HUMAN BRIDGES; THE NEW FRONTIER OF SINO-AFRICA RELATIONS
The dawn of the 21st century brought with it a new wave of social and economic interactions between the continent of Africa and the Chinese. This is not to say that it was nonexistent there before.
The Chinese, being one of the oldest known and surviving civilizations, ventured across the globe along with their famous silk road trading in various commodities. Africa was part and parcel of this trade even then. But the modern renaissance of the economic relationship between the two blocks is far from the one our ancestors engaged in. The commodities of trade highlight this point. When the former involved rudimentary products such as silk and spices, the latter involved bridges, superhighways and dams among other major infrastructural projects of majestic proportions. The jury is out on the terms and conditions of these deals but that is neither here nor there.
Source: The Post, China-Africa flags
As the Chinese were constructing physical bridges that connected various communities, another form of the bridge of a much greater significance was concurrently being forged between Africa and China. This was the human bridge. The interracial marriage between Chinese men and African women. A while back most of the African population especially the millennials mostly interacted with the Chinese culture through martial arts movies. No youth in Africa doesn’t know about Bruce Lee, Jet Li or Jackie Chan just to name a few. But the thought of one day living with or even marrying men from the land of Bruce lee never crossed any of their minds. Fast forward to the present day and in most African cities you will find pockets of African-Chinese children. Especially where Chinese projects are ongoing or were carried out.
Source: CGTN, Chinese flag and African map
A few African and Chinese men and women who pioneered this phenomenon and decided to venture into the unknown were the foundation of the human bridge that has and will permanently connect the futures of the two peoples for generations to come. While some may on a lighter note attribute this event to the scarcity of the feminine gender in china (where there currently are 35 million more men than women; which is almost the entire population of Kenya), the truth of the matter is that economic cooperation has broken the cultural barriers that existed there before. The physical bridge has indeed produced a bridge in humanity.
Whereas some Africans are still sceptical about the influx of the Chinese into their motherland, as they should be given the colonial past of the continent, a vast majority view it as a positive occurrence that will further open up the continent for direct foreign investment. The Chinese investment in the continent has no doubt created an array of formal and informal jobs in equal measure. This has contributed immensely to the elevation of living standards of the African population even as more needs to be done. And the favourable investment environment for the Chinese can be attributed to the personal relationships that have been built over the years between the two peoples. The intermarriage may seem to have minimal impact when looked at surface value but deep within it is a manifestation of trust and love. Trust that the Chinese investors see as an integral part of the foundation for investment given the colossal amounts that they pump into the African economies. The thought that they can move to Africa and even get married and start families give them great fulfilment and peace.
So this brings me to the question of the pros and cons of this new development. As earlier stated, ever since the European masters colonized virtually the entire continent of Africa, we Africans have grown a little more suspicious of foreigners. This has metamorphosed to even suspicion and dislike among the African natives if the recent xenophobic attacks in South Africa is anything to go by. This begs the question how about foreigners? If Africans have this much resentment towards their kind how would they react to the influx of the Chinese?
Low-level businessmen popularly as hawkers in Kenya for instance have been pressuring their government to stop or even deport Chinese nationals engaging in roadside hawking. They argue, quite convincingly, that it is irrational for a foreigner to travel all the way there to engage in low-level employment that many of the poor natives depend on for survival thus creating even more completion for the little available. Considering that most Africans are employed in the informal economic sector, this argument makes a lot of sense. Africans needs to learn technical skills and develop the capacity to run the various sectors of the modern-day economy. Hawking foreigners have nothing to disseminate in this regard.
Another major problem that many conservative Africans have deduced from the arrival of the Chinese is mistreatment. In simple terms, when Africans encounter or witness harassment from foreigners especially with lighter skin complexions, they generally classify that as either racism or neocolonialism. This perception is not entirely true. But in matters such as these public opinion usually carries the day. A lot of video clips have surfaced online and on social media platforms showing Chinese people of Chinese descent mistreating native Africans in their workplaces. Such inhumane methods of punishment should be condemned in unison by both peoples to forge better relations. Having said that, there is no better weapon to fight such vices than people marrying from both divides and showing that above all, we are human. Those marriages symbolize unity and consequently play an important role in the larger spectrum of things.
But the greatest contribution yet of these intermarriages for the economies of both China and Africa is tourism. Tourism ranks amongst the top foreign exchange earners for African countries. And to imagine the number of indigenous cultures and physical tourist attractions in Africa that the Chinese are exposed to and fall in love with during their marriage ceremonies, the thought surely excites the ministries of tourism. For those who haven’t been to Africa yet, marriage ceremonies there are events of pomp and colour. They usually begin in the rural areas with traditional weddings then later followed by the normal church weddings. The former is where the jewel lies. I say the marriage is between an African woman and a Chinese man, the relatives of the groom would have to travel from china to that specific African country. This for them would be like a vacation and they would spend their time enjoying the festivities and fun that the African culture has to offer. Some may even venture into other tourist attractions available like game parks and beaches just to mention a few. This builds the tourism portfolio of the given country. This trend would also apply if the wedding were to take place in China. Indeed, a report by the China CTYS Tour company said that the number of Chinese travellers to Africa increased by 40% per year in the past five years. To put it into perspective, the number of Chinese tourists to Africa stood at 150 million in 2018 and is projected to hit 180 million by the end of 2019. That increase translates to billions in foreign exchange earned by African countries.
As president Xi Jinping rightfully pointed out during the 2018 Forum on China Africa Relations, cultural exchanges play a big role in the improvement of relations between the two blocks. Credit goes to the ones who have set good precedence in marrying from the two divides and further pushing cultural and general relations of our people. Without them, we would still be judging each other through the screens of our television sets as we watch the ever-entertaining kung-Fu or movies or through the few uninformed people who call themselves journalists whose solitary aim in life is to paint the African continent as the land of gloom and doom. To those pioneers, the good people of Africa and China will forever be indebted to you for treading an obscure path and shedding light on the possibilities and opportunities that love can open. You are indeed the human bridges that were needed to connect our people.