A team of 24 academicians, former ambassadors and senior journalists from 15 African countries that included Tanzania were recently invited by one of the leading Chinese universities, Zhejiang Normal University for a three week tour of the world’s second largest economy.
The visit from October 26th to November 16th this year was spiced by 20 lectures over China’s socio-economic development delivered by top-flight Chinese academicians from different universities in the country.
The beauty of China’s tour was that the lectures were organized and delivered in such a way that whatever tour members of the African group went through tallied with what they had learnt in their respective lectures.
Listening to their lectures and judging, from their body language, it was quite clear the Chinese professors were genuinely out to share their problems and successes with the express purpose of helping us in our own countries back having learnt what we had seen in their country.
What was very interesting about this tour was the linkage the university (which specialises in training graduate teachers for schools and colleges) was playing between our group and their Chinese government in order to enhance their country’s socio-economic development.
This is an area that Tanzanian educational institutions, and universities in particular, ought to be playing to the Tanzanian government-serve not only as a bridge between the government and the outside world, but also as a laboratory of ideas for the country’s socio-economic development.
For slightly over three weeks members of the African group which fell under the framework of what came to be known as the African-Chinese Think Tank visited the poorest and the most developed parts of the country.
And one of the main objectives of the hosts was to show members of the African group, how they had reached where they were in less than fifty years!
Secondly, they wanted to show the African group that much as China was presently the second economy in the world after the United States of America, it was still a developing country.
Yet for some of us who had already been to some of the most developed nations in the world, what we witnessed on the ground in terms of the country’s socio-economic development was nothing but breathtaking!
According to Chinese professors who lectured us, if all goes as planned, China should be able to catch up with developed countries like US by the year 2020.
However, looking at what they have already achieved and what they were presently involved in, it would not take that long for them to catch up with developed nations!
For unlike developing countries like Tanzania, the Chinese work extremely hard and day and night.
Going through the countryside, the entire country can be compared to a construction site!
You hardly drive for five kilometres without coming across a forest of cranes, busy at work either helping to lift up a cast of gigantic piece of a flyover or working on a skyscraper.
In cities like Hangzho with eight million people, one hardly comes across groups of young men whiling away their time in groups in the way one sees say in Dar es Salaam!
Youths are very busy, either in schools and colleges or at work in farms and factories.
Because of their heavy involvement in industrial production, it is no wonder that their country has been Christened the world’s factory.
Most of the cities we stayed in during the tour, we hardly spent seven minutes in traffic despite the fact that their population were over eight million with cars in hundreds of thousands!
For the doubting Thomas out there, consider the following:
China is the third vehicle manufacturer in the world and the second vehicle buyer in the world!
What is more, most of the world’s top range vehicles that include, among others, Mercedes, BMW, Volkswagen, Audi, Porche, Toyota, Mitsubishi, Hyndai etc, are assembled in China and the bulk of it is bought and used locally.
But how has China managed to be the third top vehicle manufacturer and assembler in the world?
It is very simple; the secret lies in its educational programme.
For unlike Tanzania which has lately focused in construction of universities, with degrees taking centre stage, china has for the last fifty years concentrated in the training of technicians.
Presently China has technicians literally in each and every field from electrical to mechanical and from laboratory to masonry.
And the result of such well-thought educational policy has been the production of top-flight technicians that has made it possible for China to be the home of most of the world’s top range vehicles and machineries.
It is for this reason that China describes itself as the home of high quality, but lowly paid technicians which make production and assembling of vehicles cheap.
China’s agricultural development policy which has made it possible for the country to feed its 1.4 billion population also contributes towards cutting down the cost of industrial products, hence turning it into the darling of leading industrial manufacturing companies in the West.
For although Chinese technicians’ salaries and other fringe benefits are low compared to the West, but cheap food and other necessities of life make their lives easy. One thing that countries like Tanzania can learn from China is to take a hard look at their educational systems.
They need to put more emphasis in technical education through VETA (vocational educational and training authority), SIDO (Small Industrial Development Organisation) outlets and technical colleges with the thrust being production of technicians.
Export of vehicles, forms part of products that China exports making her the second leading exporter of products in the world after United States. Previously, the spot was being held by the Federal Republic of Germany.
Interestingly, despite having millions of vehicles in their cities, one hardly comes across traffic jams in the way Tanzanians experience in Dar es Salaam for the simple reason that Chinese cities are not only well planned in terms of infrastructure, but they also have different forms of infrastructure for sorting out different problems! For instance, given its large size (China is more than a country, a sub-continent) which is nine million square kilometres (one tenth of Tanzania’s 960,000 square kilometers), China has given priority on railroad, followed by roads and others.
Presently the country has 86,000 kilometres of railroad and 65,000 kilometres of road. However, more railroads and roads are presently under construction with the priority being given to the construction of railroad for bullet trains with over 400 kilometers speed per hour!
The Tanzanian government has in the last few months been talking about building flyover in Dar es Salaam as part of its effort to deal with increased traffic jams in which over one billion shilling is wasted everyday in terms of man-hours.
If the government is indeed committed in doing what it says it wants to, then the best thing to do would be to get the Chinese government’s assistance in the project and the traffic jam nightmare which is increasingly threatening to get out of control would be a thing of the past.
That has to be done as soon as possible for as they say, it is always important to strike the iron when it is still hot.
Interestingly, the Chinese are very moderate when they talk about their achievements.
They all insist that they have numerous socio-economic challenges which they have to work on in order to reach the economic stage reached by developed nations like the US and others the world over.
In fact, it is this moderation that one hardly comes across chest-beating which they actual deserve having knocked out of the second position a country that had for years occupied their nation, namely Japan.
Perhaps to get a sense of the foregoing, consider what Tanzanians would have told the world if their economic development would have surpassed that of countries like Germany and Britain which had occupied Tanganyika as colonizers and protectors respectively!
That is exactly what the Chinese have done, their country’s economic might has surpassed that of their former occupier.
One of China’s major cities members of the African group visited during the tour was Shanghai, a city that is lately challenging New York for space as the world’s leading cities.
According to former Tanzania’s Ambassador to China, Mr Charles Asilia Sanga, when he visited Shanghai in 1986, it was just one of China’s cities.
“There was literally nothing to write home about the city in terms of construction of its buildings,” he told the author. Ambassador Sanga who has also served as a diplomat in New York said Shanghai had changed quite considerably.
The Tanzanian diplomat who was elected chairman of the African group during the tour said one of the main reasons behind China’s success in its socio-economic development lay in their style of solving whatever problem or advice they were given both by their own people and foreigners.
“If you tell a Chinese government official that his country has a problem in a given area, the message would not only be sent immediately to his or her boss, but would also be immediately worked on,” said the former personal assistant and speech writer to the founder of the Tanzanian nation, Mwalimu Julius Kambarage Nyerere.
As rightly noted by Mr Sanga, the Chinese were literally very demanding, during our tour, when it came to soliciting advice.
This is another area that Tanzanians can learn from the Chinese, seek out problems and immediately solve them instead of embarking on procrastination.
Next: Why China has succeeded where Tanzania has failed.