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Training power

Updated: 2013-05-31 09:54
By Li Aoxue and Zhong Nan ( China Daily)

Training power

Skills training programs enhance China's ties with Africa

Wood-carvings, African coffee and African drums are scattered everywhere in Jin Xu's 20-square-meter office in Beijing. Among the various items are baskets of flowers sporting thank-you notes. The souvenirs, Jin says, are gifts from African officials who have participated in the training programs conducted by the Academy of International Business Officials (AIBO) under the Ministry of Commerce. Jin, the AIBO president, says that the academy has now become China's largest training center for officials from developing countries, especially for those from Africa.

From the material assistance that was extended to some African countries in 1956, foreign aid has become a major policy tool for China to fulfill its global role and signal its peaceful intentions. And playing a big part in this transformation have been the various human resources development programs that impart different kinds of training and boost the technical skills of African government officials and employees.

According to the White Paper on China's Foreign Aid, China had so far trained 170,000 people from 170 developing countries by the end of 2012.

Among them are courses for nearly 40,000 African personnel from various sectors and more than 20,000 government scholarships for African students.

In 1998, AIBO became the first Chinese academy to conduct seminars for African government officials. From 1998 to June 2012, AIBO has held 382 seminars for nearly 10,000 government officials from 152 developing countries.

"In 1998, seminars for officials of developing countries were held every two years, but that has now grown to over 800 different courses across the country, with more than half of these programs aimed at African officials," Jin says.

Gradual transformation

According to Jin, there has been a gradual transformation in China's foreign aid policy in Africa, from material assistance to infrastructure construction and manpower skills enhancement.

Currently, there are 129 agencies and universities in China that are responsible for the training courses for developing countries. These include universities, research institutes and training arms of ministries and commissions.

The training programs cover a wide range of subjects and 20 fields such as economics, diplomacy, agriculture, healthcare and environment protection. The officials' seminars are in three parts, including themed lectures, Chinese culture studies and field trip observations.

"We try to make the courses more interesting as we know that no one likes to sit in a classroom for an entire day. Instead, we take them to different places in China so that they can understand more about us," Jin says.

The University of International Business and Economics (UIBE) in Beijing has played a key role in training African officials since 2001.

Its courses cover a wide range of fields, including economic planning, government and enterprise management, industrial production, farming and poultry raising, medical and healthcare, and clean energy development such as biogas and small hydropower generation.

African view

Robin Mwanga, business information executive of Malawi's national investment and trade center, who has taken a training course at the UIBE, says China's experience is of immense benefit to African nations.

"China's poverty reduction is often linked with the growth in manufacturing exports, supportive government policies, domestic infrastructure improvement and foreign investment. This is the way we would like to develop in the future," Mwanga says. "In fact, Malawi has already made a start by using the Chinese economic growth model to attract foreign investment."

Indeed, many African nations have made substantial progress in investment policies after they learned from the various experiences in the East and the West, especially with regard to government management and regulation transparency.

Mwanga says he was also impressed by the performance of Chinese joint ventures and state-owned enterprises as they have become well developed and profitable.

China started its economic reform by introducing more open and flexible policies to boost its manufacturing, private-owned and service sectors in 1978, which was considered a big step, starting from agricultural reform to business and industrial diversification.

To transform the economic pattern, increase people's income and establish pillar manufacturing, African countries such as Ethiopia, Rwanda, Chad and Angola are now eyeing the economic development model of China, which took more than 30 years to become the second-largest economy in the world.

The UIBE has held 11 human resource development programs this year involving officials from more than 60 developing countries; more than half of them are from Africa. There have also been seven multilateral and four bilateral training programs. Two of the bilateral programs were designed specifically for the governments of Guinea and Angola.

The UIBE will launch another four bilateral training programs for African countries this year, according to the university's international development department.

Man Xiaochen, program officer at the international development department of the UIBE, says cooperation of this kind is being recognized as a useful way for China to help African countries improve their capacity for self-development.

 Training power

Wu Jiahuang (below), former director of the tariffs department of the General Administration of Customs, is one of the guest lecturers who teach customs management at the UIBE's international program in Beijing. African officials who have taken part in the program say they find it useful for Africa's development. Photos by Zhu Xingxin / China Daily

Training power

"Many African countries could benefit from the human resource development programs in fields such as establishing a national healthcare system, building enough power stations and ensuring food security, as China has also invested heavily in its education and currently has many graduates who are working in various industries, which Africa could learn from," Man says.

Xie Qingkui, director of the Institute of Political Development and Governance at Peking University, whose institute has held seminars for African officials since 2004, says the program is an ideal opportunity for international exchanges and of great help for people from both sides to understand each other.

