On Display: Open Online Courses & Open Educational Resources for Africa

Two recent developments in the area of distance education and open access might have benefits for students in Africa: massive open online courses (MOOC) aim at large-scale participation and open access. Participants do not need to be a registered student and are not required to pay a fee. Open educational resources (OER) are freely accessible and openly licensed media that are useful for teaching and learning. They are resources meant to be used for education and include, for example, full courses, course materials, learning objects, videos or tests.

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC)

  • CollageMOOCsHarvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) created a new online-learning experience with online courses at EdX. EdX’s goals combine the desire to reach out to students of all ages, means, and nations, and to deliver these teachings from a faculty who reflect the diversity of its audience. EdX is based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and is governed by MIT and Harvard. If offers HarvardX, MITx and BerkeleyX classes online for free. In 2013, EdX will offer also WellesleyX and GeorgetownX classes and courses by the University of Texas System.
    The MIT course 14.73x “The Challenges of Global Poverty” is intended to be an introduction to the issues of global poverty, as conceptualized by leading economists and political scientists.
  • 33 US universities – like Columbia, Duke, Emory, Princeton – have partnered with Coursera, a social entrepreneurship company, offering courses online for anyone to take, for free: “Through this, we hope to give everyone access to the world-class education that has so far been available only to a select few. We want to empower people with education that will improve their lives, the lives of their families, and the communities they live in.” (Vision of Coursera). Of interest are courses in statistics, data analysis but also the humanities, e.g.:
    Listening to World Music“, by Carol Muller, a South African born Professor of Music at the University of Pennsylvania. This course is about the ideas and vocabulary for listening to world music, and examines the music of several world music cultures and how they have entered into mainstream popular culture.
    The Modern World: Global History since 1760“, by Philip Zelikow, the White Burkett Miller Professor of History at the University of Virginia, gives a survey of modern history from a global perspective.
  • UDACITY offers courses especially in the computer sciences, mathematics and physics.
  • Stanford University offers “Class2Go” and “Venture Lab“.
  • Compare the timeline offered by the Chronicle of Higher Education under the headline “What You Need to Know About MOOCs“.

Open Educational Resources (OER)

  • OERcollageOER Africa provides a starting point for finding OER. The project focusses on the supporting and developing of OER in agriculture, health education, foundation courses and teacher education. In the section “OER in Action” they  showcase some African OER initiatives, like the IADP-SADC Digital Resources Project, that looks to extend the International Association for Digital Publications (IADP) Affordable Access project running in South African higher education institutions into universities in Malawi and Botswana.
    OER initiatives in Africa” is a similar overview hinting to e.g.
    The UCT OpenContent directory, a web portal for accessing open teaching and learning content from University of Cape Town and
    Teacher Education in Sub-Saharan Africa (TESSA), bringing together teachers and teacher educators from across sub-Saharan Africa and offering a range of OER materials in four languages to support school based teacher education and training.
  • In 2011 the African Virtual University (AVU) launched the portal OER@AVU – Open Educational Resources” hosting e.g. 219 text books available in English, French, and Portuguese, 91 videos, and other resources e.g. on ICT and Intellectual Property Rights.
  • The “Open Textbooks: List” by Student PIRGs offers a good overview about some examples of Open Textbooks, e.g. by the publisher Flat World Knowledge. For a broader approach see the Wikipedia Category:Open content.

Finally, compare the eLearning Africa conferences and the article by Claire Adamson on “Finding the Sweet Spot: Open Educational Resources in the developing world” (January 22nd, 2013, eLearning Africa News Portal) for a more critical acclaim of the debates.

Thanks to hints by Nadia Cohen and to the project “Bildung weltweit” with a web-dossier on “Open Educational Resources“!

