Monday, August 3, 2009

Dr. Jeff Ramsay, Coordinator of BGCIS at the Second Round of the Symposium on China-Africa Cooperation in Beijing of the FOCAC Media Seminar 2009

source: Republic of Botswana (1/8/09): TAUTONA TIMES no 19 of 2009
The Electronic Press Circular of the Office of the President
"Democracy, Development, Dignity and Discipline"

D1b) Opening Remarks by Dr. Jeff Ramsay, Coordinator of the Botswana Government Communication and Information System (BGCIS) at the Second Round of the Symposium on China-Africa Cooperation in Beijing of the FOCAC (Forum of China-Africa Cooperation) Media Seminar 2009

1. Good Afternoon, let me say what a pleasure it is to be here in China, where we are being so graciously hosted. The question before us is how we can collectively enhance our international profile through South-South dialogue such as what we are now engaged in. While this question is somewhat different in its wording from that posed in our earlier session I believe that we will find that the answers, from a media perspective are much the same. In this respect my few remarks are made in the context of, and as an elaboration to what my brothers and sisters have already said.

2. Sometimes the best answers are the simplest ones, even if they may sound naive or clich├ęd. A prerequisite for our South-South dialogue to move from mixed expectations to mutual empathy and collective empowerment lies in the simple truth that we must work at being true of ourselves and to each other. This should form the basis for the long overdue new information order we have called for.

3. I here emphasize that we must work at this because the path to achieving a clear understanding of even who we are in our own homes, much less behind what lies behind the walls of our neighbours in the global village, is not so easy. There are things that are hidden to us, though sometimes they may lie in the ground right at our feet.

4. Besides being a media practitioner, I am also known as a historian, at least in my own country, Botswana. While I thus know a little about the 5 thousand year plus history of Chinese civilisation, something of its many travails and triumphs whose legacy we see around us, my focus has been on the past of my nation and its surrounding region, that is Southern Africa.

5. I do know China rivals Egypt as the world's oldest nation. When Rome was great, China was arguably greater! I am also aware that Africa, the Mother Continent, is the very cradle of not only humankind, but human civilisation itself, that is the place where people began to live together as societies.

6. Today the Chinese people and the African people constitute not less than one third of all humanity. As we collectively hold up one third of the sky in an equitable international order we should be able to reap one third of what lies below it.

7. Earlier we briefly touched upon the ancient connections between this country and our continent with reference to the voyages of the great Ming Dynasty admiral Zheng-He. As a historian I am able to make some additional testimony in this regard. Over the years glass beads have been found throughout southern and eastern Africa, including the sands of the Kgalagadi (or Kalahari) in my own country. Such beads, some of which have been dated over a thousand years old, originated in Asia.

8. Elsewhere in the region archaeologists have in recent years found shards of porcelain, from China, also dating back many centuries. Some of these shards can be found at the sites of the stone walled structures known as "zimbabwes", which dot the landscape of north-east Botswana, as well as the Republic of Zimbabwe.

9. Ladies and Gentleman, I would humbly submit that such evidence tells us something about where we can go as well as where we have been together in the past. History itself is a dialogue, a conversation between our past and present about the future. This is why during the colonial era the imperialist hegemony sought to deny Africans of past understanding. They wanted us to believe that our continent, the very cradle of civilisation, and more especially places such as the Kgalagadi, had been isolated from the great currents of human progress.

10. Yet a single glass bead in the sandveld exposes this so-called truth to be a lie. As Botswana's first President, who is also the architect of the modern Botswana-China bilateral relationship observed back in 1970:

"We were taught, sometimes in a very positive way, to despise ourselves and our ways of life. We were made to believe that we had no past to speak of, no history to boast of. The past, so far as we were concerned, was just a blank and nothing more. Only the present mattered and we had very little control over it. It seemed we were in for a definite period of foreign tutelage, without any hope of our ever again becoming our own masters. The end result of all this was that our self-pride and our self-confidence were badly undermined."

11. Today, the media, as well as scholars has a role in break down the walls of ignorance that have been erected to hide us from ourselves and each other. We can do this by learning more about ourselves, as well as each other, through direct contact that is not filtered and distorted by the biases, agendas and received prejudices of others. In this way our dialogue shall empower us, if we are true to ourselves and true each other.

12. Studies by the International Federation of Journalists, among others, confirm the fact that the bulk of global news and information being published today is being filtered via a handful of corporate conglomerates based in the west.

13. Despite the great promise of a "flatworld" driven by new information and communication technology we are still allowing others to define our place in the world, including what should be our own common ground and perceptions. I am sure many around this table will recall the many cynical and disparaging reports that circulated in the western media at the time of the 2006 Sino-Africa Summit here in Beijing.

14. The same hegemonic agents would deny the common values and priorities we share as developing nations committed to the development and dignity of our peoples. Certainly I see here in China many of the same principles being practised that we value as Africans.

15. Our cooperation - Pan-African as well as South-South - can and must breakthrough this. We have the technical tools to breakdown the wall. Let us find the wisdom and the will to do so!

16. Ladies and Gentlemen, let me conclude these opening remarks by applauding our Chinese partners at the State Council Information Office (SCIO) for showing us the way through initiatives such as this seminar, which allow us to better understand each other. From what we have already learned it is clear that in its international and domestic outreach SCIO provides us with a benchmark of what a government communication and information system can achieve in partnership with other stakeholders.

17. It is my own ongoing task to coordinate a similar government communications network in Botswana, albeit one that will operate on a more modest scale. In this undertaking I shall certainly appreciate our continuing cooperation through the FOCAC Partnership Framework.

18. Finally, let me also commend the efforts being made by our colleagues in the China state media for their efforts to report on the affairs of our own continent to the people of China and the rest of the world, as well as their increasing commitment to making their own country better know to the rest of us. I thank you.

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