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"Kagiso" takes Botswana to China with him

Zhou Zhigang is Chinese. But whenever he meets a local, he proudly introduces himself with a Setswana name, Kagiso.

Zhou's three year stint here has however come to an end, in three weeks time he will be returning to China to work in his home country's foreign office. He has however promised to take Botswana with him, as he has grown fond of the country, which he describes as awesome.

As he prepares to leave Botswana, Zhou tells Mmegi he will cherish every moment he spent in this country. He says he has been charmed by the Bushmen of the Kalahari whom he says share similarities with his own people. Perhaps that explains why the Chinese embassy has in the past made charitable donations, including the construction of houses, to the Bushmen communities in Botswana. Zhou claims that both the Bushmen and the Chinese share the same word for path! He discovered this fact in a research conducted by a Japanese linguist years ago.

Zhou says he will miss the warm-heartedness of the people of Botswana, something he immediately felt in his early days in the country. " I think Batswana are very welcoming. The first time I went to the mall and got lost; people were so eager to talk to me and offer help. I have made so many friends here because people have been so open and I got on well with everyone, be it ministers, the permanent secretaries, farmers, vendors, I had no obstacles to friendship with the local people", he reminisces.

"I see Botswana as a shining example of democracy in Africa; every five years Botswana hosts peaceful multi-party election, every 10 years there is peaceful transfer of presidential powers, yet it remains stable, with little corruption; I think Botswana deserves recognition worldwide for what it is; unfortunately the international media rarely picks these beautiful things about an African country", Zhou says.

"I think more Chinese people should know a lot about Botswana. I have made telephone calls to my contacts in China telling them about Botswana. I also have three blogs for my wife, my daughter, and myself where I talk about Botswana. In our embassy website, we capture as many stories as possible about Botswana and post them there so the web visitors can read about Botswana on our website", says Zhou.

Zhou, who is 30 years of age, says he has also done his bit to promote Botswana tourism to the Chinese, especially after he undertook a countrywide tour of Botswana. " I have been almost everywhere in Botswana along the A-1 road and seen the beauty that the country offers. " Whether it is Mochudi, Mahalapye, Palapye, Shoshong, Serowe, Francistown, Nata, Maun, Chobe, the Thuli Block, or CKGR. After these experiences I compiled an article about Botswana tourism talking about the desert trip (to Khutse/CKGR, and bushmen culture), water trip (Okavango, Chobe boat cruises), and mountain trips at the Thuli Block". Over the last three years Zhou has been the first entry point for the local media for all things Chinese. He has exhibited passion for the challenge too, taking the opportunity to educate local journalists on various misconceptions regarding China, the Chinese people and fongkongs.

He has facilitated several trips to China by local journalists so they can exchange ideas, learn, and better appreciate China and its people.

Local cities have also been twinned with Chinese cities for the purpose of cooperation in certain areas. This took place in 2008 when Gaborone and Francistown were twinned with the cities of Nanton and Taiang respectively.

As the chief of political officer in the Chinese embassy in Gaborone, one of Joe's passions has been to strengthen ties between Botswana and China, as well as attempt to change perceptions of China and its people in the eyes of the locals.

Looking back Zhou feels that China has been improving its assistance to Botswana in particular. He has already seen two primary schools, valued at P10 million, being built for Serowe and Maun communities, as well as the P80 million construction of a multi-purpose youth centre financed by China with an interest free loan. He says his embassy has also donated tens of thousands of blankets and winter clothes to the poor. Over 400 footballs balls were also donated towards the constituency league, as well as over 2, 000 pairs of shots and jerseys. " We also donated P50, 000 for the tribal museums, as well as P50, 000 a year towards local NGO's; basically we donate P 1 million a year for various charitable causes including towards HIV/AIDS.

In the area of education Zhou says China has been increasing its scholarship offers to Botswana since 1984 when the country allocated five scholarships to Botswana.

"Following the 2006 Summit on China Africa cooperation, the scholarship was increased to 12 a year in 2007, 21 in 2008, and 27 last year. This year 22 scholarships were offered.

'We have been encouraging the Chinese business people to invest in the lives of Batswana meaningfully, to pay back to the communities so they can be viewed differently and not as traders who pocket profits at the expense of the local people."

He says he is happy to see a number of Chinese investors responding to the embassy's call and contributing to the communities. He singles out companies such as Synohydro, Daheng, and a shop owner Zhang Ying as among the Chinese companies ploughing back to the community. " These are just some of them", claims Zhou.

Zhou is quite aware too of endless complaints regarding the fonkongs, a name given to those cheap Chinese products, which do not last.

"I know about the fongkongs. People have complained about them. But I always say if people pay cheap they will get cheap stuff. What people are seeing at the Oriental Plazza (The Chinese wholesalers in Gaborone) does not necessarily reflect the quality of Chinese goods".

"We continue to talk to the Chinese traders to improve the quality of their imports; but China produces some top notch products, including clothes and electrical appliances, which are not fongkongs", claims Zhou.

He says even his toddler, officially named Naledi, who is still a year old, has fallen in love with Botswana people and somehow is uneasy with the Chinese visitors at his house.

"Naledi is my biggest joy. She likes local children better than Chinese children; my wife is Chinese, and we have five local employees, my child likes them so much, but she doesn't have the same affinity to the Chinese people who visit our house. My child will miss her country Botswana, this is where she was born", says Kagiso, about his only child.

(16 April 2010, Mmegi )

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