On Display: “African” activities of the German Goethe-Institut

The Goethe-Institut is the Federal Republic of Germany’s cultural institution operational worldwide. It promotes the study of German abroad and encourages international cultural exchange. The network of Goethe-Instituts, Goethe Centres, cultural societies, reading rooms and exam and language learning centres plays a central role in the cultural and educational policies of Germany. It promotes German-African relationships and provides platforms for intercultural dialogue. This blog article presents seven snapshots from the activities in Africa South of the Sahara.


1.) Cultural Bridge

In Edéa, Cameroon, the mutual history of Cameroon and Germany was commemorated at a massive, 100-year-old steel structured bridge that the German colonial rulers once had built. The artist Pascale Marthine Tayou together with his team draped huge wooden figures standing on steles about it, did an intercultural production of Goethe’s Faust – another perennial favourite – and set up an installation based on the indigenous Cameroon writing system, finishing “Les flâneurs d’Edéa” (The Ramblers of Edéa).

2.) Literature Forum

The Literature Forum in Kenya brings together upcoming women writers and literary critics to share and discuss stories, poems and current literary trends with the aim of enhancing their creativity. The forum provides a space to listen to the voices of established and budding female writers – voices of women with a passion for literary adventure. “AMKA – Space for Women’s Creativity” and the Goethe-Institut organise monthly readings in the library of the Goethe-Institut every last Saturday of the month. Participation in the forum is open to both men and women.

3.) Writing about Africa

This brilliant internet feature allows the discovery of new German literature representing diverse images of Africa and is hosted by the Goethe-Institut South Africa. Selected books by German speaking authors who deal with Africa in all its many facets are reviewed and biographical information on the authors are given. The selection of books covers the following genres: Novels and stories, travel journals, journalistic reports and critical essays about Africa, biographies and autobiographies, youth literature and stories for children. The website also gives an overview on the most actively German publishing housed engaged with Africa. Read more of this post

Touching wild animals and other dangers in a library

Do not annoy an elephant. Do not cut yourself being in love. How to avoid these dangers? How to pet an elephant without fear? Come in our library’s Africa department and make a very special sensual experience. This little photo story is about the haptics of books on and from Africa.

cover detail of Michael Poliza (& friends): South Africa, Kempen: teNeues 2010, F 89.262.82

I have chosen some examples from our Africa collection at Frankfurt University Library to demonstrate that

  • to handle a book is more than just grabbing and open it,
  • experiencing the surface feel can be joyful and fulfilling,
  • books are physical objects with much more quality characteristics than one would expect,
  • books can be art.

The following amateurish pictures were done by myself and are biased – they only should make you curious. Haptics cannot be captured in a photograph at all. So do come and enjoy our physical books.

1. Animal skins

Tania Blixen: Jenseits von Afrika, Zürich: Manesse 2010, 89.081.39

The grey embossed paper cover, the large size and the heavy weight of the pictorial book by the well known photographer Michael Poliza (and others like Chris Fallows, Thomas P. Peschak, Mandla Mnyakama) on South Africa fit very well to the cover picture of the book jacket. However, this special paper has also been used in other colours, evoking perhaps the skin of an antelope or more generally the wild life of Africa.

The Swiss edition of Tania/Karen Blixen’s “Out of Africa” by Manesse in 2010 was printed and bound by „GCP Media GmbH, Pößneck”. In the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung a reviewer statet:

Manchen Büchern sollte man unter den Rock gucken, um sie als Gesamtkunstwerk würdigen zu können. Die neue deutsche Ausgabe des Klassikers ‘Jenseits von Afrika’, dessen Autorin bei uns als Tania Blixen bekannt ist, trägt unter dem Schutzumschlag einen Einband mit edler, kakaofarbener Antilopenfell-Anmutung. Und auf dem Deckel steht, in Versalien, nichts als das Wort „Afrika“ – der Name des Kontinents, den just im Erscheinungsjahr ein sportliches Großereignis ins Zentrum der medialen Aufmerksamkeit rückt.
Kristina Maidt-Zinke: Der ganze Erdteil war ihr Handspiegel. Tania Blixens Hauptwerk „Jenseits von Afrika“ in einer nuancierteren Neuübersetzung aus dem Dänischen, in: Süddeutsche Zeitung 12.07.2010, Literatur, Seite 14.

