Last October, the first China-Africa Think Tank Forum was held in China. As a result of the conference, a declaration was (well…) declared that these forums will bring together scholars and thinkers from China and Africa to “conduct dialogues, exchanges and discussions on African economic and political situation, China-Africa relations and other related topics so as to increase understanding, expand consensus, consolidate friendship, offer suggestions and enhance the role of China-Africa think tanks in promoting bilateral cooperation on all fronts.”
The first conference aimed to focus on three themes: 1) China-Africa cooperation in peace and security, 2) Africa’s financial situation and China-Africa cooperation in finance and investment, and 3) the role of China-Africa cultural exchanges and think tanks. More on this first Forum can be found here.
All of these goals are linked with China’s interest in the development of Africa, or in creating a stable context in which to expedite the development projects. The Chinese currently lead massive infrastructure and other development projects throughout Africa with – what some say – a singular and selfish purpose: to more easily extract natural resources which feed their own industrial appetite. (The picture above right is of a highway being built in Nairobi with Chinese support.)
Therefore, it seems to me, these conferences are thinly veiled ploys to bring African academics and thinkers on board to China’s grand plan; in other words, to intellectualize and rationalize China’s presence in Africa. What an unusual twist to the question of higher education being involved in international development.
Through a less cynical lens, the masterminds behind this conference can be applauded for making non-Western academic partnerships. On the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation website, this partnership is summarized poetically: “Chinese and African think tanks have all the reason to help each other, cooperate for greater strength, conduct more academic exchanges, engage in the “two-track diplomacy”, and carry out joint conferences and research projects to make themselves bigger, stronger and more substantial.” A page on the website also gives hints that additional links – student exchanges, or joint research, perhaps – are being planned.
The second Think Tank Forum is coming up in October 2012. The gathering will be held at Addis Ababa University’s Institute for Peace and Security Studies, with the theme “Chinese and African Common Interests: Current Issues and Future Perspectives in Governance, Peace and Security in Africa.” A call for submissions has recently been issued and can be found here.
Finally, a link to an excellent blog maintained by Deborah Brautigam: China in Africa: The Real Story.