The first building that one comes across when entering the campus of the University of Zambia, which sits on the terraces of a busy motorway to and from the country’s international airport, is an imposing structure known as the Confucius Institute.
That this institute, named after an icon of Chinese culture, has been erected so prominently at Zambia’s oldest and most prestigious university reveals, on the one hand, the long-term vision of its promoters, and, on the other, a nation not yet attuned to how foreign cultural symbols naturalise power and influence, especially in instances where little has been done to create and celebrate local symbols.
At one point the university’s principal administrators even planned to relocate from their crumbling offices into the new Chinese building. It took the intervention of Western diplomatic representatives for this plan to be abandoned, along with their threat to withdraw funding from the university if its top officials were to reside under the ideological banner of a rival superpower.
If Zambia has been singled out in this preface, it is only to give context to the rise of Confucius Institutes across Africa. What one encounters in Lusaka has been mirrored across the continent…..more