Updated: 2014/03/31 Source:China Daily Africa Weekly
Young Chinese talent to usher in a new era of cooperation with Africa
While trade in goods and services between Africa and China continues to paint an impressive picture with breathtaking growth in recent years, it is the recent changes in the trade in human resources that are now beginning to reveal the emergence of a very different relationship.
Such an explosion in trade between these two economic powerhouses needs only a few telling trade volume statistics to remind us of the magnitude and enormity of this economic eruption.
Trade was valued at $10.5 billion in 2000 and then quadrupled to a staggering $40 billion by 2005, and then climbed at an even more breathtaking pace to reach $166 billion in 2011. It now stands at well over $200 billion. China is by far Africa's largest trading partner and has been since 2009.
Until recently most of this trading activity was focused on extraction of natural resources, commodity industries and use of manual labor.
However, in recent years Africa has become a magnet for foreign direct investment in a wide range of non-commodity industrial sectors such as banking, catering and textiles. A study conducted by the International Monetary Fund in 2011 found that only 29 percent of Chinese foreign direct investment in Africa was in mining.
International firms from around the world are increasing their attention on Africa's fast-growing consumer class.
As a result, in recent years, many students from top international and Chinese universities now target Africa as a key career-building destination. Well-equipped with international business and economics knowledge and in possession of an entrepreneurial, adventurous mindset this recently graduated community may well fuel further the advancement of many African economies toward the type of consumption culture and modernization that has emerged in China's first-tier cities.
The existing ties between China and Africa have been a strong attraction for most of these bright and ambitious university students. These students will take a different approach to business and not just in the nature of the businesses in which they will pursue their careers.
China's economic slowdown and increasingly mature first-tier cities will also increase the attractiveness of many of Africa's leading economies.
China's current crop of top university students, especially those in international business and economics, form part of a demographic group often referred to as the "jiu-ling-hou", (those born after 1990). The economic rise of China since the inception of the reform and opening-up policy in the late 1970s has attracted attention and admiration from all corners of the planet, but what appears to have remained undetected is the quite significant uneven pace of economic development over this time.
It was not until the early 1990s that the Chinese economy settled on the path of rapid expansion and modernization, which is precisely why those born after 1990 are perceived by many Chinese as significantly different in their attitude and character from earlier generations, even those born between 1980 and 1990.
The post-90s, therefore, possess a far more open-minded approach to career development and embrace emerging market opportunities, now very much a reality in more and more African economies. The post-90s are also far more receptive to different cultures and to doing business across such cultures.
Crucially though, the post-90s are far more accepting of and knowledgeable about modern business development and management, and will introduce this approach and the necessary skills to the African continent. Their international business and economics education has equipped them with a skill set that older generations, those who earlier settled in Africa in a range of commodity industries, lack.
To date, Chinese companies' involvement in Africa has not led to investment in high quality brand building. Instead speed and low cost dominates most business and investment activity.
Sustainable growth across Africa, however, can only result from adoption and implementation of the modern brand-building process that underpins the success of most of the developed economies, and it is China's post-90s who will contribute considerably to this taking place across Africa's emerging market economies.
In order to meet this increasing demand, Chinese universities should do more to prepare their elite, entrepreneurial students for what is still quite a "leap in the dark" where Africa is concerned. Courses on some of the most widely spoken languages in Africa should appear on the curriculum at more and more Chinese universities.
A brand -building business culture is, therefore, very much under construction across the African continent thanks to China's best and brightest young people. Such an exciting development should not be interpreted as any sort of deleterious "brain drain". On the contrary, news of China's internationally ambitious post-90s will contribute to much-needed change in business culture across China and their undoubted brand building success in Africa and other emerging markets will lead to even greater trade volumes between China and the new order of market economies around the world.
In a nutshell, China's post-90s will help to put Africa on the road toward market economy status with their modern business approach and skill set.
African people, therefore, should hold no fear of well-educated and ambitious Chinese university students. Rather, efforts by African governments and African universities should be made to attract even more Chinese students.
The author is a visiting professor at the University of International Business and Economics in Beijing and a senior lecturer on marketing at Southampton Solent University's School of Business.