(Hello Africa) Ethiopian scholars foster cultural exchanges between China, Ethiopia


A Chinese language student from the Confucius Institute at Addis Ababa University (AAU) performs a traditional Ethiopian dance during a special ceremony of the exhibition themed Happy Chinese New Year and an Extraordinary Decade of China in the New Era, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on Jan. 17, 2023. (Xinhua/Michael Tewelde) 

When Melaku Mulualem first arrived in China in 2011 to study at the China Foreign Affairs University, little did he know that this journey would be the beginning of a transformative experience, leading him to become a cultural ambassador between two nations thousands of kilometers apart.

ADDIS ABABA, March 30 (Xinhua) — When Melaku Mulualem first arrived in China in 2011 to study at the China Foreign Affairs University, little did he know that this journey would be the beginning of a transformative experience, leading him to become a cultural ambassador between two nations thousands of kilometers apart.

Reflecting on his initial impressions of a “completely different China,” Mulualem, now a senior researcher in international relations and diplomacy at the Ethiopian Institute of Foreign Affairs, acknowledged that his time in China not only broadened his academic horizons but also deepened his understanding of Chinese culture and its people.

“Before studying in China, my knowledge of the Chinese people and government was limited. But now, I am proud to be one of the few scholars who have published a book on Ethiopia-China relations,” Mulualem said.

The book, “Africa-China Relations – Ethiopia as a Case Study,” was published recently with support from the Chinese Embassy in Ethiopia. It highlights the diverse and historic ties between China and Ethiopia, as well as the broader China-Africa relations, exploring various aspects of engagement between the two sides.

Since his initial educational journey to China, Mulualem has returned to the Asian country seven times, participating in international seminars, training programs and other events. Through these experiences and engagements with Chinese counterparts, he has developed a profound understanding of China and its people, fueling his desire to bridge the cultural gap between Ethiopia and China.

Mulualem believes that Ethiopian and Chinese scholars, particularly those familiar with each other’s cultures, have a dual responsibility to serve as bridges and shape the narrative of the mutually beneficial relationship between both sides.

In his quest for cultural harmony and an authentic portrayal of Ethiopia-China relations, Mulualem meticulously examined years of friendly exchanges between the two countries, including political exchanges, trade development and cultural and people-to-people exchanges.

With the ever-expanding political, economic and social engagements between China and Ethiopia, Mulualem highlights the bright prospects for their comprehensive relations, built on a foundation of past and present win-win cooperation.

“The future relations between China and Ethiopia will improve more than ever before. This is because the relations are more and more incremental over time,” he said.

A staff member boards a train at Lebu Railway Station in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, June 30, 2023. (Xinhua/Michael Tewelde)

In October of last year, Ethiopia and China elevated their relationship to an all-weather strategic partnership.

Asnake Getie Asmare, an Ethiopian alumnus of Beijing Normal University, shares a similar journey to Mulualem’s.

Now working on large-scale telecommunication infrastructure development projects in Ethiopia with the Chinese tech giant Huawei, Asmare holds a PhD in economics from Huazhong University of Science and Technology in China.

Asmare said that his time in China helped him understand the unique socio-cultural, economic and governance attributes of China, inspiring him to promote all-round Ethiopia-China relations.

“My years of study in China provided a valuable opportunity to truly understand the Chinese people and culture, the country’s rapid economic progress, the Chinese government’s successful development policies, as well as the country’s focus on innovation and advanced technologies,” he said.

Asmare said that his deep understanding of the broader Ethiopia-China relationship has revealed how China seeks to share its recent socioeconomic achievements with countries like Ethiopia.

China-proposed global development initiatives, such as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), serve as crucial platforms for mutually beneficial collaboration, allowing countries like Ethiopia to tap into China’s remarkable development expertise, he said.

By 2023, China had sent 22 batches of more than 500 teachers to various agricultural vocational colleges in Ethiopia to cultivate local talent for agricultural development. China has also sent 24 batches of medical teams to help Ethiopia’s efforts in public health. According to data from the Chinese Embassy in Ethiopia, Chinese investment in Ethiopia has created 560,000 local jobs.

Joining Mulualem and Asmare in their mission to foster understanding and cooperation between the two nations is Tesfaye Messele, another Ethiopian alumnus of Beijing Normal University. Inspired by his experience of Chinese culture and the country’s rapid socioeconomic development, Messele envisions a future where the people of Ethiopia and China thrive together.

“Understanding Chinese culture and teaching it to Ethiopians while also teaching Ethiopian culture to our Chinese friends play a crucial role in enhancing communication and people-to-people exchanges. This, in turn, increases the chance of effectively working together to achieve common goals in any cooperation fields,” Messele said.

Messele said that the complementary development interests of both countries, combined with his knowledge of China and its people, along with his deep understanding of Ethiopia’s development policies and potential, uniquely position him to better serve as a bridge for promoting bilateral cooperation.

As one of the manifestations of the blossoming China-Ethiopia ties, the Chinese government provides abundant scholarship opportunities benefiting thousands of Ethiopian students as part of the wider knowledge and skill transfer cooperation between the two countries. Additionally, China has been sending experts to Ethiopia to assist the country’s development efforts across various areas.

“The role of alumni of Chinese universities is of paramount importance in cementing the two countries’ relationship,” Messele said. “As we gained ample knowledge and experiences in areas of emerging economies, regional economic integration and the essence and content of mutual development initiatives during our study in China, we can apply it properly in the practical world by bridging win-win cooperation between Ethiopia and China.” 



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