Undesirably, the new Institute is born into a world where debate on Sino-African relations is no more than a dialogue of the deaf. But, beyond the claims that China is Africa’s new colonial power, Sino-Africa relations is still work in progress in which intensified people-to-people relations can lead to a China-Africa community of peace and prosperity. It is in the light of this that the Chinese President Xi Jinping sent a letter of congratulation during the launch of the new Institute, throwing China’s full weight behind this Sino-Africa knowledge-based initiative.
It was during his opening speech at the China-Africa Summit in Beijing on September 3, 2018 that Xi unveiled the idea of establishing the Institute within the people-to-people exchange” pillar, one of the eight areas in FOCAC Action Plan, which stresses enhancing mutual learning between Chinese and African civilisations. To realise this historic intellectual mission, the new institute must be different. It has to be based on the rejection of confrontational and polarising renditions of relations within and between human civilisations—now pushed to a tragic boiling point by the upsurge of populism globally, isolationism (exemplified by the Brexit) and protectionism signified by raging trade wars.
The institute has to generate counter-narratives to debunk and discard doomsday theories such as Samuel Huntington’s “Clash of Civilization”; Graham T. Alison’s “Thucydides Trap” or Robert Kaplan's “Coming Anarchy”, which exploit social differences rather than connections to set up civilisations and peoples against each other.
It has to help re-engineer an inclusive story of human civilisation at a time when globalisation is erroneously seen as triumph of neo-liberalism, or the end of history. This calls for the production of knowledge and evidence-based research to underpin policies that build roads and bridges not walls within and between communities and civilisations.
Besides producing knowledge to underpin action by FOCAC and the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the Institute has to help reconcile the Chinese dream condensed in the two Centenary Goals and the African dream envisaged in the African Agenda 2063 as a solid foundation for peaceful development.
It has to explore innovative ideas of advancing people-to-people relations and dismantling the extant architecture of global knowledge that divides our world. The new institute also has to curve its niche in a world dominated by a thick labyrinth of Centres for African Studies, over 85 per cent of them in Western universities, and specialised think tanks such as the China Africa Research Institute (CARI) at the John Hopkins University.
As its historic mission, the Institute has to unmask and discredit the accepted lazy, unilinear and exclusive history of human civilisation as starting with Ancient Greece, which begets Rome, which begets Christian Europe, which begets the Renaissance, which begets the enlightenment, and which begets liberal democracy and the industrial revolution and the West’s global hegemony. In this configuration, globalisation is deceptively seen as humanity’s inexorable great exodus deeper into westernisation.
In large measures, this invented and exclusive myth of human civilization is feeding the embers of Right-wing populism in the West and violent extremism in non-Western civilizations
Professor Kagwanja is former government adviser and currently CEO of the Africa Policy Institute. This article is extracted from a paper presented in Shanghai during the inauguration of the China-Africa Institute in Beijing on April 10-11, 2019.