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Op-Ed: How China is forging a stronger and lasting partnership with Liberia
2022-09-13 18:11

 (By Nicholas D. Nimley SEP 11, 2022)

The restoration of diplomatic ties between Liberia and China in 2004, came at a much better time due to the fact that the country had just ceased its senseless 14 years of war which claimed the lives of 250,000 innocent people.

With wounds still fresh, coupled with unacceptable memories of the deadly past by Liberians; national healing was a major prayer the country got involved with. Second, the thoughts of economic revitalization, infrastructure and development became other core issues of the government at the time.

Liberians who are entrenched with this so-called western ideology and even takes pride of being referred to as “Step-Child”, of the United States, even though being treated as a real “step-child” from the African perspective, had doubts about China and Liberia cooperation, when the Chinese once again arrived on the shores Liberia.

Many had thought that the diplomatic ties between the two countries would not have made any real impact in practical terms. But today, almost 19 years later, there are tangibles resulting from the win-win friendship with the People’s Republic of China.

This cooperation or friendship as you may call it can be felt by Liberians, with some scholars saying that China’s presence in Liberia and Africa is about “Deed”, and not mere “Words”. China’s presence in Liberia and across Africa through bilateral and multilateral cooperation is providing African countries including Liberia with the development needed for growth and prosperity.

It is a known fact that China footprints are visible in Liberia in several areas including education, health, agriculture and infrastructure. Gone are the days that Liberia, being Africa’s oldest independence republic had to wait solely on her “step-father”, who abandoned her since the time she became a walking child, although low mentality being the issue of her existing traditional friendship.

Coming from 14 years of civil unrest, Liberia needed and still needs human capacity development, and in this vacuum, the People’s Republic of China continues to provide Liberians with more opportunities.

Barely two weeks ago, the People’s Republic of China through its embassy near Monrovia, disclosed that from 2020-2022, over 190 Liberians received scholarships to pursue undergraduate, graduate and postgraduate degrees in that country.

This means that over 63 full scholarships have been provided to Liberians every year to study in China. This statistic shows that China remains the largest provider of scholarships to Liberians compared to other countries of the world which have diplomatic missions in Liberia.

This gesture from China is geared towards changing the way Liberians think and do things, and that’s why former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf recently writing on the importance of education had a tweet on Twitter that reads “Education is key to an inclusive and equitable future. No better person could have said such than a woman who did so much with passion to transform the education sector, invested in the human capacity of young people of Liberia during her time as president.

China is not only forging stronger and lasting partnership with Liberia through the provision of Scholarships, but they’ve also built a new education facility for the University of Liberia at Fendell. Prior to the construction of this building, the UL authorities had requested the Chinese government to help with the renovation of the UL Capitol Hill campus, instead of that renovation, China delivered a modern campus which is now being used by the university.

We have also witnessed and continue to witness infrastructure development initiated by the People’s Republic of China. These projects with some completed, while others are still pending are gradually changing the narrative of Liberians regarding this so-called “Step-father”, relationship which is providing support with less result, minimum impact, compared to impactful support of China.

Moreover, the 2011 Nobel laureate and former Liberian president Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf once said “the People’s Republic of China has proven to be a true friend to Liberia. At the time when we were going through our period of difficulties and nobody could come around; China was the first to come, and they brought a plane to help us. We thanked China for the friendship, and hope we continue the bond for the mutual benefit of our friendship, a statement during the time of the Ebola Virus Disease”.

Sirleaf also said the PRC has helped the country develop in several areas ranging from agriculture, education, health and transportation.

One of the many questions which continue to linger in the minds of several Liberians is that…why always believe in a powerful “step-father”, that is not willing to help you address the infrastructure deficit you have, but instead wrongly castigate another country which is always willing to help?

Very soon, many Liberians eyes will open and they will be relieved from the mental slavery and will know that China is a friend that Liberia can count on always.

The new Roberts International Airport Terminal, Capitol Building extension, the Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf Ministerial Complex which houses five agencies of government, and the Tappita hospital are tangible infrastructure of China’s footprints in Liberia. In the coming months, the construction of two overpass bridges and the bridge over the Du-River to link Barnesville to Sinkor will commence.

In fostering this partnership, health plays an important role, and that’s why the Chinese government has been appreciated for its contribution in helping to fight various epidemics like Ebola and the novel coronavirus disease. The Chinese became the first group of people from outside Africa to arrive in Liberia in 2014 during the Ebola epidemic, and the question today is where was our longest-serving and historical “step-father”.

The win-win cooperation continues to see Liberians being empowered with the skills needed to transform Africa’s oldest independence republic, when compared to time past. With the presence of China, Liberians are being made to see what real development is and the existing gaps in every sector that should be filled.

Cultural exchanges

“Peace and benevolence are traditional values that are deeply rooted in the heart of the Chinese people, and that’s why the Chinese language is a “key”, that opens the door to understanding these values, such as Confucius teaching of “harmony without uniformity”, said China’s Ambassador to Liberia Ren Yisheng.

However, the Confucius Institute at the University of Liberia (CIUL), as the first Confucius Institute in West Africa, was jointly established by the University of Liberia and Changsha University of Science & Technology in Monrovia in December 2008.

CIUL is the only institution providing Chinese language courses for free and the only Chinese Test Center to organize HSK, HSKK, in Liberia. The institute aims to promote cultural exchange and friendship between Liberia and China.

It is true that globalization, education and economic demands motivate bilingualism and language adoption. And this has led to recognizing that the spread of Chinese language is necessitated and motivated by globalization and economic demands through the promotion of Chinese language education in Liberia.

Commenting on this cultural exchange, the University of Liberia president Dr. Julius Sarwolo Nelson, disclosed that the university takes pride to be the “backbone”, of Chinese language education in West Africa.

Additionally, China foreign policy in Africa and Liberia in general, is evidence of them not interfering into other countries’ internal affairs. This policy which is more of a soft power diplomatic approach encourages dialogue and advocating for countries independence to be respected at all times.

There’s a need to put all efforts to sustain this cooperation for generations coming after us, and this can basically be done through continuous collaboration between both sides, improving economic and bilateral exchanges, and regular consultation, and dialogues.  

As Liberians, we know exactly what we have been through, and we shouldn’t allow anything to get into our way of not having a stronger and mutual cooperation with China. Instead of giving us small “fishes”, we have been taught by China to catch bigger “fishes”, and this is what matters if Liberia, this sweet land of freedom should be a place of new ideas and new thoughts.

About the author: Nicholas D. Nimley is a writer, journalist and a researcher on China-Africa bilateral and multilateral cooperation. He resides in Liberia and can be contacted on +231776586433. He’s also a full member of the Press Union of Liberia, Full Member, Sports Writers Association of Liberia, and Chief Editor at the New Covenant Outreach Ministries Online Television.

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