Recent years have seen China strengthening ties
with African nations on the government-to-government
level through various groupings – BRICS, the Belt & Road
initiative, and the upcoming Forum of China-Africa
Cooperation in September, to name a few. But at the
people-to-people level of exchange, the continent is still
widely misunderstood and often stereotyped.
Recently, however, a group of young Africans in
Beijing birthed an initiative that they hope will expand
the conversation about Africans and African agency in
China. They are Nimo Wanjau, Miatta Momoh, Mikka
Kabugo and Zahra Baitie, the founder of social enterprise
Kente & Silk and lead organiser for Beijing’s first-ever
Africa Week, held back in May.
The idea came from Baitie, but grew when she
shared her vision with Wanjau and Momoh; the ladies
immediately offered to help, proffering their skills – for
free, too – for a chance to help change the still pervasive
stereotypes of the African continent in China, as shown
in a string of recent public incidents.
With Kabugo soon on board too, the young team
worked to create not just a day of celebration, but an
entire week to showcase African culture, innovation
and enterprise in China, culminating on May 26 – a
day after Africa Day, when Africans across the world
commemorate the 1963 foundation of the Organisation of
African Unity, now known as the African Union.
The week featured a packed and varied programme
of daily events including parties, dance classes, art
workshops, dining events, open mics and storytelling,
while a series of forums focused on African agency in
China, and also the role of women in shaping the future.
The finale was the city’s first-ever African-focused
start-up pitch competition, held at Tsinghua University’s
Schwarzman College, which saw one lucky Beijing-based
African entrepreneur win 30,000RMB for their business.
‘It feels so good to know that what was just an idea has
not just come to life, but ended successfully,’ Baitie tells
us. ‘We wanted to showcase the vibrancy of the African
community here in China to show what Africans here are
doing, the value that they are creating not just for other
Africans but also for the Chinese community, and so we
created opportunities for people to engage.’
We spoke with the Kente & Silk team and some of
their partners about their motives for the Africa Week
initiative, and their own experiences here in China.
By Claudine Housen