In short she suggests “to gaze under the skirt” of this book to value end experience the book as a masterpiece of art.

The animals and the nature of Africa are the most prominent in public interest and contribute to the romantic stereotype attached to the continent. Another example is the cover of Michael Poliza: Classic Africa, Kempen: teNeues 2010, F 89 346 85, showing a collection of artistic duotone prints.

Simply holding this book, lifting it, looking at it, feeling the cover; it is clear this book is special. It is the rare book that begs to be opened. […] The cover is something very special. The material is some kind of synthetic material with an animal fur texture.

Daniel G. Lebryk: Gorgeous, Amazon review on Classic Africa (Hardcover), 17.12.2010.

Read more of this post

On Display: Online mapping, spatial data and geo-referenced information in Kenya and Ushahidi-updates in Africa

In Kenya some new interactive platforms and initiatives visualize and connect spatial data to other forms of data in most innovative ways:

Virtual Kenya

Virtual Kenya is designed to provide improved access to spatial data and mapping technology to allow more Kenyans to use and interact with spatial data in their educational and professional pursuits. This will be accomplished by providing online access to publicly available spatial data sets and by offering users a number of interactive tools and learning resources for exploring these data. Users will be able to view, download, publish, share, and comment on various map-based products. The ultimate goal of Virtual Kenya is to promote increased data sharing and spatial analysis for better decision-making, development planning and education in Kenya, while at the same time demonstrating the potential and use of web-based spatial planning tools.

Initially, the platform will feature maps and information based on Nature’s Benefits in Kenya: An Atlas of Ecosystems and Human Well-Being (“the Atlas”), originally published jointly in 2007 by the World Resources Institute together with the Department of Resource Surveys and Remote Sensing, the Central Bureau of Statistics, and the International Livestock Research Institute. The Atlas overlays geo-referenced statistical information on human well-being with spatial data on ecosystems and their services to yield a picture of how land, people, and prosperity are related in Kenya. Since its publication, data and charts from the Atlas have been downloaded regularly from the WRI website, and its online Geographic Information System (GIS) data sets are being used to produce new maps.

Virtual Kenya was implemented by Upande Ltd. Upande focuses on providing services which address problems related to location, direction and destination, with a strong focus on online mapping and Geographical Information Systems (GIS). Upande is also involved in developing the ALRMP baseline prototype application for the Ministry of Northern Kenya and Arid Lands. The company also worked for the African Union Inter African Bureau for Animal Resources (AU-IBAR) to create a single-stop bank of information on animal resources in Africa with a web map for the dissemination of knowledge on animal health, animal production and livestock marketing and trade. Also not online is the E-commerce web map page for SORALO (South Rift Land Owners Association) and ATAGRA (Amboseli Tsavo Group Ranch Association), Group Ranch Associations based in the Maasai Mara and Amboseli ecosystems to boost tourism outside of the conventional parks by making information on hotspots searchable to the world. Upande also offers consultancy in Google Map, OpenStreetMap (OSM), OpenLayers, Mapserver, Geoserver and Geonetworks.

Map Kibera

Map Kibera has produced the first complete free and open map of Kibera. In November 2009, local young people used OpenStreetMap techniques. This included surveying with GPS, and digitization of satellite imagery and paper based annotation with Walking Papers. In April 2010, Map Kibera started two media and local news reporting groups formed to elaborate on information in Kibera. Kibera News Network uses handheld Flip video cameras to record local news and stories and edit videos to post on Youtube and share in the community. To support Map Kibera Erica Hagen and Mikel Maron founded the GroundTruth Initiaive. They aim on using digital story-telling, open data and geographic information for greater influence and representation for marginalized communities.

