A delegation of African scholars in humanities and social sciences who are on a two week familiarisation tour of China, attended a seminar on China-Africa relations and the ‘Belt and Road’ Initiative, Monday, in Beijing, the capital city of the People’s Republic of China.

This special higher education visit is at the behest of the China-Africa Institute, established in April this year, in collaboration with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS).

The delegates are from Botswana, Tanzania, Namibia, South Africa, Nigeria, Uganda, Sierra Leone, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Namibia is represented at this academic platform by Maria Kaundjua and the writer of this article, both from the University of Namibia.

The African scholars are expected to be key players in the academic exchange between China and Africa. Using skills from their disciplines, the scholars are supposed to “organise collaborative research programmes to facilitate China-Africa cooperation in the ‘Belt and Road’ construction, a hub to gather talents and train high-end professionals for China-Africa cooperation.”

During their deliberations this week, the delegates and their Chinese counterparts discussed several laid down plans and initiatives aimed at the realisation of the China-Africa relations and the achievement of the objectives of development.

The plans include industrialisation; agriculture; finance; green development; trade and investment facilitation; poverty reduction; public health; an infrastructure connectivity initiative; a capacity building initiative; a people-to-people initiative; and a peace and security plan

The cooperation between China and Africa envisages a community with a shared and long-lasting future. This is a future that assumes joint responsibility in all the agreements entered into between the two parties. The joint projects between Chinese and African researchers and scholars have to take into account shared responsibilities in order to benefit both sides. In all dealings between China and Africa, a win-win cooperation is of fundamental importance.

All ventures must promote harmony between human beings and the natural environment, taking cognisance of the fact that human beings cannot survive without their environments.

It was also emphasised that the cultural prosperity of China and Africa will be respected and will derive the ‘Belt and Road’ Initiative towards the economic development of both Africa and China.

The African academics and researchers learned that China-Africa relations are sanctioned by what China calls the “five-nos” approach. China pledges not to interfere in African countries’ development plans which are dictated by their contexts. China will also not meddle in the internal affairs of African countries.

“There will be no imposition of our will on African countries; no attachment of political strings to assistance (in) Africa; no seeking of selfish political gain in investment and cooperation with Africa,” stressed Professor Li Xinfeng, the Executive Vice-President of the China-Africa Institute during his presentation at the opening ceremony of the academic collaborative venture at the China-Africa Institute.

While the African scholars welcomed the collaborative initiative of the China-Africa Institute, viewing the initiative as feasible, they argued that the success of this collaborative projects depends on a number of crucial factors.

Among some of the factors are customs, languages, health and development, social and political institutions, cultures, poverty, funding, and levels of development of African countries and China. These and other areas require careful research before development projects are started.

Both sides agreed that there should be comparative studies between Africa and China in order to understand realities on the ground. For example, land tenure, access, use, and environmental issues may be bound by different laws in different countries and may retard collaboration between partners if not handled carefully.

Specifically, disciplines in humanities and social sciences in higher education institutions stand to benefit from the programmes of the China-Africa Institute if they are well executed.

The launch of a peer-reviewed academic journal by the Africa-China Institute this year was described as a positive move by the participants of the workshop.

The journal provides a platform for sharing results obtained from joint and collaborative researches conducted by African and Chinese scholars under the auspices of the China-Africa Institute in collaboration with the China Academy of Social Sciences.

Papers from individual researchers may also be published in the journal if they meet all the criteria and standard.