May 25 marks the annual global celebration of Africa Day. Why celebrate for a day, when you can celebrate an entire week, though? That’s the thinking for Kente & Silk
, a Beijing-based social enterprise focused on enhancing Sino-African relations, who have curated a fantastic programme of events for the city’s first ever Africa Week, kicking off on May 18.
'There have regularly been celebrations and events in Beijing on or around Africa Day, but these have largely been for embassy workers, students and those within the African and black community in Beijing,' says Nimo Wanjau, one of the organisers behind the event. ‘This time round, we wanted to create something that would open it up and engage as wide a spectrum of people as possible.'
Indeed, the group have assembled a packed schedule of wide-ranging activities held at venues across the city, dedicated to celebrating and promoting African culture and achievements, at a time when representations of Africans here in China have come under much scrutiny.
'This year, Wolf Warrior II, the racist exhibition in Wuhan and the Spring Festival Gala made it painfully clear that many Chinese people lack a nuanced understanding of Africa or ways to engage with Africa in a meaningful way,' Kente & Silk founder Zahra Baitie tells us. 'We wanted to create opportunities for people to engage with Africa and the African community here in China through a wide variety of ways – dance, music, art, academic discussions – and to help showcase the dynamism of the continent.'
The week's events are not just about traditions and histories, though: there's as much focus on the here and now, namely the young Africans and those of African descent shaping the future of relations with China. The Africa Week team are hoping for it to not only be a source for deeper understanding between China, Africa and the wider world, but a platform for young African creators and entrepreneurs to kickstart their ideas: 'Our hope is that this week brings people together and supports the African community here in China to thrive,' Baitie says. 'It’s why we decided that the profits raised from the week should go towards a promising African start-up.'
The finale of Africa Week – the Dragons' Den
-style Pitch Competition
on Saturday 26 – will see one worthy winner take home those profits, but on a wider scale, the Kente & Silk team believe the event, and week as a whole, will provide a perfect platform to promote African products, businesses and craftsmanship, and challenge misconceptions. 'For African countries to improve the current trade imbalance, there needs to be export of higher-value products from Africa into China,' Baitie says, 'but the problematic perception of Africa is a big constraint in the ability of African products to enter the Chinese market and thrive. The hope is that this week starts to reveal to people that Africa is a source of richness and quality.'
Jewellery makers Nani Creations will be present at May 23's Art Afrik event.
It’s been a significant couple of years for Sino-African relations, featuring ever-deepening ties and cooperation, belts and roads, and, unfortunately,
a well-documented blackface scandal
. Media coverage of Africans in China has been frequent and in-depth, but has tended to focus on the economics and politics of it all, even the negatives, with the large communities in Guangzhou and Yiwu also garnering much attention.
The stories, endeavours and successes of Africans in Beijing, however, have rarely been featured, and this was partly the motivation for establishing such an initiative in the city this year – one that looks beyond the economic and political aspects, too – to help reverse the trend of problematic portrayals of Africa in China.
'We want to do this not just through forums but by connecting to people’s interests,' Zahra Baitie concludes. 'Whether people are interested in arts, music, theatre or entrepreneurship, Africa Week gives them a chance to engage those interests from an African perspective.'
Check out our full roundup of all the Africa Week happenings below, and visit Kente & Silk for more information and to register for events.