Voice of Kibera

Voice of Kibera uses Ushahidi software to map local stories and reports onto the Kibera map, and serve as a local information hub. This citizen reporting project is an initiative of Map Kibera. Voice of Kibera aims to give collective global voice to Kibera residents by aggregating local citizen reports, Kibera community media and other relevant news and information.

Kenya Open Data

The goal of opendata.go.ke is to make core government development, demographic, statistical and expenditure data available in a useful digital format for researchers, policymakers, ICT developers and the general public. Includes e.g. high quality national census data, government expenditure, parliamentary proceedings and public service locations. There are maps to start exploring, interactive charts and tables for a deeper understanding, and raw data for technical users to build their own apps and analyses.


The Regional Centre for Mapping of Resources for Development (RCMRD) was established in Nairobi, Kenya, under the auspices of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa and the African Union. It is an inter-governmental organization and currently has 18 contracting Member States in the Eastern and Southern Africa Regions. Its vision is to be a centre of excellence in the provision of Geo-Information and Information Technology applications in Africa and beyond.

Further virtual maps

  • AfricaMap is housed at the Center for Geographic Analysis at Harvard University
  • websites with individual maps or with collections of maps in ilissAfrica


Many new Ushahidi-sites have been started since my first Blog post from March 2011 “On Display: Crowdsourcing with Ushahidi – the social and political relevance of the interactive web“:


  • Peace Building Office of the Republic of Liberia.
  • Liberia’s Early-Warning and Response Network (LERN)
  • Liberia Elections 2011 – live Ushahidi election monitoring website
  • compare also Ushahidi Liberia as a non-profit tech company that customise free and open source software for information collection, visualization and interactive mapping in Liberia.


  • Violence Against Children project – Plan Benin uses Ushahidi to map reports of violence against children in Benin. Children, youth and even adults can use SMS to send in reports on violence against children. The goal is to both collect information about the forms and occurrences of violence as well as to strengthen local and national capacity in participating countries to respond to violence against children. It is hoped that the information collected can also serve to shape programs and budgets dedicated to ending this harmful practice.



  • The National Association of NGOs in Zimbabwe (NANGO) has launched a social service delivery campaign in Harare for residents to speak on problems they are facing in their neighborhood.


  • BantuWatch – platform that allows citizens and civil society to monitor and report incidences around the electoral process in 2011.

South Africa:


  • HARASSmap – a system in Egypt for reporting incidences of sexual harassment via SMS messaging.


  • Moroccans are participating in election monitoring on Marsad.ma (Marsad, in Arabic, means Observatory).

Please add more innovative sites with spatial data as comments on this article!

BULAC on new premises

The Bibliothèque universitaire des langues et civilisations (BULAC) has moved since September 1st to a new facility, the Pôle des langues et civilisations (Paris, 13th district), together with the Institut national des langues et civilisations orientales (INALCO) and very close to the Bibliotheque nationale de France. For the public it will open its doors in December this year with seating for 910 persons and more than 200 000 volumes freely accessible.

BULAC houses collections covering all the non-occidental languages and civilizations. It is a collaboration of eight partners, which have consigned their document collections to the library. Concerning Africa the

  • La Bibliothèque interuniversitaire des langues orientales (BIULO)
  • Le Centre d’études africaines (CEAF)

have to be mentioned (see their catalogue, e.g. their Swahili texts). BULAC strives to be a vital resource for researchers for the African studies. We wish our colleagues good luck in integrating the different collections and making the new premises an inspiring place.

African libraries in “Library World Records” by Godfrey Oswald

For the ones who love rankings and are interested in libraries and Africa I want to recommend Godfrey Oswald’s book Library World Records. Here are some quotes to attract your interest…

Notable people who have worked in libraries or as librarians (p.121):

“Christopher Okigbo, the Nigerian poet, was acting librarian at the University of Nigeria in Nsukka, where he helped to found the African Authors Association. He was killed while fighting as a soldier during the Biafran war.”

