An Afro-Asian Dialogue: Intellectuals Speak

Voices of dissent such as that of Chinese Nobel Laureate Liu Xiaobo who died of liver cancer on 13 July 2017, while in custody should not be forgotten. A moment of grief and regret are simply not enough for a life dedicated to the memory of the protesters killed in Tianemen square in 1989. His death should serve as a symbolic opening to an international platform to challenge repressive and authoritarian regimes which continue to violate people’s fundamental human rights. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaims that ‘all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights’ and that they have ‘the right to life, liberty and security of person.’ Citizens across the globe should push their governments, irrespective of regime types, to protect and promote human rights since the latter are inextricably linked to development.
China’s response to criticisms towards its way of handling Liu Xiaobo is ignominious. Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said: ‘Conferring the prize to such a person goes against the purposes of this award. It’s a blasphemy of the nobel prize’.  Is the fact that Liu was a champion of democracy and an icon of free expression, so much to the distaste of the Chinese Authorities that they consider his action blasphemous?
Anyone with a sense of ethics and espousing democratic values has no right to remain quiet. Hiding behind ‘Silent diplomacy’ does not make sense particularly in these very uncertain, disturbing and threatening times. We live in a world, increasingly dominated by greed, selfish interests with authoritarianism and populist regimes on the rise.
In Mauritius, a number of people call themselves human rights lawyers and defenders. Some of them support the big and small sharks of the drug world. They conveniently use the ‘human rights’ argument, even when it is known that these very drug dealers are largely responsible for the destruction of the lives of our youth. But these same ‘staunch defenders of human rights’ have nothing to say about Liu’s death; Liu - a symbol of peace and justice - so essential to any effective democracy! Liu was a prime mover behind Charter 08 signed by some 350 Chinese intellectuals, calling for rule of law, democracy and freedom of expression in China.  Can the large body of intellectuals in Africa, inclusive of Mauritius, make their voices heard and support such movements?
 Can Africa, the cradle of humanity, use some of its basic philosophical values to step out of its silence and denounce the ongoing human rights abuse across the globe? Can the current Africa-China ‘partnership’ allow for this or is it rather a case of China ‘underdeveloping’ Africa, resonating with Walter Rodney’s ‘How Europe underdeveloped Africa? China has a strategy for Africa but the latter does not have a strategy for China. Africa’s engagement with China is dispersed and fragmented. Yet Africa can speak with one voice when it chooses to. Supporting the Mauritian quest for a complete decolonization in regards to the Chagossian question speaks volumes about the potential of African Unity. Given the wave of democratization over the African continent, with ordinary citizens shaking up systems of unethical and poor governance; the African Union would be sending a great signal if it could adopt a common stand, to pressurise for the freeing of Liu’s widow who has been unjustly under house arrest for some years now.
Keeping silent is tantamount to indifference. Assisting with the liberation of Liu Xia can go a long way in keeping the human rights debate alive as well as ensure that the younger generation upholds values which speak to the deepening of democracy. Perhaps, the recently established Confucius Institute at the University of Mauritius could be used as a platform to trigger a debate on ‘Confucius, Human rights and Development’. Many such Institutes have been set up in various places in Africa. They should be used to pave the way for a sustained Afro-Asian Dialogue on democracy and development.
Commenting on the Confucian Institute, The fifth FOCAC- Beijing Action Plan (2013-2015) notes:
‘…two sides will continue to promote the establishment and development of the Confucius Institutes and Confucius classrooms in Africa. China will extend active support in terms of teaching staff, personnel, training and teaching staff, material and equipment’. Such support however, should not be turned into disguised forms of colonialism and/or indoctrination.
Confucius Institutes are generally based on University campuses. Such spaces should encourage critical and progressive thinking, emphasising truth, equality, ethical behaviour and justice. We should therefore not allow the African higher education space which has, for far too long been colonized by the West to now be colonized by the East, to serve the interests of certain elites. We, in Africa should encourage our campuses to produce students who can use indigenous knowledge systems to think, interrogate and ‘subvert’ where and when necessary, like Liu Xiaobo did, so that progressive values and human rights can flourish.
In a Declaration to University World News.  Matthew Macdonald, a research analyst, with the Confucius institute at the University of Stellenbosch noted that: ‘ Any education, any skills transfer that happens between China and South Africa or anywhere in the Southern African Development Community, will promote progress in development.’ But it must be remembered that there can be no development without the protection and promotion of human rights as well as independent and critical thinking.
Liu being refused medical care while dying in a cancer ward reminds us of Solzhenitsyn’s novel ‘cancer ward’, a novel in which cancer becomes a metaphor for the state of society. This metaphor is becoming increasingly relevant across the globe. We need to use every single means at our disposal to combat the cancers. If applying sanctions to regimes which are proven to be cruel and inhuman is the way to go, so be it. The question of state sovereignty should be revisited when the dignity and life of ordinary, often powerless citizens, are at stake!