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China and Africa Share Experience in Development

May 21, 2012


  • An ongoing “South-South” program brought Chinese and African officials and experts together to share experience in development.
  • Both sides gave positive feedback on how they got inspired by the exchange.
  • Mutual learning motivated prompt actions – participants now actively put what they learned into practice.

Over a year ago, Tadesse Haile, Ethiopia’s Minister of Trade and Industry, attended a workshop in Beijing on Special Economic Zones (SEZ) and Infrastructure Development, followed by a trip to China’s Jiangsu Province where he and other participants visited industrial parks, factories, a food processing company, and irrigation and rural biogas projects.  

Now, he and his colleagues have completed the design and the legal framework for developing SEZ in his country. “This is heavily influenced by the Chinese experience,” he said. 

Mr. Haile is one of the more than 200 government officials and technical experts from 41 African countries that have participated in a “South-South Knowledge Exchange” program organized by the Chinese government, its African partners and the World Bank.

Since 2008, the ongoing program has delivered a series of events covering various topics: special economic zones, agriculture and poverty reduction, health, vocational education and training, and watershed and land management.

China’s robust economic growth in the past 30 years, which has lifted 600 million people out of extreme poverty, offers lessons for other regions, especially Africa, as the world is closely watching if Africa can become an economic lion beside the Chinese dragon and the Indian tiger. 

And the growing economic ties between China and Africa pave the way for experience sharing – Sino-African trade rocketed to $160 billion in 2011, from $2 billion in 1999.

“China’s cooperation with Africa is by no means new. What is new, however, is the level and significance of China’s partnership with Africa,” said Robert Zoellick, President of the World Bank Group. “South-South trade, investment and exchange of know-how can become an important source of growth in the post-crisis era.”

In this sense, this three-party program set out to create a model of experience sharing between countries, organizations and individuals, and to provide opportunities for continued interaction and technical exchange between Africa and Asia.

Inspired Thinking

The program focuses on areas where China’s experience is most relevant for Africa and participants can be most inspired. 

For example, in 2008, the program brought 32 policymakers from 18 African countries to China’s inland provinces of Guangxi and Jiangxi where they learned about rural development, as well as the coastal provinces of Guangdong and Zhejiang where they explored investments in infrastructure, township and village enterprises, foreign investment promotion and SEZs.

“I saw first-hand how China has helped farmers,” said Keizire Boaz, an agricultural economist from Uganda, “if the road is paved, the product goes out faster to the market. With electricity, the farmers have radio and television, and are aware of market trends and competitive pricing. It makes a big difference.” 

Another participant Andrew Ngone, a Zambia-based advisor for the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa said a visit to a vegetable greenhouse gave him insights into how government investment can develop viable private enterprises. “The government provided the initial infrastructure, but the villagers managed it themselves and made it grow to a level where they no longer needed the government support,” he reflected.

" I saw first-hand how China has helped farmers. If the road is paved, the product goes out faster to the market. With electricity, the farmers have radio and television, and are aware of market trends and competitive pricing. It makes a big difference. "

Keizire Boaz

Agricultural Economist from Uganda

Mutual Learning

As the African participants talked about their gains, the Chinese officials who designed and implemented the program said “the benefits are mutual”.

“African countries are exploring ways of sustainable growth that fit their own realities, as China did in the past three decades,” said Wang Jun, China’s Vice Minister of Finance, “China and Africa can work together to deal with common challenges and opportunities, in order to grow together.”

“Development and poverty reduction are our common goals,” said Fan Xiaojian, Director of the State Council Leading Group Office of Poverty Alleviation and Development. “China will continuously exchange knowledge with African partners so that we developing countries can all be more empowered.”

Motivated Action

Learning motivated prompt actions – participants soon began to actively put what they learned into practice.

Here are the stories from three participants of an event on Watershed and Land Management in 2008, which included a field visit to the Loess Plateau Watershed Rehabilitation Projects:

Dr. Julius Kenneth Ningu, Environmental Coordinator in Tanzania’s Ministry of Agriculture, Food Security and Cooperatives said that what struck him most was “how community participation can improve land use and water conservation”.

With this learning, he advised to encourage broader community participation in the farming programs in Tanzania, where 70 percent of the population live on farming. One result was that local communities put forward different suggestions, such as upgrading traditional irrigation systems to consume water more efficiently, restricting tree cutting in water catchment areas, and reducing bush burning – an old way to clear farmlands – in conservation areas.

John James Mussa, Director of Land Resources Conservation of Malawi’s Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security, replicated the Loess Plateau’s integrated watershed management approach in the catchment areas in Malawi.

Delali Nutsukpom, a deputy director in Ghana’s Ministry of Food and Agriculture, said a key takeaway for him was that “watershed management is an entry for rural development.” So back Ghana, he selected specific watersheds as priorities and initiated a country-wide sustainable land management program based on that.

All these feedbacks echo an African proverb, which Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao quoted on the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, “If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together”.