African students lining up to learn Chinese at Mlimani Primary School in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania

Meet the Africans students lining up to learn Chinese

Zimbabwean Daniel Mugandiri had no Chinese contacts nor any knowledge of China when one day he sat down to write a letter to the outgoing Chinese ambassador in Harare. He had recently been named Entrepreneur of the Year in Zimbabwe’s equivalent of “Dragon’s Den”, and was faced with the challenge of turning his business idea into reality. The 26-year-old wanted to manufacture solar panels to help address the nation’s electricity shortage. He wasn’t certain how to go about it, but he knew where to start.

“China is the hub of manufacturing, so I knew I had to learn from them,” he says. “If you buy something in the US or in the UK, it’s made in China. Every country in the world looks East.”

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Master Liu, the Kung Fu teacher at Zambia's Confucius Institute

Portrait of Teacher Liu: A Chinese Kung Fu teacher in Lusaka – Part I

Teacher Liu’s Intermediate Chinese class was due to start five minutes ago, but there’s no sign of him or any of his students. The University of Zambia’s Confucius Institute is growing quiet as the afternoon descends on Lusaka.

Just then, a short, stocky man with Emporio Armani emblazoned across a maroon sweater strolls into the lobby with a sling bag on his shoulder. “Are you Teacher Liu?” I ask. “Yes…” he replies, with something between a guilty and a naughty expression on his face.

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The Chinese-built Confucius Institute at University of Zambia, Lusaka

Inside Africa’s Confucius Institutes

This is a presentation I made on 20 November at the annual Africa-China Journalists Forum at Wits University in Johannesburg, South Africa. It describes the investigation that took me to Zimbabwe, Zambia and Tanzania to be a fly on the wall in the classrooms where China’s Ministry of Education is helping to shape the way people think about the world’s next superpower

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