Nairobi-based journalist Mark Kapchanga contends that it is time for Africans to learn to speak Chinese. In a provocative column published last month in the Chinese newspaper Global Times, Kapchanga warned that Africans are at risk of being on the losing end of an “information asymmetry” unless they begin to learn Mandarin in order to better negotiate with the continent’s largest trading partner and second largest source of foreign investment.
Kapchanga also urged the Chinese government to redouble its efforts to expand Mandarin language training in Africa: “the biggest challenge ahead now is for the Chinese to take a step and start teaching Africans their language. Today, most Africans speak Western languages such as French, German and English, thanks to the colonialists. It is time, too, for the Chinese language to be inculcated in African countries’ education system.”
The Kenyan journalist said he was inspired to encourage Africans to learn Chinese after a recent visit to Beijing where he met a number of young Chinese executives who were fluent in a variety of African languages.
Language, though, is a highly contentious issue in Africa and Kapchanga’s column touched a nerve on social media where people from across the continent expressed their outrage over the suggestion that should learn yet another foreign language. “When the Europeans came they imposed their languages on us and now the Chinese? Why can’t those imperialists learn African languages?” decried LinkedIn user Simbrashe Chinanga from Zimbabwe. Chinanga’s frustration is representative of a large number of Africans who worry that their own indigenous cultures will be further diluted by studying Mandarin after centuries of imperial European rule.
- Global Times: Chinese should be taught in African schools by Mark Kapchanga
- China Africa Project: South Africa adds Mandarin to national curriculum by Eric Olander & Cobus van Staden
- The Conversation: Why China wants African students to learn Mandarin by Kenneth King
Mark Kapchanga is a media and economic consultant. He is a columnist for China’s Global Times newspaper and a former senior economics writer for The Standard newspaper in Kenya. Before that, he worked for the Nation Media Group’s The East African newspaper covering Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, and Burundi. He intermittently corresponds for Beijing-based Global Times and South Africa’s Africa In Fact. Mark holds a Bachelor of Commerce (Accounting) degree from the University of Nairobi, MSC-Financial Economics from Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, and an MA in Multimedia Journalism from the University of Kent, United Kingdom. He is currently pursuing a PhD in business reporting.