Unusual things that happened at libraries (p.111):

“The National Institute of Studies and Research Library in the capital of Guinea-Bissau was turned into a military garrison by soldiers in 1998. But first they had to destroy several thousand books to make way for military equipment and sleeping quarters.”

Libraries that have suffered devastating fires or natural disasters (pp.107):

“Fourah Bay College Library in Free Town, Sierra Leone, […] was obliterated during the civil war of the early 1990s. It has since been rebuilt.”

And there is a list on the oldest university libraries in Africa (p. 83) – third is Monrovia University Library, Liberia, 1851. And the oldest public library in Africa (p.34.) was Luanda Municipal Library in Angola, founded in 1873 by the Portuguese colonial government. The two oldest national libraries in Africa “are the National Library of South Africa, Cape Town branch, founded 1818, and the National Library of Tunisia, Tunis, founded 1845.” (p.13).

And finally, what do you think: Which is the oldest existing bookstore in Africa (p.195)? Its Juta Bookshop, Cape Town, South Africa, founded in 1923.

Source: Godfrey Oswald: Library World Records, 2nd ed., Jefferson, NC, 2009.

On Display: Translations as examples of German-African cultural cooperation to preserve the cultural heritage of the Ewe people in present-day Togo and Ghana

Recently a new translation of Jakob Spieth’s book on the Ewe people was published:

  • Jakob Spieth: The Ewe people : a study of the Ewe people in German Togo. – Accra : Sub-Saharan Publishers, 2011.

Already in 2009 a French translation appeared:

  • Jakob Spieth: Les communautés ewe. – Lomé : Presses de l’UL, 2009

The stories behind these two translations give examples for the successful collaboration of a multitude of dedicated persons and institutional stakeholders. Academics, publishers, diplomats, librarians and representatives of cultural institutes joined efforts, time and money to make an important historical source available to the local people.

For more than twenty years the German missionary Jakob Spieth (1856-1914) lived in Ho, located in former German colony of Togo, now part of the modern Ghana. In his magnum opus called “Die Ewe-Stämme: Material zur Kunde des Ewe-Volkes in Deutsch-Togo“ published in 1906 by Reimer in Berlin he gives a detailed account of the history, the social, cultural and economic life of the Ewe. He also translated the bible into the language of the Ewe people.

The English translation of 2011 was edited by Komla Amoaku of the Institute for Music and Development, Ho, Ghana. The translation work was made by Marcellinus Edorh, Emmanuel Tsaku, Raphael Avornyo and Mary Esther Kropp Dakubu. The German Goethe Institut in Accra, Ghana, provided organisational support and contacts to Germany’s Federal Foreign Office which contributed a substantial amount of money. Already in 2007 Akoss Ofori Mensah from the Sub-Saharan Publishers, Legon, became involved. We got in contact at the Frankfurt Book Fair in October 2007. In the colonial special collection two copies of the original German publication of 1906 are available. Given its age and rarity an international interlibrary loan was not possible. However, I could find the kind support of the colleagues at the Bavarian State Library. They quickly digitized the roughly 1000 pages by Spieth and put the high quality scans on the web for free and worldwide usage of the German original document. Then the Goethe Institut in Ghana printed this version as the physical base for the translation team.

The French translation was done at the “Centre d’Etudes et de Recherches Germon-Togolaises” (CERGETO) at the Département d’Allemand, Université de Lomé, by Séna Akakpo-Numado, Dotsé Yigbe, Kokou Azamede and Komi Kossi-Titrikou under the direction of the professors Nicoué Gayibor and Amétépé Yaovi Ahadji. The German embassy at Lomé supported the work and the publication financially to support the preservation of the Ewe culture in Togo, but also to make this source available to the francophone public worldwide. Frankfurt University Library could support the work of Kokou Azamede in 2009. For further information on the Ewe see our “internet library sub-saharan Africa” (ilissAfrica).

