COMBATING POVERTY: An overview of the Africa-China Think-Tank Forum in Addis Ababa

Makwaia Wa Kuhenga

THERE was a very interesting and thought provoking meeting of intellectuals joined by media men and women from thirty countries in Africa held in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa last week.

Organised by the African Union (AU) Leadership Academy and the Chinese Zhejiang Normal University, a select group of intellectuals and media people from African countries had convened as an AfricanChinese Think-Tank Forum to deliberate poverty alleviation in Africa.

I was invited to this forum at the African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa. It was a lively meeting, officially opened by the Chinese Foreign Minister, Comrade Wang Yi flanked by a top official of the African Union (AU) Mr Moussa Faki Mahamat.

Featuring in the meeting were the thoughts of Chinese leader, Xi Jinping reflected in his book, ‘Up and Out of Poverty’ which tackles, among other issues; eliminating poverty, industrial development and developing big time agriculture.

Among remarkable contributions at the forum was the address of a special Chinese ambassador assigned to China-Africa cooperation, Ambassador Zhou Yuxiao.

Said part of Ambassador Yuxiao address: “Industrialisation and agricultural modernisation is only way to development in Africa. “I am pretty sure that you will agree to the point that development is a golden key to poverty alleviation while industrialisation and agricultural modernisation is the only way to development.”

This assertion by the Chinese envoy became a catalyst and curtain raiser to the think-tank forum debate on fighting poverty that took place at the African Union (AU) headquarters.

As I followed the debate among fellow delegates, I became increasingly intrigued by the fact that Africa has common problems towards poverty alleviation especially the reality that Africa is, by and large, peasant inhabited-where most people rely most heavily on agriculture.

In my own country, Tanzania, where a clarion call these days is towards the industrialisation of the country - the question demanding a correct answer is, to my mind - where to begin the process of industrialisation.

As I followed contributors at the forum, most of them were remarkably agreed on the need for mechanised and irrigation agriculture in Africa.

A Tanzanian delegate, Prof Humphrey Moshi most emphatically made the point for irrigation agriculture, complementary to mechanised agriculture saying this could be one way towards poverty alleviation because depending on rains alone was “catastrophic”.

Another point which rose from time to time at the forum was that mechanised agriculture as one way towards poverty eradication. It was also one point that most delegates at the think-tank forum favored because, they argued, most young people run away from the villages in Africa’s rural areas because tilling that land by handhoe is “back breaking”.

“The reality is these young people in Africa run away from rural to urban areas because of the poor means of agriculture. “Had there been better tools for agriculture such as tractors, and other modern farming equipments, the youth exodus from villages into towns to ride motor cycles for transport business would not have been as alarming,” said one participant at the thinktank.

Africa and China could make best allies for development unlike Africa’s early associates in the era of colonialism, it was thus observed at the seminar. “Common development is fundamentally different from western colonial plunder of the past and does not today constitute an agenda of these former colonial masters of Africa.

“By taking common development as their value pursuit and bringing their political mutual trust and economic complementarities into full play, China and Africa will make the difference in fending for the poor.

“Their respective advantages, such as the immense natural resources in Africa and modern technology in the hands of China could be of mutual advantage between Africa and China,” it was further observed.

Therefore, what I picked from the AfricaChina Think Tank Forum in Addis Ababa that could be beneficial to my country’s current drive towards industrialisation is that modernised agriculture via mechanisation and irrigation should be priority number one in the Tanzanian Government debut towards industrialisation.

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