both have adhered to their cultures and traditional ways of life over thousands of years, and that China’s practice is worth learning from. “To the extent that China has managed to marry the old ways with the new is exceptional and worthy of being emulated, for a people without the knowledge of its history and culture is like a tree without roots,” he told ChinAfrica. 

Participants of the 8th China-Africa Youth Festival visit a pottery workshop in Jinhua, Zhejiang Province, on 24 May (HU FAN) 

Call for youth participation 

Participants of the event suggested conducting more youth exchange programmes like the youth festival. Mokoto believed such events are essential for addressing pressing issues such as climate change, unemployment, poverty and disease. “Two is always better than one in terms of rallying ingenuity, creativity and innovation, in terms of coming up with solutions to the problems that we currently have,” he said. 

He called for youth of China and Africa to study each other’s history to understand the parts that youth need to play to promote the relationship. “It’s always better to know the past very well in order to forge a strong friendship and partnership and then move towards the future with that knowledge,” he said. 

Abdul-Jabbar Hashim Kolo, a lawyer from Nigeria, said young people are the future of China and Africa. He believed youth exchange programmes like the youth festival is important for China and Africa, which are becoming big players as the world enters a new phase.  

“It’s very important for us to be a nation of ideas, with an understanding of culture and room for communication,” he told ChinAfrica. 

In the view of Musiime, FOCAC provides China and Africa with a way to assess what they are doing and  improve their cooperation. He expected the coming FOCAC meeting to help solve security issues in some African countries and regions and fill the gaps created by the removal of some countries from the African Growth and Opportunity Act package of the US. 

He believed young people have a great role to play in changing perceptions towards China-Africa cooperation thanks to their influence in social media. This could help to counter the misinformation and negative news about China spread by some countries and people. He said such misinformation may turn Africans against the most potential partner for the continent. 

“To counter that misinformation, I think the young people coming to China and seeing for themselves what is happening here is really a great opportunity, because these are the people who are going to communicate this truth when they come back home,” he told ChinAfrica.


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