The laborious translations into English, French and contemporary Ewe might create a revival of interest amongst researchers, contribute to the preservation of the cultural heritage of the Ewe people and become reading material in schools and universities.

Dr. Hartmut Bergenthum, head of the Africa department, Frankfurt University Library

On Display: Crowdsourcing with Ushahidi – the social and political relevance of the interactive web


Via Crowdsourcing the internet supports the management of crises and of democratic procedures (cf. list of projects). People experiencing natural disasters like the 2010 earthquake in Haiti or, recently, the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, report their personal record, e.g. via SMS, to a website, where these are grouped and visualized in a map. Now, aid organisations get to know precisely, where their help is needed most, where they can find victims, what basic materials are lacking (water, food, fuel, …) etc. On the other hand, the people themselves can find shelter and help. Another possible examples is the “Atlanta crime map” serving people and city authorities alike. Crowdsourcing can also empower citizens in the protection of democracy by enforcing transparency, accountability and efficient electoral service delivery. The participation of the masses is crucial for its success.


The above mentioned interactive maps are realised with the Ushahidi-software. Ushahidi is a non-profit company that develops free and open source software for information collection, visualization and interactive mapping. The platform was developed as a tool to easily crowdsource information using multiple channels, including SMS, email, Twitter and the web. The company is an example for the potential of web developers at the so-called periphery in Africa, it started in Kenya and the Ushahidi-App for the Android-Marketplace e.g. was developed by a developer in Ghana.

Examples from East Africa

“Ushahidi”, which means “testimony” in Swahili, was a website that was initially developed to map reports of violence in Kenya after the elections in 2007. The roots are in the collaboration of Kenyan citizen journalists during a time of crisis. The original website was used to map incidents of violence throughout the country based on reports submitted via the web and mobile phones. The incidents were grouped in classes like Riots,  Deaths,  Property Damage,  Government Forces,  Civilians,  Looting,  Rape and Peace Efforts. Together with local Kenyan NGO’s each incident was verified. The website had 45,000 users in Kenya (it is not active anymore).

In 2010 Kenya voted on a proposed new constitution and Ushahidi in partnership with local political networks was deploying an election monitoring system called Uchaguzi (“election” in Swahili). Uchaguzi provided web and mobile-based channels for citizens and civil society to report on electoral offences such as intimidation, hate speech, vote-buying, polling clerk bias, voting mis-information etc.  The reports were then sent to the electoral authorities or security personnel for action.

The Site “Tracking the Eastern Congo Conflict”  monitors the renewed conflict in the Eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo since autumn 2008. Beside the reported incidents official and mainstream news about this political conflict can be found (like new from the European Media Monitor) on the website.

Beside Ushahidi

There are many more initiatives which can be subsumed as “Gov 2.0“. The most prominent is Wikileaks, others like CrisisCommons gain momentum. They show the potential of participatory governance and of moving cities and communities towards a more sustainable future.

Another recent example for innovative solutions coming from Africa is JamiiX. It is a messaging management system developed by the Cape Town-based Reconstructed Living Labs (RLabs) team, originally to help them counsel drug addicts on the Cape flats. JamiiX was developed to more effectively manage multiple conversations from different Social Media and Instant Messaging platforms. It allows eight counsellors to have 300 IM conversations in one hour, massively increasing their ability to assist those who need help. In 2010 it was released for third-party use . The name comes from a combination of the Swahili word for social, “jamii”, and eXchange, to mean social exchange.

The interactive web supports humanitarian and democratic activities in a very useful way. This is one way how the masses can help to make things a little better.

On Display: Indigenous Knowledge Systems & Intellectual Property Rights

Indigenous Knowledge Systems are increasingly seen as positive ways for problem solving.  Traditional livestock practices, traditional leather processing or traditional healing practices fit to the local environment and might have a positive impact on development or at least in the struggle for survival. Especially indigenous knowledge in traditional agricultural systems can be used for poverty and hunger eradication.

