BY Mark Babatunde, 1:30pm June 13, 2016,

Africa’s Biggest Library, Compliments of China?

China has commenced the building of a 2,600-person capacity, 800,000-book library in Tanzania, East Africa. Upon completion, it is expected to be the biggest library on the continent. It would cost an estimated $40 million of Chinese government money.

Many have hailed it as a massive contribution from China towards improving education and literacy rates in Africa. Tanzanian President John Magufuli, while laying the foundation stone, appreciated the efforts of the Chinese saying that it would go a long way in improving the standard of education in his country.

It is a well-known fact that the Chinese have been aggressively involved in the African economy over the last decade, with trade between Africa and China put at an estimated $166 billion in 2011. China also purchased an estimated 25 percent of its oil imports from Africa.

Africa’s vast natural resources and its emerging economies have undoubtedly been an attraction for China, whose industries are hungry for the ever-plentiful raw materials available in Africa.

The footprints of China’s economic activity are scattered across the continent with investments in mining, agriculture, manufacturing and heavy construction.

China has nevertheless sought to broaden its involvement in Africa beyond basic economic interests. China is, after all, a world power and it has since come to recognise the importance of soft power in furthering its objectives and interests on the African continent. There has been increased focus on channelling investment and aid donations from the Chinese government in Africa towards that direction.

In 2012, China opened the African bureau of the state-owned China Central Television (CCTV) in Kenya to broadcast programs that directly connects Africa to the Chinese experience.

The building of the library complex in Tanzania is but the latest in a series of marquee Chinese aid donations to Africa. Most of it is aimed at entrenching China in the socio-economic fabric of the continent and increasing its visibility or general recognition.

The new library, which would be located in the University of Dar es Salaam (UDSM), would also double as a public library and have a conference centre.

Sceptics have continued to observe China’s increasing involvement in Africa’s economy and now its educational sector with mixed feelings. Chinese ambassador to Tanzania Lyu Youqing, who was present at the foundation laying ceremony of the library, made it clear that China would continually support Tanzania. It is however unclear what the library – which already plans to have a “Confucius Centre” – would be called. Will the Chinese, subtly or otherwise, be allowed to influence the policy direction or objectives of the library? Will the library go on to boast an overwhelming amount of books (even if translated) authored by the Chinese?

International aid can be a tricky thing, like all acts of benevolence, it puts the beneficiary at some kind of relative disadvantage and it is obvious that China’s donations to Africa are not altogether altruistic; there is of course some understandable amount of self-interest involved.

This self-interest that underpins and governs most of China’s actions in Africa is what Africa must use to its advantage. Africa must position itself as an equal partner in all Sino-African relations. It is obvious the Chinese need Africa’s resources just as much as Africa needs their investments. Tanzania and every other African nation must avoid developmental partnerships that skewer in favour of its foreign partners. They must avoid the mistakes of the past that put them at a decided disadvantage on the negotiating table.

Last Edited by:Deidre Gantt Updated: June 19, 2018


Must Read

Connect with us

Join our Mailing List to Receive Updates