In this interview Daybreak takes on Dan Ngerem an internal affairs analyst on Nigeria China relationship in the face of sinophobia and general misconception of Chinese interest in the continent.
What are your views regarding the joint efforts and assistance of China to Nigeria and other African countries in combating Covid-19?
China has had a very pragmatic and strategic relationship with African countries and that is a step in the right direction
The proactive engagement with many African countries during the covid -19 pandemic is very commendable – in the specific case of Nigeria; the Chinese assistance was auspicious particularly the sending of the medical team that came to interface with Nigeria and to share their real life experience of the way and manner China handled their own cases in Wuhan and elsewhere
The intervention of one of the foremost and recognizable Chinese today in the person of Jack Ma was also an excellent initiative
The special extraordinary scheduled Solidarity Summit Against Covid-19 and sundry issues for Wednesday, June 19, 2020 between China and Africa heads of government is especially commendable and badly needed
However, although China has pursued a general policy framework of non interference in other countries; in the era of digital, Internet, electronic and digital global village we live in where fake news, detractors, fifth columnist have the potential to cause serious harm and destabilization of the polity of otherwise good and excellent Chinese initiatives and assistance. China needs to engage more of its ‘soft power’ in a more proactive, tactical, pragmatic,manner. it should be focused on education and enlightenment of the beneficiaries of Chinese assistance so that their good intentions are not cannibalized or worse manipulated against China’s good intentions
What do you think should be done to further depeen the relationship, and cooperation between China, Nigeria and African countries?
As discussed above, China needs to use its ‘soft power’ to proactively engage African countries, especially the biggest economy that is Nigeria. I recall that while growing up in the early 70s we used to receive lovely glossy magazines that showcased China and Chinese in a very admirable and positive manner that pleased us so much
In an electronic and digital world more can be done in that direction using similar tactics educate, enlighten and to engage in a similar manner; and it will even be much cheaper today electronically than the heavy glossy magazines that were mailed to us in Nigeria from China in the 70s
If one may suggest, China may want to explore options on how to leverage veritable soft power frameworks like sports, a quintessential example will be the collaboration with the Nigeria’s entertainment industry to create content that will resonate well with people both in Nigeria and China – for example, in my travels around the world including several trips to China since 1994, most people do not know who Nigeria’s President is at any point in time but they know our footballers and sports people especially those that have played football for Premiership in UK and other Clubs in Europe
While the focus on business and economics is very good but in order to get the people especially the restless younger generation buy in, China needs to engage some of these ‘influencers’ sports stars and role models from both China and Nigeria as a leveraging platform that will foster friendship, understanding and abiding positive relationships; so that even when Chinese African issues run into problems, there will be already well established platforms for conflict resolution and friendship dynamics and general camaraderie
Right now, there is so much misinformation, fake news and outright lies about China that in my opinion some of these soft power human to human engagements should take a priority and the mechanisms put in place as a matter of priority
Finally, Africa and Nigeria are hurting badly and some are on the verge of bankruptcy within the covid -19 economic and business collapse (with foreign direct investment at almost zero)
it is pertinent to underscore the fact that through the power of social media, everybody including the younger generation that make up the bulk of Africa population know that China is arguably the richest country in the world today
China may want to re-engineer and refocus Africa engagement and relationship by considering debt forgiveness for many of these African countries (instead of debt postponement) that are in absolute dire straits and use the opportunity to press the reset button and leverage that fact to engender and engineer and new African initiatives that will be welcomed by all
Besides, it will be a fantastic PR and image boost that no amount of money can buy; and it will create a veritable buy in from the younger African and Nigerian generation that can only be mutually beneficial and help to stop the bad image and PR that mis-information and the bad behaviour of a small number of Chinese have made on the African continent
Should China’s relationship with African countries be based on multilateralism or bilaterialism?
In today’s digital world where news both genuine and fake is generated and distributed world wide in almost real time; there is no place to hide anymore; and the rules of engagement must reflect that reality
In my considered opinion, relationships should by proactive, dynamic and all encompassing and anchored on education, enlightenment and soft power issues, because in today’s social media digital global village we all live in; things and events can change very quickly and without warning – so, multilateralism and bilateralism should by mutually inclusive and not one or the other
What is your take generally on China Nigeria relationship?
I have related for a long time with China and I know for a fact that China is the epicentre of the world business and manufacturing base; and by extension, Nigeria is very much in the mix and constantly engaging with China and the Chinese
However, as discussed severally, a lot of information about China is misconstrued, misinterpreted and misunderstood about China and the Chinese real intentions (and with the social media) some of the negatives have taken root and China needs to use soft power to re-engineer and orchestrate a reset button
In totality, the relations appear to be good at this time but somewhat fragile at the edges; like I discussed severally, there is a huge dislocation and a delicate balance between our long established relationship vis-a-vis China’s real intentions with other countries that needs to be tackled urgently before things spirals out of control through misinformation, gossip, bad behaviour of a few Chinese nationals, etc.
Going forward how do you hope to see China Africa relation?
China is now at the apex of world power and has done very very well in a relatively short time to lift about 700 million Chinese out of poverty without diluting its culture, political systems and imperatives – and it was not rocket science; Africa with a bit of ‘hand holding’ by China can simply ‘copy and paste’ most of what China has done with the right mix of credible African leadership
On the flip side, Africa has a lot of resources that China will need and will need in its growth trajectory and position as a world power. Bottom line, Africa and China need each other. However given Africa’s historical antecedents and colonial European domination and servitude; most Africans will naturally be wary of another world power like China knockin on its doors and wanting to be friends and nobody can blame Africa for their caution and measurable circumspection
This is where China needs to tread carefully and work a delicate line to balance the equities; make things mutually inclusive and mutually beneficial; because the last thing most Africans need in today’s world where information is a commodity is the exchange of one colonial power domination and servitude for another – in this case China
Africa and the world are watching on how China will balance both the hardcore business and economic interests and pursuits; and the proactive engagement and assistance it will brint to the fore with its cultural richness, politicla and economic power and the ‘soft power’ that I have mentioned severally in my responses
I believe the ball is in China’s court and we must all keep hope alive so that the recent infractions and abrasions and borderline racism meted out to Africans in China on the one hand and to some Chinese by Africans on the other witnessed recently especially within this covid -19 pandemic inflection period will be turned around for more positive and brotherly win win scenarios.