When speaking at the recently held seventh China-Africa Think tank forum a Professor from the University of Botswana, Maitseo Bolaane, assigned Botswana the responsibility to shape its own position of how it wants to engage China.
The two day forum, held in Beijing on 4-5 July 2018, served among other things to further contribute to the development of China-Africa relations. It was established by the Institute of African Studies Zhejiang Normal University in 2011 and acts as a supporting activity of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC). The participants of the Forum include academic institutions, universities, non-governmental organisations and enterprises. Specifically speaking the forum entailed meetings and discussions which were said to have improved communication of scholars between China and Africa over the years since its inception. In that respect Professor Bolaane’s participation contributed insights relating to the China-Africa relations from the perspective of Botswana.
Presenting on the subject of ‘Africa Agency – within and beyond the state: China-Botswana relations’ Professor Bolaane said that in the same way that China has a policy on engaging with the African continent, the African countries, including Botswana, should likewise have a ‘China policy’. In a further engagement with Sunday Standard Professor Bolaane elucidated that a new vocabulary has emerged from the voice of China which speaks to words such win-win cooperation, mutual benefit and friendship. “When China starts a conversation with Africa she starts it with reminding Africa of the relations between her and the continent,” she said. In her view China’s vocabulary is indicative of a strategic approach in her soft power diplomacy to which she said displays skill and confidence. She said that for China to have survived and emerged she worked on her confidence and self-assertiveness. She therefore urged the African continent to equally demonstrate robustness and a strategic focus on how to engage with China. “There are lessons to be learnt from Africa,” she said. In painting the current picture Bolaane posited that Africa has not studied China as a country, Chinese as a society and her culture. She argued that for Africa to engage with China it has to understand her. A report earlier delivered at the First Session of the 13th National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference on March 3, 2018 reviewed the previous five years of the development of China and that of her Communist Party. Out of the eight actions that were shared it was mentioned that China developed extensive ties with her friends abroad. “In order to carry out public diplomacy and cultural exchanges, we increased communication with foreign political organisations, relevant institutions, media, think tanks and influential figures from all social sectors.” The review indicated China’s vigor in promoting communication as a form of serving its public diplomacy to which the Think-tank forum provides an apt example. One could also suggest that it supports Professor Bolaane’s view, which provides the impetus needed by the African countries to similarly communicate their own positions when engaging China.
Botswana like other African countries hasn’t eloquently defined her position in her engagement with China. “I don’t think we are there yet, we are moving in the right direction but have yet to reach that position,” said Professor Bolaane. She suggested that the country needs to demonstrate confidence and that the way to express it is for her to rely on her strengths. Bolaane pointed, among others, to Botswana’s human resource as the country’s strength. She emphasised that the country’s human resource was trained all over the world which indicates a diversity and prowess of skill in its pool. She added that the human resource as well as the endowment and prudent management of other resources as diamonds and wildlife present a uniqueness of how the country moved successfully from poverty to an impressive economic growth since gaining independence. “Botswana has a unique story in Africa which it should display pride and confidence from,” she said. She added that Botswana isn’t the only African country with such resources but that she managed them differently from other African countries which is what makes her stand out. “I don’t want Botswana to be taken and thrown into the same pot with other African countries,” she said, more so because the continent consists of individual countries each with own histories and political regimes.