Hon. Sokontes Davies is an APC chieftain and former member of the National Assembly. In this interview with our Correspondent he speaks on his stay in China, his love for Chinese culture and people and why China hold the key to Africa’s development irrespective of Western propaganda
Would you please talk about your experience in China? When was the
last time you went to China and how did you feel when you went there
My experience in China can be said to be mixed. Very mixed and that is,
sort of, naturally expected because in everyone’s life, there are always the
highs and lows. China was a very fascinating place to me. Fascinating in
Firstly, I didn’t ever imagine that I will be going to China any day in my
lifetime. I say so, because I vividly recall the day I passed my last Russian
language exam, after about 9 months in the then Soviet Union. One of the
teachers walked up to me to congratulate me saying, “well done! You can
now fluently speak the third most difficult language in the world.” And for
curiosity, I asked her which was the most difficult language and she said,
Chinese. I just shrugged off my shoulder believing that I won’t ever be
going to China talk less of speaking the language, and worse still, as I
thought, to study in Chinese. So, this was uppermost in my mind when I
was awarded a scholarship by the Federal Government to go to..…CHINA!
And with this mindset, I started wondering how I could pursue a degree
of study in the most difficult language but I became relieved when I was
told that the study and research will be in English Language. From that
moment, my initial apprehension turned to eagerness.
However, when I arrived China, because of my deep seated dread of the
language already in my mind since July, 1985, I couldn’t get around to take
the study of the Chinese language, which was offered to me as an extra,
as seriously as I would have loved to.
I managed to get around
in some smattering Chinese but not enough. Not enough at all. I
remember one of the teachers in the Foreign Affairs Department, Ms.
Yuan, who did everything she could to encourage me to take the study
seriously. She believed that I have a gift to study foreign languages. I wish
I did listen to her.
Presently, I am seeking for any serious opportunity to
study the language. I had a stint at the Chinese language Centre in Abuja.
This is because the Chinese language is turning out to be a major means
of communication. It is in this wise I even encourage my nephews and
nieces to go to China to get some education. I want them to be
competitive as the future of trade and commerce is China and knowledge
of the Chinese language shall be an added advantage to those who can
understand and speak it.
This said, a major reason I will always vividly remember China, apart
from obtaining my Doctorate degree there, I met my beautiful wife, Kerry
a wonderfully personality from Australia, in China—Guangzhou, China.
We got engaged to marry in March, 1999, got married in Melbourne,
Australia on 14th August, 1999. We had our firstborn child, a boy,
Sokeiprim Joshua, on Monday, 26th June, 2000. Now, his birth was also
very interesting. My wife started to experience her labour pains on the
night of Friday, 23rd June, 2000. We were there throughout the weekend.
Meanwhile, my graduation ceremony was for Wednesday, 28th June,
2000. So, I was in a dilemma of either leaving my wife in the hospital to
go for the ceremony or stay on with her if it so requires. But, gladly, he
was born the morning of that Monday, 26
th June. To everyone’s relieve
we left the hospital in the afternoon of same day.
Also, generally speaking, in my opinion, the Chinese are a curious lot. They
desire to get a better understanding of whatever seems strange around
them and they express that curiosity in many varied ways. Meanwhile, a
lot of foreigners, especially those of African descent, find it a bit awkward
and uncomfortable and express this discomfort or awkwardness in widely
different ways. Some express strong displeasure or reservation while
some others see it as one of those things you have to expect from locals,
many of whom might even be visitors to the big cities where an
overwhelming majority of such foreigners are resident or encountered.
My personally and understanding of all this is that many of these Chinese
mean to be friendly but for so many, due to language barrier, that desire for friendship is not adequately communicated by them and
therefore, sometimes greatly misunderstood by the foreigners especially
those of African descent, as I had said. For me, I will say, and for a lot other
Africans, that is not a huge problem. Still for me, I will say it is so because
I lived in another country, the former Soviet Union, where foreigners had
issues of similar nature due to the same language barrier, mainly at the
initial stage of arrival there. For others, I believe they were able to
circumvent this challenge or overcome it because they could speak they
learnt to speak the Chinese language fluently.
Presently, I will say, it is becoming easier to find a great number of Chinese who also speak English
language fluently so better communication is enhanced.
Furthermore on interpersonal relationships, I will say that I was very lucky.
I don’t have any memorable ugly incidences that I can recollect.
I made great Chinese people as friends, teachers, staff of the College of
Economics, staff of the Foreign Affairs Department, as fellow competitors
during sporting activities, simple folks on the street or those I regularly
bought things from, especially around the University community. It also
helped me to meet other nationals with whom we struck a great
relationship. With some, that relationship is still on. Furthermore, it
personally helped me to address some stereotypes and misgivings I had
about people from certain countries. My experience in China clearly
taught me that in every clime and land, there are the good, the bad and
the ugly and it is not right to paint everyone fro one country or region of
the world with the same brush. I learnt not to generalise, whether the
experience was good or bad and mostly, if it wasn’t so good.
One other thing I experienced is that irrespective of the fast-paced
modernisation going on in China and the massive developmental strides
there, there is still much attachment to traditional believes. So, I see the
issue of religion as largely a protection of these local believes against
what is generally seen or perceived as foreign religions. And the Chinese
are ever proud to showcase these heritages as tourist attractions.
