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Localization key to Taiwan's aid programs for African allies: agency

2012/05/06 17:58:25

Taipei, May 6 (CNA) After helping its African allies in areas such as agriculture and medical services for decades, Taiwan is now putting greater emphasis on training local people to do the work themselves to create sustainable development, a government-funded agency said recently.

"We've broached the issue of localization for years," Lee Pai-po, deputy secretary-general of the Taipei-based International Cooperation and Development Fund, told CNA in a recent interview.

A common problem with many international assistance projects set up in developing countries is that they take a top-down approach based on the idea that "you take whatever I give you," which often fails to deliver sustainable outcomes, for the lack of a local perspective, Lee said.

"A localized project is a must for sustainable development," he said. "Our goal is to provide training aimed at making them able to work independently."

To this end, Taiwan has been implementing assistance programs based on a model that requires local people to engage in the programs themselves under the guidance of Taiwanese consultants, Lee said.

Such examples include agricultural projects in Bukina Faso, one of Taiwan's four allies in Africa, which have been ongoing for more than 40 years, he pointed out.

Taiwan is also helping The Gambia expand its upland rice projects in an effort to address food scarcity in the African country.

Such initiatives echo Gambian President Yahya Jammeh's policy of attracting young adults to return to the countryside and engage in the farming industry to help increase food supplies, Lee said.

Medical services are also among Taiwan's major assistance programs to its African allies.

In addition to providing medical care for the locals, a more important goal is to train doctors and other medical personnel and cultivate their ability to operate and manage hospitals on their own, Lee said.

This way, "their hospitals will continue to be up and running after our assistance teams leave," he added.

Taiwan's assistance programs to its African allies also include vocational training programs aimed at improving local people's skills and knowledge so they can earn more money.

For example, some women in Swaziland have benefited from the sewing classes offered by Taiwan, which equipped them with the skills to make money. The program was cited by President Ma Ying-jeou as an example of Taiwan's successful assistance projects in Africa.

Ma's remarks came at a recent news conference held shortly after his 12-day visit in April to three of Taiwan's allies in Africa -- Burkina Faso, The Gambia and Swaziland.

For several decades, Taiwan has been offering a helping hand to African countries through humanitarian emergency assistance and projects aimed at improving local industrial developments.

Besides helping the countries' people, the assistance programs have also played a significant role in maintaining bilateral ties between Taiwan and its African allies.

Taiwan was a beneficiary of U.S. foreign aid in the 1950s and 1960s. Helping the African allies is an opportunity for Taiwan to give something back to the international community at a time when its economic achievement allows it to do so, said National Chengchi University professor Yen Chen-shen.

Yen, an expert in Taiwan-Africa relations, said the assistance programs not only help the countries in need, Taiwan can also cement ties with them.

Meanwhile, the allies often stand up for Taiwan, voicing unrelenting support of Taiwan's bid to participate in international bodies such as the World Health Organization, the International Civil Aviation Organization and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Having their support is "what we need at the moment," said Hsu Mien-sheng, director-general of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs' Department of African Affairs, in a recent interview with CNA.

On such international occasions, the African allies often play a part in pushing for Taiwan's participation, he added.

However, officials from powerful countries such as the United States and European nations are unlikely to speak publicly in support of Taiwan's bid during meetings of U.N. organizations, Hsu said.

Asked on Taiwan's future Africa policy, Hsu said the foreign ministry will continue to work closely with the four allies, Burkina Faso, Sao Tome and Principe, Swaziland and The Gambia.

Meanwhile, "we will seek to deepen relations with non-diplomatic allies in Africa," Hsu said, adding that it can be achieved through more frequent people-to-people exchanges and increasing trade relations.

Echoing Hsu's remarks, Yen said Taiwan needs to maintain ties with its African allies and keep a close eye on the development of bilateral relations to see if there is a sign of their switching to China.

In the past, tensions between Taiwan and China caused the two sides to compete for diplomatic allies, including in Africa. The two sides competed by giving the countries economic aid in what is known as "dollar" or "checkbook" diplomacy.

But with improving relations in recent years, both sides have now agreed on a diplomatic truce.

But Yen said Taiwan should still "be alert," as "we don't know whether the diplomatic truce with China will last forever."

To help avoid an ally switching to recognizing China instead of Taiwan, Yen said it was very important to provide opportunities for Africa's young people to study in Taiwan.

Taiwan has been offering scholarships for students from its African allies for about a decade, Yen said.

"I do believe those students who have studied in Taiwan and lived in Taiwan for a few years will fall in love with this place," he said. "They will be our spokespersons in those countries."

It is especially important if the young people eventually become the opinion elite or government officials of their countries as this could help Taiwan strengthen bilateral ties with the African countries, he said.

Providing scholarships for students from Taiwan's non-diplomatic allies in Africa could also help advance bilateral relations, Yen added.

(By Elaine Hou)