The China we knew as kids growing up in Kavango was that of Karate movies.
I would later read a lot about China during my undergraduate studies in USA and how China was a biggest trading partner of USA etc.
I recall being intrigued watching on television how China took back Hong Kong from Britain in 1997. I was fascinated by the history of China and how it fought Japanese and European foreign domination.
The Chinese struggle for independence, inclusive of the cultural revolution of 1949, struck a chord because it was somewhat similar to the struggle for independence for us in Namibia and in Africa.
In the 1980s, while African countries were suffocating from World Bank Structural Adjustment Programmes, the Chinese instituted economic reforms by establishing special economic zones (SEZ) areas like Shantou, Shenzhen, and Zhuhai in Guangdong Province and Xiamen in Fujian Province, as well as designated the entire island province of Hainan as special economic zone. In 2008 I led a delegation to China as secretary for Swapo Party Youth League (SPYL). It was my first visit there. We joined other young African leaders on the invitation of former Chinese President Hu Jintao through All-China Youth Federation. What immediately struck me was that in Beijing it took us over five hours to agree on a spokesperson.
The Chinese were clear with what they wanted but as Africans were not sure of what we wanted. The Chinese took us everywhere, including some places mentioned above.
We did so as their guests. Our passports were surrendered to hotels where we stayed - again that was because we were guests in China. They knew where we were at all material times.
It was that incident in Beijing that propelled us to negotiate a platform whereon the African young leaders and the Chinese young leaders can meet regularly to exchange views on win-win basis. We said China was not on the table of the 1884 Berlin Conference. However, any engagement of economic interest China has on Africa must be respectful of Africans, especially young Africans who are the future.
I admit that these negotiations were not easy but they were cordial. The Chinese agreed with most of our proposals to set up the Africa China Young Leaders Forum. It was launched in Windhoek, the second one in Beijing and the third one in Arusha, Tanzania.
In my experience of dealing with our Chinese friends, I discovered that they are not inflexible to suggestions or alternative views once the one saying so is decisive.
After all, it (China) is a country that advances its national interest just like any other. It is for Namibia or other African countries to advance their national interest too in dealing with China. There is no way that China will advance the national interest of Namibia at the expense of Chinese national interest.
I recall, in one central committee meeting of Swapo, chaired by former President Hifikepunye Pohamba. I asked the question rhetorically "what is our policy on China both as Namibia and as Swapi?" I asked that question knowing that China and the Communist Party of China (CPC) had policies with all other countries that it was dealing with, including Namibia.
Under the auspices of the Africa China Young Leaders Forum, we engaged with the then Chinese ambassador on many issues and we gave advise on how they could conduct themselves as guests in Namibia.
They generally agreed. It will be disingenuous of me not to note appreciation for areas where they carried out our suggestions. One area is that we found the community of Onkumbula in Oshikoto Region in dire need of a borehole. We requested intervention and they did. Eddie Kafita, a former colleague in SPYL, can testify.
We also advised the Chinese ambassador to invest in provision of similar boreholes all over the country. It (China) agreed and committed over N$200 million, only later to be informed that our NPC and Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry turned it down.
We requested further support to schools, especially in rural areas and informal settlements. They did. This included a donation to a school in Otjombinde and another in Khomas.
The rationale is that China pursues commercial interest in Namibia but the benefit should not only be to the elites in society but to the downtrodden too. We differed with them when scholarships meant for the poor Namibians were given to children of the wealthy. In other words, frank exchanges of ideas between friends should not destroy historic ties. I was elated to see the militancy of the workers marching for Namibia's national interest. Marching to demand dignity of Namibian workers. This simply means those in government, who sit at negotiation tables for loans from China, must be driven by our national interest and must include the workers.
Such negotiations must include economic and environmental sustainably. Let us study the Chinese foreign policy. Equally, the Ministry responsible for foreign affairs should review and design a tailor-made foreign policy with China. This would help Namibia in deriving a win-win relation between the two countries. In the final analysis, it is us that must enforce our laws on the Chinese in Namibia and it is the Chinese that would enforce their laws on Namibians in China.
* Dr Elijah Ngurare is former secretary of the Swapo Party Youth League (SPYL).