As for when last I went to China was in 2019. In fact I went to China twice
in 2019 and I hope that I will be going more often to China. I will readily
seize any opportunity to visit China and in the process I will also endeavour
to improve my language skills. During my visits, I saw how farther China
has developed. I always tell people the transformation I saw in China
during my sojourn there. I left China in October, 2000. I first returned to
China in 2008 as a member of the House of Representatives. That was
eight (8) years after I left. I saw the massive change. I then went again in
2011 and saw further change. But what I saw in 2019 just blew my mind.
I have always said China is one of the infrastructurally most modernised
countries I have ever visited. But my last visits showed me that that was a
gross understatement. I expected China to/ be very developed based on
what I saw before I left China but what I came to see exceeded my widest
and wildest imagination.
In your mind, what are the achievements of China-Africa cooperation
and what are their significance?
In a nutshell, I think the greatest achievement of the Chino-African
Cooperation is the collective drive for multilateralism. Against what is
spewed from the West and bought by some of African nationals and
intellectual, who are understandably either western-trained or western-
influenced, I strongly believe that the push for multilateralism between
our peoples and governments poses a significant threat to the current
imbalance of trade, commerce and infrastructural and physical
development between African countries and their former political
colonisers who still operate as their economic colonisers. They don’t want
to see this counterpoise because the benefit has been only one
directional—from African to the West. So, they feel that the hegemony is
about to be broken. Therefore, they have to sponsor great propaganda to
discredit, mainly, the Chinese creating a regime of fear and trepidation in
the heart of Africans, and their leaders.
The trend is that the propaganda is even targeted at well-performing
African leaders purporting them as under-performing. In this regard, the
Chinese leaders must not relent in turning the narrative against the West
by always ensuring that they displayed transparency in dealing with
African leaders. This is why I am particularly excited by the decision of the
Chinese government to only vigorously pursue multilateralism against
unilateralism but to also assist in debt relief efforts for the most
vulnerable African nations who are presently not in good economic
health to be able to even service their international financial obligations
which have become exacerbated by the occurrence of the COVID-19
pandemic. It is also heart warming to hear that African countries will have
a priority consideration whenever a vaccine or treatment for COVID-19 is
discovered. The thing here is that, although some African countries,
including Nigeria, have started their own research for a curative solution
to the pandemic, especially looking at local remedies, this decision of the
Chinese government will enable some of these financially-challenged
countries to channel scarce resources to other areas of developmental
needs . Another aspect, is the expected accelerated building of the African
Centre for Disease Control by the Chinese. These gestures are very
laudable. Very commendable.
Now, specifically speaking about Nigeria, we can see the various rail
projects, the development in the marine sector through Harbours
projects, the Chinese involvement in the construction of road and even
the new wings on both the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja
and the Murtala Mohammed International Airport, Lagos. There are also
talk about industrial parks, to mention just a few. It is estimated that the
level of financial prudence shown in securing loan facilities for these
projects and their very costs is immense. Some analysts estimate that
to be within the range of 25-30% and if these estimates are true, you can
imagine the quantum of both direct and indirect benefits.
One more area where transparency is most needed is in advising the
leaders to seek to secure financial assistance for what is most critical in
their investment and developmental drive. It used to be fashionable, and
in fact still fashionable for some leaders, to cite projects in places where
the larger generality of the citizens won’t benefit from such projects. This
in turn makes utilisation to be limited and as such, becomes some sort of
sore thump as it concerns or affects repayment for the loans secured for
the execution of such facilities. It is proper to ensure that developmental
project should be cited where they shall serve a majority of the people
since most of such projects are couched as economic. So, it behoves on
the receiving government to undertake a credible cost benefits analysis
before seeking the financial support. However, the Chinese Government
should also ensure that a realistic one is done before approval is given.
This will further free funds which, hitherto, would have been expended
on ego-boosting projects for the provision of more critical infrastructure.
At the special summit of China’s African solidarity against COVID-19, President Xi put forward several proposals, including debt
relief, medical assistance and funds to fight COVID-19 and so on. Could
you share with us your understanding of these proposals?
you read proposals of FOCAC, so what is your opinion on it?
Well, essentially, as I have said earlier, these proposals are game-
changers. They have put the Chino-African relationship on a new pedestal.
In my opinion, this has put the integrity of all the political economic blocs
and socio-economic groupings on the spotlight. It is an open challenge to
all who claim to have a robust Afrocentric policies to throw their hats in
the ring. The beauty and novelty of it is that China didn’t wait for anyone
else to make any proposal. It has shown its cards. So, it is, in my opinion,
an efforts to put a lie to the negative propaganda of the sincerity or
otherwise of the Chinese in their dealings with African nations. China has
in clear terms said, “Africans, we are your friends”. Put in another way,
the Chinese government is saying that the future of world development
is Africa and that they are in it for a long term. The Chinese have come
openly to declare a vote of confidence not only in the Chino-African
cooperation but one on the entire continent of Africa. And this is massive.
This so because, presently, the whole proposal covers the shopping list of
an overwhelming majority of African countries. The sweetness of these
proposals is also at the backdrop such noises being made elsewhere
where is looking more like all motion but no movement. What is now
needed is to quickly set up the mechanism through which implementation