Invisible people, unknown countries

16:28, May 20, 2010      

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I have often wondered what goes on in the minds of Beijingers with the kind of awkward attention I receive on the streets and in supermarkets. I got some clues after reading Ma Chao's contribution in the China Daily of May 8-9.

According to Ma, "Massive swathes of dense forests, expansive grasslands and an overabundance of flora and fauna is what people in China visualize when they think of Africa". Unfortunately he failed or forgot to mention the kind of Homo Sapiens that populate the dense forests and expansive grasslands. Or do Chinese assume that all the Africans were shipped to the new world. When he recently visited Lagos, the commercial nerve center of West Africa and the second largest city in Africa, he was taken aback to see massive construction works, heavy vehicular traffic and sprawling markets. To my mind, Ma's submission probably reflect the deficiencies of the Chinese educational system in subjects such as geography, history, commerce and international politics.

I always try to contain my annoyance when Chinese people ask me if I come from America. When I tell them I come from Nigeria they are lost and start trying to figure out where on the world map this country is located. Asked what countries they know in Africa, it is either Egypt or South Africa.

And yet according to Ma, Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa with over 150 million people; has a vibrant economy with rising GDP of about 5 percent in the last three years; is the eight largest exporter of crude oil and has the tenth largest proven reserve of it in the world. So how come most Chinese don't know these basic facts, including PhD students at my institute in Beijing?

I believe that Nigeria's football prowess alone is enough to earn her popularity and recognition worldwide. Agreed Africa, especially Nigeria, is plagued by political rigmarole, economic sabotage and scientific laziness, but it has also for a long time been a viable economic partner of China. Nigeria, for instance, is home to several Chinese companies and citizens that are doing extremely well despite all the odds.

Africa deserves regular mention in the daily affair of China and Chinese. It is high time that China shifts some of its attention from the US. A lot that can interest ordinary Chinese occurs every day in Africa. After all I can read about China on an almost daily basis in Nigerian newspapers.

I have not seen another black person from my flight into Beijing two months ago until today. I have come to realize I'm a rare species in Beijing.

Although my tight schedule did not give room for visits around Beijing, one would expect that places like Zhongguancun with its beehive of activities would be a cosmopolitan area. Maybe I will have to go to Guangdong when next time I visit China, where I understand there are thousands of black faces, especially Nigerians.

However I must admit that my black face has also brought me VIP treatment occasionally, especially at my place of work in Beijing. I cherish the smiling faces and the friendliness of the orderlies of my institute and apartment complex. I value their enthusiasm to engage me in conversation. This has made me resolve to attend a Chinese language school during my visit to Beijing next year.

I want to recommend that efforts be made to make Beijing more cosmopolitan like most of the great capital cities of the world. In particular, black Africans should be encouraged to visit Beijing. This could be done very effectively through cultural exchanges because both regions are very rich in culture.

China, being more economically developed, should open cultural centers in major African cities where the locals can learn Chinese language and culture. The advantages of such centers are just too many to be ignored by an emerging power like China. It is indeed one of the reasons America and France have a hold on the continent.

Source: China Daily(By S. Idowu Ola)


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