"Most African officials don't know much about China before they come here. Some even ask me whether there are any high-rises in Shanghai. It is, therefore, necessary to invite them to come to China so they can see and experience what China is all about," Xie says.

African officials can learn from the knowledge and experiences of China, while Chinese academics can get first-hand information about recent developments in Africa, he says.

"The program is quite valuable to my colleagues who are doing African research at Peking University, as by communicating with these African officials, they can learn about recent developments in Africa and required sources for their research," Xie says.

"We also feel that the African officials are like mirrors as their questions make us reflect on what kind of problems China faces right now."

Cai Chunhe, director of the international relations division at the Center of International Cooperation Service under the Ministry of Agriculture, says that training programs have strengthened the network between China and African countries and made it easier for Chinese officials to visit and study in Africa.

"Earlier, a local network was essential, if one wanted to observe and study in Africa. But now with the training programs, we have made a lot of African friends and find it much easier to do research and study work in Africa," Cai says.

 Training power

African officials get a hands-on experience about planting skills at a field course held by the Agricultural Management Institute of the Ministry of Agriculture. Provided to China Daily

Growing need

According to Cai, his organization started to hold seminars for African officials in 2002. It has so far held 150 and more than half of them were for African officials.

Between 2009 and 2012 the center held 13 training sessions for African participants, and about 307 African officials and technical personnel took part.

"What China has gone through with its agricultural development applies very much to Africa, as both sides have a household-based agricultural structure," Cai says. "We can provide courses on China's agricultural policy, as well as technical courses in animal husbandry, fish breeding, hybrid rice and veterinary sciences."

Cai says compared with participants from other developing countries, African officials are more passionate and keen on asking questions.

The lecturers the center invites normally come from various ministries and commissions, as they are familiar with government policies. Some lecturers also come from the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Science, as well as from other agricultural universities in China.

Cai says field trips are important as they provide African officials an opportunity to see the good aspects and the true face of China.

"There is a misunderstanding among some African officials as they consider China already a developed country," Cai says. "It is because most of the lectures are held in Beijing that African officials do not have the opportunity to see the less developed areas of the country."

The programs the UIBE offers have not only taken these officials to well-developed Chinese regions such as the Yangtze River Delta and Pearl River Delta, but also to the western region, where the economy still needs to be improved.

"Such outdoor courses give African officials a true picture of China's economic layout and clues of how China copes with industrial and agricultural problems in its relatively backward regions, because China has long been a developing country," Man says.

"This could make it easier to connect with African nations."

Wang Yiqun, director of the division for international cooperation at the Agricultural Management Institute under the Ministry of Agriculture, says some African officials are interested in Mandarin, so language classes have been added to the seminars.

"This is in addition to providing knowledge such as China's agricultural policy to African participants," says Wang, who has worked on such training at the Agricultural Management Institute since 2004.

Emmanuel Mushi, one of the African participants at UIBE and chief statistician of Dar es Salaam, the largest city in Tanzania, says that over the past three decades the frequently changing political environment and unbalanced economic structure has hindered Africa's economic development, especially in the Sub-Saharan region.

Some African governments also had no choice but to rely on aid from developed countries to develop low value-added industries and mining.

"However, such assistance often comes with a lot of conditions, and many African countries have to use their resources to pay back the financial assistance," Mushi says. "This reality pushed us to seek other options, which we think we can learn from China."

"I think Africa must pay more attention and invest more in education if the continent wants to establish a solid social and economical development foundation," says Yiga Benon, a municipality town clerk at Uganda's Ministry of Local Government.

Benon says the issue in Africa is the stagnation caused by the frequent government changes and how to ensure that political conflicts do not come in the way of economic development.

Wu Jiahuang, former director of the tariffs department of the General Administration of Customs, is one of the guest lecturers who teach customs management in the UIBE's international program.

He says even though African nations can adopt the Chinese model for their economic planning, it would still be better if they can develop their own pattern as different developing countries face different problems during the progress of industrialization and agricultural modernization.

"China's experience of establishing special economic zones and carrying out agricultural reform are two mature development models. African countries could use these two models to make a start," Wu says.

According to the Ministry of Commerce, China will train another 80,000 professionals in various fields for developing countries, mainly from Africa and Southeast Asia in the next four years.

It will also increase the number of scholarships and on-the-job master's degree programs for people from developing countries, and provide training opportunities in China to 3,000 school principals and teachers.

Contact the writers at liaoxue@chinadaily.com.cn and zhongnan@chinadaily.com.cn

(China Daily Africa Weekly 05/31/2013 page1)

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