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City of Banjul
Thursday, October 29, 2020

The need to be strategic in our broader foreign policy direction: China in The Gambia

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It is a common diplomatic adage that there is no permanent friend but permanent interest in international politics. Countries only embrace one another base on national interest. It is indeed irrefutable that no nation can work in isolation from the comity of nations in this day and age.

Mr. President, you have embarked on a number of international trips more than one can imagine of a president less than 150 days in office when serious domestic challenges such as security and welfare provisions continue to affect the daily lives of our people. You have travelled to Congo Brazzaville, to a dictator for that matter on ‘how to work in the area of security for Africa’. We expected your visit to Brazzaville to be base on how to promote cordial relations between the two countries and their people, more importantly, how we can benefit one another in any relevant sector of development.

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From Brazzaville, you embarked on a European tour with some cabinet ministers. The clear purpose of that tour is not well known to Gambians. Again, you travelled to Saudi Arabia for a summit. We cannot still tell what benefit exactly the summit has or will bring us. All we received were dates which I consider an insult to our integrity.

Now, we are talking about China in The Gambia. Some have argued that China in Africa is an epitome of imperialism and that African countries must be strategic in dealing with the country. The relation between Beijing and Banjul was started by the Jawara government which brought some infrastructural projects such as the building of the Independence Stadium in Bakau. It is no secret that, the decision to cut ties with Taiwan by Jammeh and his government was meant to face China when it was the same Jammeh who established ties with Taiwan and avoided China when he came to power. This happened of recent, just 22 years ago, therefore our memory should not be short enough to forget so soon. The shift from Taipei to Beijing was believed to be a move from ‘cheque book diplomacy’ to ‘development oriented diplomacy’. But the question that automatically comes to mind is why is China still interested in forging ties with Africa referred to as ‘Sino-Africa’ relations? Of course, one of the main reasons why China is willing to heavily invest in Africa and forge good ties with African countries is the issue of ‘one-china policy’. Beijing will appreciate Banjul to recognize Taiwan as part of mainland China and not an independent territory, thus avoiding any opportunity of resumption of ties with Taipei. This is geopolitically an interest to China and will be in the best interest of their overall foreign policy, especially in Africa. What benefits can we derive from this resumed diplomatic ties is a fundamental question our foreign policy experts need to ponder on. Is sending our students to go and read in Beijing what we are really interested in? Is bringing Chinese medical doctors to our country what we really need? Is bringing Chinese engineers to build our roads what we really need? Mr. President, taking you back the thesis of famous US political scientist Samuel P. Huntington will be good at this juncture. He predicted in his famous book ‘The Clash of Civilization and the Remaking of World Order’, that the 21st Century conflict will not be primarily ideological as we have witnessed in the Cold War antagonism or even economic, but rather cultural. The conflict he argued will be staged between the variant civilizations of the globe which is inclusive of the Chinese civilization. Making a review of this claim, one may conclude that the conflict might be another form of the Cold War, thus the war is still on as some will argue. The conflict between so-called fierce religious foes is one aspect of the thesis, but a more comprehensive and broader look at issues will reveal to us that a new form of the Cold War, resulting in brain-drain is affecting Africa.

Today, many of our young ones have studied in Russia, forced to learn the Russian language and expose to their culture. A good number of our young ones have studied in Turkey and some studying there, forced to learn their language and exposed to their culture. Some studied in Venezuela and forced to learn Spanish. Those going to China will be forced to learn the Chinese language at some point and be highly exposed to their civilization. It is therefore imperative for us to understand what I call ‘the marketing of civilization/culture’ by so-called great powers. Instead of relying on them for scholarship, why can’t we think of restructuring our education system and get the required training home that will suit our development realities because China will never teach our students anything that will be highly relevant to our development challenges. Instead of relying on their medical doctors, why can’t we train more local medical doctors? Instead of relying on their engineers, why can’t we train more engineers and avoid importing them to build our roads. We have also seen GRTS going way up to Beijing broadcasting the Chinese culture, ranging from their foods to even the industries they have.

Mr. President, in-as-much as the forces of globalization continues to dictate the workings of the global system, mutual interest and benefits should serve as the cornerstone of diplomatic relations and should guide the foreign policy goal of all countries. This should not serve as an opportunity for one to impose its civilization on the other.

Yours in the service of the nation
Essa Njie

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