China broadens cultural objectives in Africa

May 2005 -

The golden jubilee of the Bandung conference in Indonesia on 24 April was the platform used to launch a new Chinese objective, namely that of assuming the mantle of leadership of the developing countries on the international stage. The Nigerian President Obasanjo called the People’s Republic ‘a beacon of development for the world’. As a non-Western and non-colonial power, this Asian country, with its rapidly growing economy, is gaining popularity amongst African nations.

Fifty years ago, the Bandung conference brought together 29 African and Asian countries for the first time without a Western ‘chaperone’. This created an alliance that tried to free itself from the yoke of colonialism and the strict division of the world into an American and a Soviet bloc. The aim was to achieve far-reaching collaboration in both economic and cultural fields. At that time too, it was China who took the lead, and who a month later, in May 1955, signed a cultural agreement with Egypt. However, these cultural objectives were never achieved, becoming bogged down in political squabbles.

This time around, China’s economic success should mean that things run more smoothly. The People’s Republic has now signed cultural agreements with 45 African countries, something that has already resulted in numerous cultural events and frequent exchanges of artists between countries. China has trained acrobats from the Sudan and Tanzania, has opened cultural centres in Benin and Mauritius, and has sent academics to study African art.