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China invests in Kenya as $20m language hub

China’s language and cultural Confucius Institute is setting up a US$20 million African headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya.

China is betting big on the bustling streets of Nairobi becoming a Mandarin hub. Photo: Pexels

The centre is expected to be completed by the end of 2019

The Confucius program has witnessed rapid growth in the last 14 years establishing, a total of 71 institutes and “classrooms” across the continent, since first setting foot in Africa in 2005. Further growth is planned in 2019 and beyond.

China is planning to establish seven more Mandarin language learning centres across Africa in 2019 according reports from Chinese state broadcaster CGTN, bringing the total to 78.

“Confucius institutes have a reach far beyond the number of students enrolled”

The figure places China second in terms of countries with highest number of cultural institutes in Africa, behind France, which has 180 cultural and language centres, and whose Alliance Française has been in Africa for more than a century (thanks to colonial ties). 

It will also have more institutes than European centres that have been in Africa longer, including United Kingdom with 38 British Council centres, and Germany’s Goethe Institute with 21.

Construction of the multi-storey building has been going on for months at the University of Nairobi, where the institute established the first Mandarin language class in Africa in 2005, with completion expected before the end of 2019.

An agreement establishing the centre at the Kenyan institution was signed in 2016, paving way for a landmark building that will stamp China’s cultural presence in Africa, hosting lecture rooms, offices, hostels and conference rooms.

According to Xiao Shan, director of Confucius Institute at the UON, students who  had studied basic Mandarin skills were always eager to go back for advanced training owing to “personal” approach used by institute to teach the language.

Some proceeded to China on scholarships for advanced studies in the language or study other programs.

According to Joshua Nederhood , a policy analyst at the think-tank Development Reimagined, at close to 300,000 students have been enrolled in Chinese language courses in Africa since 2005. 

“Confucius institutes have a reach far beyond the number of students enrolled onsite, as they can each set up several Chinese teaching centres in different locations,” he told The PIE News.

This includes in primary and secondary levels where the institute has deployed  teachers, he notes.

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