Traditional knowledge is closely related to intellectual property systems. How to preserve, protect and equitably make use of this indigenous knowledge are highly disputed questions. These address areas as diverse as food and agriculture, the environment, notably the conservation of biological diversity, health, including traditional medicines, human rights and indigenous issues and aspects of trade and economic development. In short: who profits from selling traditional medicine or from traditional performances?

Traditional cultural expressions (or “expressions of folklore”) include music, art, designs, names, signs and symbols, performances, architectural forms, handicrafts and narratives. They are integral to the cultural and social identities of indigenous and local communities, they embody know-how and skills, and they transmit core values and beliefs.

Under the questions “What are they? Who owns them? What kinds of intellectual property protection should they have? What challenges do they present to librarians?” IFLA (e.g. in Durban 2007) dealt with these problems. For libraries questions very different from those we face in handling published materials are raised. It is about preservation of context, cultural sovereignty and respect. This led e.g. to an ethical code for digitization of indigenous material.

Some of the more general problems are the following:

  • Traditional Cultural Expressions are group-related, orally transmitted and are changing constantly, therefore they cannot be ascribed to one individual author and his intellectual property which then might be protected.
  • If there shall be a similar protection to copyright: Who controls the traditional knowledge of the group, how speaks for the whole group, who belongs to the group, how long shall protection last? How about inspiration and cultural adaptation? Should intellectual property protection be limited in duration or perpetual? How about benefit sharing? In South Africa the ministry of economics wants to push tourism and create new jobs in this area. How about the relation between state and group revenue (crown copyright)?

Further information:

=> For a thorough introduction see Wend Wendland’s paper „Intellectual Property and Traditional Cultural Expressions/Expression of Folklore“.

=> For several years now WIPO has been investigating what kinds of protection should be given to folklore and other “traditional cultural expressions”; see their “Key Resources“.

=> The IFLA “Committee on Copyright and other Legal Matters” (CLM) has also dealt with these problems; compare their publications.

=> The most recent literature on the topic you can find on ilissAfrica.

On Display: China’s presence in Africa – From Zheng He to Hu Jintao

According to the Chinese calendar, the Year of the Hare begins on February, 2, 2011. The characteristics of the hare go well together with the topic “China in Africa”: perseverance, restraint and efficiency describe well China’s engagement on the African continent for quite some time. President Hu Jintao has visited 20 African countries, the Chinese government and (private) entrepreneurs concluded hundreds of contracts, credits worth billions were granted. Nearly a million Chinese live in Africa.

This intensive connection between China and Africa is anything but new: As early as during the Ming dynasty, therefore prior to the Europeans, Eunuch-Admiral Zheng He (also called Cheng Ho, 1371 – 1433?) was sent west with a huge fleet of 63 ships and 28.560 men and he sailed several times along the eastern coast of Africa (from present day Kenya to Mozambique). On board were translators, physicians, pharmacists and explosives. Besides lucrative state trading he brought back home African and Arabic diplomats who returned to Africa two years later on the next journey (video intro).

In a nutshell, China’s engagement in Africa can be described as visible, inexpensive and quick. According to experts it is a combination of “aid” and “business” – African commodities in exchange for Chinese support of industry and infrastructure. Heavy criticism in the western world often lables this arrangement as neocolonialism. Naturally, Africans have a much calmer view. After all, the Chinese-African cooperation has the favourable effect of an extraordinary economic growth of 6% – the highest since the 60s (compare the paper by Helmut Asche).

For more recent books and articles on the subject China in Africa see the results of ilissAfrica.

In recent years also other Asian countries like India and Japan became of interest for African Studies scholars and led to some important publications.

Anne-Marie Kasper, Africa-Department, Frankfurt University Library