Printer-friendly versionSend by emailPDF version

Four African journalists have taken part in a study tour to Beijing, initiated and conducted by Fahamu’s Emerging Powers in Africa Programme. Hayley Herman and Sanusha Naidu report back on the visit, and invite readers to contribute their voices to a forthcoming newsletter that will provide African perspectives on the emerging powers in Africa.

The Fahamu Emerging Powers in Africa Programme recently initiated and conducted probably the first non-state sponsored African Journalist Study Tour to Beijing, providing four African journalists – selected from over 60 applicants – with the opportunity to experience a week-long visit to China.

The study tour was timely following the conclusion of the fourth Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) held in November 2009 in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt. The Forum concluded with African and Chinese representatives agreeing to the implementation of the Sharm El Sheikh Action Plan and showing political will towards the commitments through the signing of the Sharm El Sheikh Declaration. The study tour thus received further impetus through the commitments forged at the FOCAC Summit and aimed to provide an important link in the growing engagement between China and African media exchanges. The tour was further encouraged through the contextualisation of the role of people-to-people exchanges in the broader framework of Sino-African ties as Premier Wen Jiabao emphasised the need for ‘closer interactions among non-governmental organisations, news media and academic institutions’ at the opening of FOCAC. This was supported through the inclusion of several commitments related to the need for greater people-to-people engagement and social interaction, including media exchanges in order to allow ‘news media of the two sides to step up objective and fair coverage on China and Africa’.

The FOCAC Summit thus provided greater impetus towards the objective of the study tour, to provide support towards the creation of an objective and independent African voice and perspective in reporting on Sino-African relations. It can be noted that coverage of Sino-African engagement has largely been driven by Western media. Reports have been dominated not only by the burgeoning commercial and political engagements between African and Chinese stakeholders, but have also served as a powerful tool in the development of perceptions between people in Africa and China of each other. However, as interactions between Africa and China have continued to deepen and expand, so too has the realisation that cultural and social understanding, through media reporting, will play an increasingly important role in fostering greater understanding between both sides.

The study tour allowed participants to discuss and better understand the role of Chinese and African media in political and economic reporting on China-Africa, as well as the role of media in shaping perceptions of China and Africa. In particular, it was found that perceptions of Africa in China, and China in Africa are driven largely by Western media coverage. Great interest was noted during discussions between the African participants and Chinese counterparts, for greater awareness of African news sources and information. The expansion and representation of Chinese media organisations such as Xinhua, CCTV and China Radio International was given detailed attention during meetings with Chinese media representatives, and academia in particular. Chinese media organisations have given priority to expanding not only Chinese journalist coverage of African news, but also the need to identify and expand its use of African correspondents and interaction between local media organisations. The mutual interest from both Africa and China was noted throughout the tour and provided encouragement to establish wider networks of engagement between African and Chinese journalists.

Interest among Chinese organisations, media, academia and students were evident during the week-long visit. However particular curiosity and attention was noted specifically towards Africa itself, including its socio-economic conditions, economic development and culture. The level of interest towards these issues was concentrated on basic knowledge and understanding of Africa, the lives of African people, as well as their similar struggles for social services. The understanding of Chinese activities in Africa was largely set aside as basic facts and knowledge of Africa domestic issues took precedence among Chinese counterparts. The African journalists were encouraged by the high level of interest towards Africa and noted the scope and possibilities for reporting and making these stories available to Chinese readers. The need for an increased awareness of African stories was further discussed during meetings with Chinese counterparts, and encouragement was given from the Chinese publications, particularly those focusing on China-Africa issues, to provide informative articles in future. In addition, the African journalists learnt more about the coverage and perspectives of Chinese media towards the coverage of African news. This in particular created a better understanding of China’s perceptions of Africa, as well as the implementation of its Africa policy.

As questions surrounding issues of African development, livelihoods, economic development and culture were continuously brought to the fore during meetings with various Chinese organisations, an equal level of interest in Chinese socio-economic issues, and Chinese traditions and history was evident amongst the African journalists. A mutual interest in basic knowledge around these areas was highlighted throughout the visit as it became clear that Chinese and African societies not only had a mutual interest in the others history and current development, but that the lack of understanding regarding these issues had reinforced stereotypes, misunderstanding and lack of awareness that Chinese and African people were largely focused on the same mutual goals and struggles, including social services, employment, effects of urbanisation, access to education, and respect of human rights. These areas of mutual interest gave greater impetus towards the need for greater coverage of these areas of concern between Chinese and African media not only to dispel many of the existing misrepresentations of China and Africa in the Western media, but also to develop better understanding of Chinese and African society, beyond the focus of aid, trade and corporate activities between the two sides.

The meetings held during the course of the study tour made clear the possibilities for deepening and expanding engagements between Chinese and African media, as well as the interest and will to pursue such partnerships in the future. The visit provided the African journalists with encouragement to follow through with better communication amongst Chinese organisations and publications to further this objective. It showed great scope and need for more people-to-people exchange parallel to the ever expanding and solidifying ties between Chinese and African governments and the corporate interests.

Over the next few weeks we will be publishing the commentaries by the four journalists as part of our inaugural launch of the African Perspectives on the Emerging powers in Africa newsletter. Moreover, it is anticipated that while the four journalists will share their experiences from the trip and outline to what extent certain preconceived views of China have been dispelled, it also envisaged that newsletter will become the platform for the voice of social movements, social activists and other strategic actors who can tell their stories and experiences vis-à-vis the footprint of the Emerging Powers in Africa.

By assessing how the four journalists are going to take this experience and replicate what they have learnt back to their respective countries through the networks, associations, and work environments that they are involved in, we intend developing the newsletter into an African peoples’ dialogue where the African voice can be nurtured and heard. Come share your opinions, stories, advocacy and experiences.


* Hayley Herman is programme officer based with the Emerging Powers in Africa programme based in South Africa. She was the coordinator of the African Journalist Study Tour to China that was conducted from the 24 April–1 May 2010.
* Sanusha Naidu is the research director of the emerging powers in Africa programme based in South Africa.
* Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at Pambazuka News.