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A letter from China, by January Makamba

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At around the time the coronavirus outbreak was about to happen, 2013 Tutu Fellow January Makamba was wrapping up a visit to the country.  During his time there, he penned a post titled: Letter from China: Two stories and the fortune of nations that provides a great deal of insight into the country.

The political leader and former cabinet minister from Tanzania went to China to see the country first hand. January points out that China is the largest source of imports for 65 countries and that no country has achieved this feat in modern history. He notes that it shrank and completed the basic industrialization process within the span of 30 years, something that took the earlier industrial countries 100 years. This speed and scale has been disorienting to many, he says. The next stage will be even more so because the Chinese think and plan for centuries.

His conclusion was that Africa will need to be ready. "Everyone has a plan for Africa", he said. "Africa can do better by having its own plan for China." January then identified some areas in which Africa could do better in it's trade with China: in 2017, China bought US$110 billion worth of agriculture products worldwide but only US$2.7 billion of that came to Africa. Of that sum, 23% was for tobacco to Zimbabwe. Another area is tourism. In 2018, 150 million Chinese travelled overseas as tourists, but fewer than a million - less than 1% - visiting Africa.

January began his visit in Tieshan Industrial Park, where he visited a factory that makes factories. In one building the size of a football pitch he noticed clusters of machinery, but only two people working. Upon asking if everyone had the day off, he was told by the factory owner that that was everyone. Counting everyone in that and the other buildings, only about 12 people worked in that factory production factory. Production is fully automated using robotics and AI. "This is the new China", he said. "No longer the 'world’s factory' but the 'world’s factories factory' ”.

At a tyre factory he met a Professor from a local technology university. The specialized knowledge at the university is integrated into the processes at the workplace. The prof gets a real world lab and the universities help the factory owner with new methods of production and productivity improvements.

January's Letter from China has many other insights from his visit, observations that can be made only first-hand. You can read the entire piece on Medium.

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Monday, 25 May 2020

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