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UPDATED: August 12, 2013 NO. 33 AUGUST 15, 2013
Africa on China's Dream

SOURCE OF LIFE: A staff member from a Chinese company enjoys a moment with local residents suffering from drought in Isiolo, Kenya, on July 21, 2011 (ZHAO YINGQUAN)

At the opening of the 2013 Understanding and Cooperation Dialogue held by the Chinese Association for International Understanding (CAFIU) on July 23 in Beijing, former President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria Olusegun Obasanjo expounded his understanding of the Chinese dream and its implication for Africa. The full text of his speech as follow:

When President Xi Jinping adopted the Chinese dream as a slogan, he took the world by surprise. Is it a new ideology? Is it an add-on to existing Chinese ideology? Is it a means of consolidating power for the new leader? Is it a rip-off of the American dream? Is it an aggregation of books and articles written by several authors and journalists from 2010 to the day the Chinese president verbalized it? Or is it a serious idea by a leader to encapsulate his vision, mission and the role and place of every Chinese within the nation and the nation within the comity of nations? I will beg to settle for the last objective which, as a slogan, is striking, handy and crisp but which can also be given form and content in all walks of life for the people of China and in all spheres of domestic policies and external relations.

The Chinese dream has been derided in some circles as a caricature of the American dream. Given that it was an imitation of the American dream, is there anything bad in it? After all, human beings are adept at adapting and copying what is good in other societies, cultures and civilization for themselves. Since dreams, whether American, Chinese or African, had not been patented, it is available to be adopted, adapted and used by all. The Chinese leadership must avoid the Chinese dream becoming a meaningless political slogan borrowed as an overused phrase from the American political dictionary. Every nation needs a dream which must be part of its ideology or philosophy. How it is verbalized, interpreted and implemented or actualized is what matters.

Both the Communist Party of China and the Chinese Government lost no time discussing, debating, analyzing and coming to terms with the roles of the individual in Chinese society as part of the definition of the Chinese dream. Normally, in life, most of the achievers are people who dare to dream. Xi has himself described the dream as national rejuvenation, improvement of people's livelihoods, prosperity, construction of a better society and military strengthening. In short, the Chinese dream is about the welfare, well-being and quality of life of every Chinese today and in the future and the role and place of China within the global decision-making and international division of labor. Where China is seated at the global table is what the Chinese dream is all about in the international platform. It is clear to me as I believe that it must be clear to all objective observers and watchers of China that the Chinese dream concept is meant to be an all-embracing China renaissance. Any living organism needs periodic rebirth, renewal or innovation to keep being sustained and regenerated and reinvigorated. The dream is seen as sustained and sustainable development making economic development as important as environmental protection. China owes that much to itself and to the rest of the world. I believe that President Xi is not just sloganeering or playing politics with the Chinese dream—he understands and appreciates that China's quantum leap forward in the economy has brought great benefits to millions in the improvements of their quality of life with perceived deterioration in the moral content and values of the Chinese. He must be seen to pursue his responsibility as a political leader, development-oriented leader and a role model, a national leader that can be listened to, emulated, revered and respected because he understands what China needs today and he is prepared to give it and also to mobilize all Chinese to be able to achieve what China needs.

I will take the liberty of friendship to suggest two points which must rightly be taken as part of the Chinese dream. I believe that as China grows in economic, technological, financial, industrial and military power, she will need to show tolerance to its neighbors, some of whom may just want to taunt her. Like in a family, China must play the big brother among its neighbors without being patronizing or oppressive but with good will to all. It should bring up and enhance China's position and role within its region and indeed within the world. China's presence in Africa is very much welcome. We respect and cherish old friends from the West but we are eager to make new friends from the East and we appreciate what China has done and is doing in Africa in the areas of infrastructure development and enhancement of natural commodity prices. We will continue to appreciate high-level specialists and experts that come along with every project undertaken in Africa. But where Chinese workers will appear to be displacing ordinary African workers and hawkers on the streets, it may cause displeasure which both sides should avoid. Local laws, rules and regulations must be obeyed on both sides so as not to cause bad blood or abuse of hospitality of either China or Africa as hosts.

Finally, there is a lot that Africa can and must learn from China. First, we must imbibe the necessary discipline to plan and see our plan through. Our culture must not be torn from our economic development. They must be synchronized together. The pillars of our development must be education with capacity building, infrastructure, agribusiness and energy. Continuity for the Chinese means continuity of working and winning policies, not of personality. Deng Xiaoping began the opening up and the economic policy. Jiang Zemin continued to consolidate and advance the policy. Africans can learn and adopt the lessons of continuity of policy and not necessarily of personality. The totality of China's economic near-miracle is an object lesson for Africa. Let us learn what China has done and is doing and let us copy and emulate what is applicable in our situation in Africa. Development has no racial, religious or cultural preference or barrier. It is the choices made by the leaders. African leaders can learn to make the right choices. We in Africa must develop the discipline, the industry, the knowledge and understanding to make the right choices, the tenacity and foresight to see them through and the wisdom to make changes as and when necessary. The goal must be the people and the nation.

If China needs a Chinese dream—and it surely does—Africa, collectively, needs an African dream and each of our countries needs its own dream. That is another lesson that Africa can learn and imbibe from China. We must draw up dreams that are attainable and that will carry Africa collectively and individually to the promised land in this century. We must be interested in what happens everywhere in the world and, where necessary, prevent any unwanted and undesired effect and impact on us in a global village. China must wish Africa well just as Africa must wish China well. The well-being of each of us is of mutual good and global good.

Email us at: yanwei@bjreview.com

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