In African Traditional Society and in Uganda in particular, mankind or human beings are expected to be humane
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In African Traditional Society and in Uganda in particular, mankind or human beings are expected to be humane

By Ssemanda Allawi

In the 21st Century, International Relations is remarkably changing as opposed to the past, where International Relations' characteristics and features were largely reserved for officials and states.

Nowadays, irrespective of one's position, people of all ranks are steadily becoming part of the means and ways regions and states engage with each other in both Relations and Diplomacy aspects. When we talk about Uganda-China Relations or China - Africa Relations, this practice is becoming a norm.

This is evident in many ways evidenced by Chinese funded projects in Uganda and Africa in general where Chinese nationals are frequently meeting and interacting with Ugandans almost on a daily basis. It is therefore not a surprise that some Chinese living in Uganda have learnt to speak Luganda as some Ugandans too learn the Chinese language which easies communication between the citizens of the two countries. At face value, one may conclude that such engagements are simply a sign of good relations; but the fact is, it is a cobweb of Public Diplomacy and a display of brotherly relations between the two countries. Actually, the interactions of these nationals in one way or another strengthen relations of their countries - a work that used to be a preserve of diplomats or state officials.

In a move of having people of different ranks take part in shaping Statecraft, foreign policy analysists, and scholars have found this concept of Public diplomacy intriguing.

At its very basic level, public diplomacy is the engagement of non-state actors and state in one country with those in another country. The bottom line here is that citizens are the reason why state officials seek good relations with other states; that excluding citizens in the international relations arena is the failure to recognise that the primary reason for it is for citizens that state officials relate, negotiate and reach agreements.

In this regard, it is clear that Africa-China relations viewed in the lens of Public Diplomacy, that more than any other country on earth, China alone has exhibited and given a good model of what Public Diplomacy is especially for non-state actors like hundreds of Ugandan students who Chinese government offers scholarships on yearly basis. Actually, as a result of China -Africa Relations, China has given a whole lot and right meaning what Public diplomacy should be. Indeed, Public Diplomacy has been underway between Africa and China in various aspects such as business, cultural, educational as well as scientific exchanges.

Another clear instance of public diplomacy at play is Chinese community assistance to some Ugandan communities in times of need. Last year, when landslides affected citizens in Eastern Uganda, the Chinese community in Uganda mobilized assistance in millions of shillings in a typical Kiganda way that; "Muno Mukabi Yemuno Dalla' loosely translated that your friend in danger is your friend indeed.

In African Traditional Society and in Uganda in particular, mankind or human beings are expected to be humane which is literally translated as Obuntu, and in larger African communities, the concept is widely known as the philosophy of Ubuntu. When it comes to Uganda-China relations, and International Relations, China which is widely known to have a well-developed and defined Public Diplomacy mechanism entrenched in their foreign policy, it becomes easy for Uganda and China to benefit from each other in many aspects following philosophical foundations which can help bring development of the two countries through people-to-people relationships driven by Uganda's philosophy of Obuntu which is the same as Chinese philosophy of Confucianism. 

Uganda's Obuntu philosophy (also known as Ubuntu philosophy in the rest of Africa) emphasizes that no man is an island; that a person will live a meaningful and happy life with the help of others. African philosophy of Obuntu/Ubuntu resonates well with the Chinese philosophy of Confucianism. In the same manner, the Confucianism philosophy emphasizes that Human beings should take care of each other and protect the weak. 

Closer analysis of the two philosophies is that Both Ubuntu and Confucianism philosophies emphasise the aspect of life, sharing, and helping one another. Put in Uganda's perspective which is common in many African countries, the tradition was/is that a child does not belong to his/her parents alone but the community. In the same way, when it comes to Chinese, they widely believe in the idea of family; indeed, it is a common practice and a norm in China that children take care of their elderly parents, one who neglects his family becomes an outcast!

The common denominator in the two philosophies is that; the two philosophies emphasize wellbeing of communities which is sharply different from the Western cherished values of individualism. Despite arguments that Western individualistic views are spreading in some African countries and China, it can be argued that with China's introduction of Confucius Institutes as it is at Makerere University and other areas in Africa, it gives hope that the common ground between Ubuntuism and Confucianism will be rejuvenated. And the fact that China emphasizes mutual respect in her foreign policy, this leaves a great opportunity that African countries, Uganda inclusive can accept this philosophy on their wish especially that it has resemblance with Africa's own. Emphasis can also be made that since China emphasizes mutual respect which Africa has warmly welcomed, China and African countries can easily define humane value systems that work for society rather than individuals and hence, all citizens benefit since these philosophies don't contradict the other's. 

The call by some African leaders like president Museveni who has continuously called for African Unity and solidarity is itself in essence Ubuntu philosophy in practice. In the same way, the coming of Confucius Institute at Makerere University and in other places all over the world arguably is a Chinese polite way to tell Africa and the world that look, we are brothers and sisters, let's think together, we will grow together.  

As a way of keeping up Africa's Ubuntuism and China's Confucianism which calls each one of us to be the other's brother and keeper, it is important we cherish China and we both explore these philosophies as a way of ensuring stronger foundations for Africa-China engagement(s). This is the way to go for, it is quite intriguing that two philosophies in two parts of the world should have so many striking similarities, yes it is intriguing!

Therefore, China offering scholarships to African scholars to pursue incisive studies of histories and current dynamics of China will help Africans to best appreciate these important philosophies. There is no doubt that in turn, these studies will form the basis for people-to-people engagements when it comes to business, culture as well as International Relations arena; after all, a study of the convergences or even divergences of Ubuntu and Confucianism will enrich the study, understanding and practice of Global International Relations which is a necessity since it arguably drives affairs of the world.

The writer is a PhD candidate, international relations & diplomacy

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