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Ex-UNESCO official: Solve African problems in African ways

By Xu He | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2018-09-06 16:30

"Africa is a massive continent with 54 countries and 1.2 billion people. The African context must be understood and African problems must be solved in African ways," said Getachew Engida, former deputy director-general of UNESCO and now co-president of the Tsinghua University China-Africa Leadership Development Institute.

"Africa was told what to do from outside. Many of those experiences were painful. We must draw lessons from that and say we will come out with our own solutions," Engida told China Daily website in an interview on Wednesday.

He emphasized it's essential to identify problems and options for solutions, as well as what can work in the African context.

"President Xi Jinping has made it clear that if China helps, there are no additional conditions," he said, a clear reference to China’s announcement at the Beijing Summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation on Monday it follows a "five-no" approach in its relations with Africa: no interference in the development paths of individual countries, no interference in their internal affairs, no imposition of China's will, no attachment of political strings regarding assistance and no seeking of selfish political gains in investment and financing cooperation.

"China can play an enormous role in many ways," Engida said, highlighting Xi's pledge to offer occupational training courses for African youths, provide a quota of 50,000 government-funded scholarships for Africa and invite 2,000 young people from Africa to visit China.

"It's extremely helpful for those young people to come to China, learn in such a beautiful environment, interact with Chinese people and get excellent academic training."

Engida spent many years working on agricultural development. Xi said in his FOCAC Beijing Summit keynote speech that China would dispatch 500 senior agricultural experts to Africa and train young talent in agricultural science. Engida expanded on this, explaining how China-Africa cooperation on agriculture can help eradicate poverty and drive sustainable development.

"Agricultural productivity is very low in Africa, such as my home country Ethiopia. One of the reasons is traditional farming, which basically relies on rain," he said. "If the rain fails, then you have no produce, which means starvation."

"It's an incredible achievement that China has lifted hundreds of millions of people out of starvation, and Africa can learn from China about rice production, and introduce seeds that need less water and can survive in dry land, new farming methods and irrigation."

Going from deputy director-general of UNECSO, to a Tsinghua university professor, Engida's role has changed a lot. "But as a professional, particularly someone with interests in sustainable development, and specific knowledge of Chinese history, development, I’ve come back to academic life. I look at it with excitement."

The Tsinghua University China-Africa Leadership Development Institute’s primary purpose is to support capacity building in both China and Africa, particularly young leaders in business, government and non-governmental organizations.

Engida said the institute would organize a seminar in April next year for Chinese business leaders to understand the different landscapes in Africa. He would also bring in some specialists from Africa, as well as professors, business leaders and political experts, to discuss together.

"Leadership has to be talked about in a cultural context," Engida said. "When Chinese businessmen go to Africa to invest, they have to work with Africans, so the understanding of the African mindset and trade environment is important."

"That's why I keep saying we should learn from each other in a cultural context," he said.

"The future belongs to youth," Engida said. "Offering opportunities for young people to see the future and build a stronger China-Africa relationship. That's not only good for China and Africa, but for the rest of the world."

Video: Zhang Guangteng

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